There are a number of different styles of cutting deck available on ride on mowers and tractors. Here is a brief look at each one.
Rear Discharge: Rear discharge decks are very common and are ideal for all types of grass. They are especially good at collecting wet grass due to the wide grass discharge channel and the is short distance from the deck to the collector , compared with the longer distance in a side discharge machine.
Rear discharge decks are not quite as proficient with longer grass cutting as side discharge machines, so you may need to cut more often.
The grass collection from a rear cutting deck is excellent. There is a short distance from deck to grass collector and the swift movement of the blades creates a strong draft that helps to carry the grass into the collector. (See image below)
You don’t need to be quite as careful about where your clippings go with a rear discharge machine; you can cut alongside your car or flowers with confidence as anything picked up ends up in the grass box.
Collectors will generally come as standard with a rear discharge mower. This kind of deck is found on many different types of ride-on including rear engine riders, rear collect tractors and heavy-duty garden tractors.
Side Discharge: This style of deck is ideal for longer grass in wilder areas such as overgrown gardens, orchards or meadows. It discharges to one side of the ride-on (see image below) and handles damp or wet grass very well.
Unlike walk-behind mowers, the side discharge deck is a stand-alone function, there are no combination decks with side and rear discharge so a side discharge ride-on does just that. (Though there are many ride-ons offering side discharge and mulching).
If your mower has reverse gears, you can back up to cut sections you may have missed with your turning circle.
If you buy a side-discharge ride-on mower you will not usually be provided with a grass collector, but they will often be available as an optional extra. Collection is possible but these types of deck are at their best when mulching, discharging without collection and on less formal lawns and grassy areas.
Mulching Deck: A mulching deck is a deck specifically designed to use specially shaped blades to cut and re-cut the grass clippings until they are miniscule. Built in deflectors are sometimes situated in the deck to push the clippings back into the cutting area. (see image below)
The cuttings or clippings are then deposited directly into the lawn to make natural compost. These chopped-up clippings then breakdown and encourage nutrients, keeping moisture in the soil and preventing natural damage to the lawn.
A green option, a mulching deck gives you the opportunity to recycle your clippings as compost to help create a greener, healthier lawn.
If you mulch it means you don’t have to cut quite so often. In fact, you would cut probably around half as often and you don't have to keep emptying a collection bag or box full of clippings. As well as dedicated mulching decks there are options for mulching included on various types of ride-on mower and tractor including side discharge, rear discharge, heavy duty and zero turn ride-ons.
Out Front Deck: These are found almost exclusively on the front cut ride-on mowers, as the name suggests.
Out-front decks have a number of advantages including visibility as, with the cutting-deck placed low in front of you, you can clearly see the area you are cutting and increase accuracy and efficiency.
These decks can also give the ride-on increased manoeuvrability and in addition allows you to cut right up to the edge as you move forward and you can cut under overhanging branches, bushes, even benches. (see image below)
Powered Sweeper: This is a very specific type of ‘cut-drop-and-collect’ deck found on very few machines (almost exclusively on Westwood Tractors). In this deck the grass is cut with a mid-machine deck and the clippings are dropped straight down. There is a brush fitted behind the deck attached to a collector. The brush revolves clockwise and on the horizontal, lifting the clippings and other detritus from the lawn and sweeping them up back and into the collector. (See image below). These decks are also capable of cutting and dropping and mulching when the brush and collector fitting is removed.