Thursday, July 15, 2010

Best 5 Electric Corded String Trimmers

Best Electric String Trimmers and Lawn Edgers Review Part 5: Best electric corded string trimmers

What are the best electric corded string trimmers, weed eaters, weed whackers, lawn trimmers? We covered what there is to know about trimmers and edgers, then what makes a good trimmer, and when to pick an electric vs. a gas trimmer. We then went through a lot of the competition in corded electric trimmers, and found out that the field is very mediocre, with many poor choices and few good ones. The best trimmers in the list below are better than most, but not always very good. So we are not endorsing all of the products in the following list, but only those which we specifically mark as recommended.

Better than most, but still wanting

The Black & Decker trimmer edger ST7700  is a 13", 4.4A motor, 4.5 lb single line trimmer. The handle rotates 180 degrees to allow use of the trimmer as an edger (vertical cutting), and a secondary handle makes it easier to hold for long periods: "the handles make it east to switch from trimming to cutting". At 4.5 lbs and with good handles, it is lightweight and easy to use: "light and easy to use", "light weight and handles like a gem", "easy to handle." While 4.5A is not huge, the trimmer appears to have enough power: "the new trimmer makes short work of our small yard, unlike the old trimmer this one never bogs down in heavy grass or anything else for that matter"," not too heavy and it has a lot of power","I had weed almost knee high and it took care of them without any problems", "I have both Bermuda and St Augustine grass and it cleanly cuts with out tearing up stolons." Unfortunately, the ST7700 also uses the accursed "Automated" Feed Spool (AFS) system which was such a bane to the GH line that it soured a large number of users to the Black & Decker brand. It is also a bane on this model, although, statistically, not quite as bad as on the GH line: "it wasn't an automatic feed so much as it was an always feed","the automatic feed never worked right","Auto-feed? Try No feed!" The shaft is straight. The cord retention system is good, and makes sure that the power line plug does not simply disconnect as you walk away from the outlet: "I especially like the cord saver in the handle--it keeps the cord from unplugging." The trimmer uses 0.065" diameter line. Users also complain about quality issues and quick breakage: "started smoking after six minutes of light use", "lasted one year", "it started smoking and burned up before we finished even one small job","died after just 3 (approx) minutes". While the trimmer is a lot more silent than a gas powered trimmer, it still makes some motor noise: " high-frequency whine of the motor hurt my ears and I had to pop in some Hearos","only downside is how loud it is." In the end, we think that this model is functionally good, but greatly suffers from poor quality control and quality altogether, and that the AFS system is a major failure for Black and Decker. The ST7700 gets a 64% approval ratings (29/45 at Amazon and Target) but there are few enough reviews altogether that 95% confidence requires 14% error interval, meaning that it could be anything as low as 50% (very low), or as high as 78% (still low). Given the reviews of most other Black and Decker trimmers, we are inclined to believe that it will be the low end of the range.

Earthwise, manufactured by American/ Great Lakes, the famous reel mower brand, is made in China as part of the company's partial move to China manufacturing. The flagship of the line is the Earthwise ST00015, a 15", 6.25A motor, 8.5 lbs, dual 0.065" line trimmer. Motor power is good at 6.25A: " Performance. WOW! This thing rips through my trimming work", "fast and powerful trimmer", "much more powerful", "I like the power it has to cut through thick grass", "I use this on my farm, so it's not like I'm only doing a small lot in town", "I spent four 10 hour days weed-eating my property and my neighbor's with this great weed eater and was VERY pleased." Maybe as a consequence, weight is high, so high as to somewhat nullify the weight advantage that electric trimmers normally have over gas ones. The motor is located at the end of the shaft, next to the cutting head, the traditional location for it (although a couple of new models now locate it by the handle), compounding the weight problem with more difficult balance and handling: "trimmer is a bit heavy in the motor", "balance of the machine is not really great for long term use." The semi-automatic (?) line feed is  applauded at some times and criticized at others:"I also like the semi-automatic line feeder rather than the fully automatic [...] Every time the trimmer winds down, it feeds the line forward just by an inch", "The automatic line feed works very poorly. It will only feed the line when the motor starts so I found myself constantly stopping and starting the trimmer to make it feed sufficient line", "This unit does NOT dispense string every time you touch something so the string I expect to last about forever. You manually put out more string, which I really like. It's very easy, and saves me re-filling the thing every few uses"," I go through string pretty quickly", "motor overpowers cheap trim line. The first thing to do is replace the supplied round nylon line with a "commercial grade" bladed type. Otherwise, you'll get frustrated with constant breakage on dense weeds. If you wind the line evenly the auto-feed should work with few hitches. You have to stop and restart the motor to advance the line 1/4" at a time", "hint: don't buy the kind of line that is sort of star shaped instead of being round, it causes the line not to auto feed very well, in fact jams up frequently. The round smooth kind works the best." Handling is not as ergonomic as it could be: "awkward to handle", "Even for a short guy like me(5'6"), I have to bend my back when using it","trimmer does get a little heavy after using it for awhile." Several reviewers complained about difficulty assembling some screws in the motor housing: "seems to be cleverly designed to make the installation of these screws next to impossible",  "the screws did fall into the white plastic motor housing several times." Other users complain of breakage of fragile parts, including the several parts around the handle and shaft: "here is a list of things that have broken during normal (light) use of this product in only 3 months: spool of trimmer line [...] Handle adjustment lock - so cheaply made of of fragile plastic that the locking mechanism stripped immediately after first adjustment [...] Cutting head adjustment lock [...] stripped and was unusable after three uses [...] Hand grip adjustment lock", "handle broke [in] 15 minutes." In summary, this trimmer has good power, some awkward handling and a bit too much weight. Its line handling system can be frustrating, but not as bad as the Black and Decker AFS system, and quality is not perfect. The trimmer gets approval ratings of 71% (17/24 at Amazon and Mowers Direct), but, because of the low number of reviews, possible error for a confidence level of 95% is 18% (i.e. approval ratings may be as low as 53% or as high as 89%). The company also carries an 11" ST00011 trimmer and a 13" ST00013 trimmer, which carry very few, low ratings. Because American/ Great Lakes does not have a long history of expertise in powered garden tools, and as the reviews are not stellar, we are hesitant to recommend their trimmers at this time - yet the ST100015 trimmer appears better than most.

The Weed Eater RTE115C  is a 15", 4.5A motor, 5.9 lb single 0.065" line trimmer. Power with a 4.5A motor is good: "very powerful for an electric", "real power", "a lot of power", "I have Bermuda grass and this proved to be a great product for me", "surprising power and ability to cut through reasonably thick grass and weeds." The price to pay for the power is the increased weight and lack of balance: "a bit heavy, almost unevenly heavy","weighs quite a bit", "wish it wasn't quite as heavy." The head can be rotated to go from trimming to edging: "ability to twist the trim head is really handy for trimming along the sidewalk." The shaft is made of two parts which sometimes have too much play, something possibly made worse from the RTE112C by the additional power: ""loose at rotation point, has excess play", "so much play at both the shaft joint and where the shaft goes into the motor housing, it will twist the head about 20 degrees when you pull the trigger. This makes it hard to make an even cut", "joint where the two sections of the shaft connect is sloppy, and the head moves on the shaft as well", "the shaft of the trimmer consists of two metal tubes pieces held together by a plastic threaded nut. I have tightened the nut as much as I could, but the tubes still seem to have a lot of play." In this model, Weed Eater went to the bane of string trimmers, automatic feed, using what they call a Centrex head, and, as expected, the automatic feed creates many frustrations in users: "Line runs out faster than you can wrap it", "right out of the box it wouldn't feed so you have to stop every 10 seconds and pull the string out","I also would recommend getting the 0.080 size line", "I almost always found myself with about 1-2 inches of string coming out of the head [...] I went to Lowe's and purchased Heavy Duty 2mm (.080") titanium trimmer line. [...]  This weed eater is now an unstoppable CUTTING MACHINE." The Centrex head is hard to hand-wind with line: "The design of the model leaves no doubt in my mind that the manufacturer deliberately made it more difficult than it needs to be for the do-it-yourselfers and without doubt seems to be designed to encourage the user to buy pre-loaded spools rather than loading your own." There are some issues with the trimmer guard: "wire loop for cutting edges is useless", "it's very difficult to get [the trimmer guard] off after you've assembled it, so I recommend you leave it off completely." Like the RTE112C, the RTE115C is somewhat noisy, although less than a gas trimmer: "would give it 5 stars if they could have made it a little quieter", "it is noisy enough that I feel more comfortable wearing ear plugs when using it." This is a powerful trimmer, with significant integrity issues around the shaft, and an imperfect automatic feed mechanism that makes leaves many users unhappy, although upgrading to a 0.080" line, despite the manufacturer's recommendation, might improve feed performance. The trimmer gathers a low 52% approval rating (26/50 on Amazon and Consumer Reports), unusually due to some dissatisfaction rather than wholesale disapproval (many 3 star reviews, few 1 star reviews), with a possible error of 13% at 95% confidence. While the reviews as a whole do show some approval for the model, we are hesitant to recommend it with such low ratings.

These models are recommended by

#4 HomeLite UT4110 13" Trimmer. The $30 HomeLite UT41110 is a 13", 4.0A, 7 lb dual 0.065" line trimmer, a Home Depot exclusive. It looks suspiciously like a Black and Decker unit. At 4.0A and 7 lbs, it feels like is has enough power but a bit on the heavy side for the relatively small motor: "a bit heavy, but quite powerful","After about 10 minutes of cutting, it gets heavy and awkward to hold","powerful tool for the price", "it gets heavy after a little while." Many users feel that the trimmer does what they want it to do: " I will definitely recommend it","worked exactly as I expected, was lightweight and comfortable"," dual-string design makes it much smoother than single-string trimmers", "little thing works great it took out bigger weeds than i thought","amazing quality for the price", "I could not believe how well it works","amazed by this little guy."  The telescopic shaft adjusts for length: "telescoping rod is cool." The trimmer converts to an edger by rotating the handle, but, as an edger, the unit is not as successful: "the edging feature is terrible. It is extremely difficult to edge along a straight line as you can't see where you are cutting. [...] If edging is part of your plans, do not buy this one." Unfortunately, the UT41110 uses an auto feed system - every time you let of of the handle, the line comes out, and the extra line is cut by an outside blade: "9 ft of string ran out in about a 6 to 8 ft cut path", "it is hard to use 1 spool for an entire yard as the line feeds very fast [...] will never buy another dual line trimmer ever","immediately HATED the "autofeed" of the line. [...] In no time at all all of your line will have been chopped off. Unless you keep it spinning the entire time, [...] you will be buying a lot of additional line", "am not crazy about the string being released every time you adjust your grip on the handle", "the line feeds out extremely fast, most of it gone before I even got 2/3 around my yard (which is about 40feet by 40 feet)", "stopping to use more string than you expect. Wish the double-line feed mechanism was bump and go", "the automatic feed works properly. When you let go of the run switch, in a couple of seconds you hear a 'click'...this is when it is feeds the line. To change the string on the spool was very easy too. " Some users complain of early quality issues: "I have now had 2 of these exact trimmers and both have broken within 4-5 uses","Used it twice and it fell apart." This unit was rated in the middle of the pack by Consumer Reports, although tall grasses and weeds was seen to be a weakness - all higher rated units available on line were panned by their users. This trimmer appears to be a middle of the line unit, with decent power, a but heavy, a poor auto feed system that consumes large amounts of line, and some quality issues. Its approval rating is 66% (29/44 on Home depot and Consumer Reports), with a likely error below 14%. We recommend this unit with reservations, warning potential users of high line consumption.   

#3 Weed Eater RTE112C. The $30 Weed Eater RTE112C (also here) is a 12", 3.7A motor, 4.1 lb single 0.065" line trimmer, which succeeds the RTE112, a long lived trimmer with good reviews. At 4.1 lb, the trimmer is lightweight: "easy to use and not too heavy", "very lightweight", "lightweight and really gets the job done." Handling is good: "I use this trimmer weekly. I am a woman with a medium build so if I can use it I think most people will be able to." While its 3.7A motor is not sized for commercial jobs, it is enough for most yard jobs and its size allows for better handling: "plenty of power for a small yard", "relatively light duty trimmer, but works just fine on a suburban residential property." The feed spool is a traditional bump and go model, and does not attract an unusual amount of complaints for a feature that always has a few issues: "trimmer line that comes in the box is the cheapest stuff you could imagine", "tap n go head did not work", "string does wear rather quickly." A user provides a tip on better feeding experience: "I did replace the line with high quality line and didn't have that problem." There are some quality complaints that seem more frequent in the past few months: "plastic shield broke during the second time I used it", "[shaft] is always loose." This model was poorly rated by Consumer Reports functional test, in particular when dealing with tall grass and weeds -but, of course, Consumer Reports' high scoring models were really panned by their users... User reviews are fair to good, with an approval rating of 74%, and likely error under 12% at 95% confidence (i.e. we are 95% sure that the true approval rating is between 62% and 86%).  We would normally be hesitant to recommend this model, but, in the context of the industry, feel that it warrants recommendation with reservations.

#2 HomeLight 41120. The $40 HomeLite 41120 , also suspiciously similar to a Black and Decker, is the big brother of the 4110 reviewed above. It is a 15", 5.5A motor, 7 lb trimmer. Weight is a bit on the high side, although not overdone giving the high power: "more powerful than I thought [...] a little heavier than what I would have wanted","great power [...]slightly heavier weight", " despite the weight, this model handles well: "very easy to handle","lightweight, easy to set up, and does a very good job." Like the 41110, the 41120 can rotate its handle 180 degrees to convert into an edger:"edger took a bit of practice." As usual for auto feed, there is user dissatisfaction with the line operation: "auto feed works very sporadically and feeds minute elements of line out", "I went through over 7' of line with my yard the first time I used it." There appears to be no weight difference with the 41110, so we assume that this model would do better at tall grasses and weeds than the 41110, which Consumer Reports rated well, albeit worse in that specific area. This model scores high is approval ratings, at 91%, but with few reviews, having a high likely error of 17%. We feel that the 41120 is overall better than the 41110, with the same weaknesses, in particular regarding the auto feed issues, and recommend it with reservations.

#1 Black and Decker ST1000. The $20 Black and Decker ST1000 is the smallest, lightest, and least powerful of all trimmers reviewed here- but it is the one which pleases its users most, and most reliably: "most powerful, easy to assemble, lightweight, easy to store weed whacker I have ever used","one of the best purchases I have bought this summer for my yard","[my wife] asked me just the other day if I
would order a few more to have in reserve", "if and when I do need to replace it, I'll buy the same one", "so glad I gave this thing a shot before spending more $$$." It is a 9", 1.8A motor, 3.2 lb single 0.065" line trimmer. The low weight makes it extremely easy to handle: "extremely light-weight and easy to use","[my mother] can use the trimmer to trim the grass in minutes", "I love this trimmer. It's very light weight", "lightweight and easy to handle", " it's very lightweight and easy to put together" "light weight of the unit makes it easier to drag around". With a 1.8A motor, the power of the unit is limited, but enough for light jobs, in particular when edging or trimming is limited to lawn, without dealing with bush: "this little trimmer packs a lot of power", "power level is sufficient for routine clean-up","good for the lightest weight work but for anything more it is just a toy","for small stuff this thing is perfect", "powerful enough to handle even fairly thick weeds", "obviously not for heavy-duty jobs, but perfect for everyday cleanup","WOW...this thing took care of all of my tall grass! Every now and then you may have to 'back out', let it pick up some speed and go back in to finish, but it gets the job done"  A well designed cord retainer secures the extension cord: "The cord clip keeps the extension cord from pulling out","cord locking mechanism is clever & handy as well."  Thanks to Black and Decker product marketing, this model does not feature the hateful auto feed feature seen in many recent models, but uses a classic bump and go spool: "doesn't feed unless you purposely bump it on the ground","every couple of years I need to buy a new spool as the tip gets worn out from hitting the concrete to release more string." This model and its predecessors have been around for a long time, and seem to last well: "1st one lasted me 9 years", "I bought one of these a decade ago. Finally needed a new one","lasts forever, I purchased one 10 years ago", "over the past 7 years I have purchased 3 of these for [...] my spiritual mom", "just purchased a 2nd one as a backup for the one I have been using for the last 8 years for when it finally dies." This model gets a high approval rating of 85% (76/89 on Amazon, Home Depot and Target) with a low likely error below 7%. We wish that other trimmers were built like this one and do not hesitate to recommend it for all reasonably lightweight uses around a lawn, excluding brush.

Special Prize

We normally only recommend products that can be found on line. In this case, however, we also want to give a special prize to a corded electric trimmer that can only be found in a local brick and mortar store.

Stihl FSE60. The $120 Stihl FSE 60 is a heavy and powerful trimmer, with a 14" cut path, a 5.3A motor, and an 8.8 lb weight, making it the heaviest of all models reviewed here: "easily the most powerful string trimmer I've ever used", "clearing an overgrown lot of tall grass & some seriously THICK weeds - talking weeds with sapling-like TRUNKS here, and it performed very well [...] did the job my budget-end Homelite electric was unable to handle", "There's power to spare; wear long pants or prepare for plant parts to sandblast your shins." Despite the weight, the FSE60 feels good in hand, in part because of the intelligent and innovative positioning of the motor at the top of the shaft, by the hand, and possibly because of the curved shaft: "excellent balance so my back doesn't hurt after 2 hrs."It is also the most expensive trimmer we reviewed, but users accept the price due to the quality, after having tried several cheaper models in the past: "If I had bought this thing four years ago I would have spent less money in the long run that I've wasted on the B&D trimmers." Thank heavens, it comes with a bump and go line spool, rather than an auto feed system: "didn't use a lot of line & feed worked perfectly","it's NOT one of the pain in the rear automatic string feeds (i.e. Black and Decker) so it doesn't use up a lot of string." The feed system, however, it not perfect: "the auto feed system, when being used often in one tall grass session failed to work. Had to take feeder apart and align string and pull through holes." The FSE60, likke the Black and Decker GH1000, uses heavier duty 0.080" feed line. Stihl sells an interesting "quiet line" which is supposed to decrease the noise level of a string trimmer. In the end, The Stihl FSE60 costs more than a consumable, and is built to last longer than one: "easily the best made string trimmer that I have owned." We had a hard time finding reviews for the FSE60 (the ones on epinions do not all appear to apply to the model) but we found multiple references to the FSE60 dispersed across the many hundreds of trimmer reviews we analyzed, and were able to find a total of 21 user reviews (sometimes indirect, as in the cases of a user panning a model who had switched to the Stihl such as this one, sometimes direct, such as in Consumer reports user reviews - subscription required), all but one positive. The FSE60 approval rating is 95%, with a likely error under 10% with 95% confidence. We feel that the FSE60 is an excellent high power trimmer, with quality components and good reliability, and we recommend this model without reservations, for heavy duty uses, in particular involving brush or heavy weeds, and for all users but those with a bad back, for which a 9 lb trimmer might be on the high side.

What you need with your electric corded trimmer

Remember that your corded trimmer does not come with a power cord, a power cord reel or safety glasses. You need them all.

Next we review the best cordless battery-operated string trimmers... So come back soon!

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