Friday, July 23, 2010

Best Heavy Duty Cordless Trimmers

Best Electric String Trimmers and Lawn Edgers Review Part 9: Heavy Duty Cordless Trimmers

Most cordless trimmers are optimized for what constitutes their sweet spot: mid-size yards that are regularly maintained, and where typical work involves grass and light to medium weed trimming and edging. But, if you need to deal with serious brush cleaning that requires a high torque, what choices do you have among cordless trimmers?

In the process of reviewing the cordless trimmer market, we uncovered two models which were able to deal with significant heavy duty work. The first one has a long and distinguished track record, while the other one is the highest end in the Black and Decker product line.

#2 American Gardener YS24 Yardstick. The $100 American Gardener YS24 Yardstick is a 10", 24V, 10.5 lb, single 0.080" line trimmer with an unusually long battery run time. This cordless trimmer runs rare 24V lead acid batteries which give approximately 30 to 45 minutes minutes of continuous run time (although, of course, interrupted operations will give you better run time). In this world of quickly changing model numbers, the Yardstick has been around for almost a decade, and still does well.

The Yardstick is a rather heavy trimmer, whose operation is helped by a harness  if you are not a strapping broad-shouldered outdoorsman: "it's a little heavy", "not light by any stretch but its no heavier than a gas unit", "product is also extremely heavy - best suited for a young, strong person","tad bit heavier than I would like", "weighs about the same as a small gas trimmer", "only drawback I've have found is the weight of the trimmer. My arm gets really tired after trimming for 45 min", "wish it had a strap."

The long lasting battery actually lasts long and the DC motor provides good torque: "battery last a long time", "charge lasts approximately 45 min. which is usually sufficient for a half-acre yard", "plenty of power and run-time", "every bit as effective as any gas trimmer I have owned without the noise and the complications of a gas engine", "gets though heavier stuff than I would have imagined", "the charge lasts way longer than I need." The battery is internal, so, to recharge the unit, you need to leave it right by the charger, which is fairly slow: "takes about 16 hours to charge."

The trimmer easily converts into an edger: "really trims & cuts GREAT." The line is a heavy duty 0.080" line, which allows the user to replace it eventually with heavy duty commercial square section line. While some would prefer dual line spools, we like the precision of single line trimmers. A few users complain about the line not feeding very well: "you need to take your time reloading the string", "line would break continuously [ ] I learned that you need to wind several empty spools, then let them rest for a couple of days int he sun to let the plastic string "set" or curl to the spool."

Several users complained of breakage of small parts including the cutter - it appears that starting 18 months ago, the box includes replacements for these parts as well: "replacement cutter, springs and other parts included with the product [ ] the parts that were described as being of poor quality in earlier reviews were included in case replacement was needed." Some users mention other mechanical parts failures, but in limited numbers altogether.

As for other cordless models, the batteries end up eventually not taking a charge, although the Yardstick seems to have good battery longevity, probably due to lead-acid technology: "I've had it for about six years, and the battery has held up well since then." Others mention their battery running out after a more typical three years. This, however, is when many users run into trouble, as it appears that the American Gardener parts department is quite unreliable, and it takes a long time to get anything from them: " "I ordered a new battery and charger. I have currently been waiting seven weeks for the replacement." Worse, many users mention having battery trouble right at the outset, and not being able to get replacements for free: "when I called about warranty, told me sounded like problem was battery and batteries have no warranty", "battery would not hold a charge. When I talked to customer service they said it has a two year warranty but does not cover the battery."

We find it incredible that, if batteries turn out to be faulty after a small number of months, they do not get replaced under warranty: this is a major issue in American Gardener customer support policy, one which is so significant that it impacts our recommendation as a whole.The Yardstick gets 68% positive ratings with a likely error under 7% (122/179 on Amazon).

The American Gardener Yardstick has shown good quality and functionality and has a long track record, along with reasonably good user reviews. It has excellent battery run time, the Achilles' heel of cordless trimmers. Its nonexistent battery warranty, however, only allows us to recommend it with reservations.

#1 Black and Decker NST2036. The $170 Black and Decker NST2036 is a seriously heavy (11.9 lb) but powerful (36V) 14" trimmer. It uses a straight telescopic shaft with most of the weight concentrated in the handle, making it easier to hold and move. The bump and feed spool (we like that compared to the awful Black and Decker AFS) uses heavy duty 0.080" dual line.

The NST2036 as a whole is a heavy duty machine, only usable by those with a strong back and with serious trimming needs - although weight is relative, and  this cordless trimmer is actually lighter than many gas trimmers: "near gas trimmer power without the noise and without the pollution", "heavy duty trimmer, it has some weight to it", "lots of power, be sure to wear proper [ ] safety glasses and shoes","as powerful as any gas powered trimmer I've used" . It comes with a harness, which is necessary to handle its bulk - although the harness itself could be better: "unit is a bit heavy and a better harness for use would be good, I am using the one from a Husky brush saw","adjustable shoulder strap [is] not very comfortable but a must for older people like me who can't handle the whole weight of it for a long period of time." The trimmer does not convert into an edger.

The NST2036 uses a traditional NiCad 36V battery with 2.4Ah capacity, more than other Black and Decker models, but less than what a serious trimming job typically needs, approximately 15 minutes, more if you run at lower speed. You really need two batteries (an extra battery costs $100) if you have the needs that justify buying this model : "2 batteries are needed","battery life is questionable", "Don't buy this trimmer without purchasing the second (expensive!) battery", "I had to buy another battery [ ] to finish trimming around my four acres."

The trigger is a variable speed trigger, and keeping the power down very significantly boosts battery run time: "learning to control the variable-speed trigger was the trickiest part. I've found that keeping the speed down doubles the time a battery charge lasts. I ordered an extra battery so I can usually work for almost an hour and a half", "You don't need full power all the time and it makes the battery last longer, when your not trimming don't hold the trimmer on like a gas trimmer","battery seems to lasts longer if the trigger is not pulled full on while trimming." The dual charger is very slow, needing 12 hours to finish the job, although, on the other hand, it also seems to be quite safe for the batteries themselves, since we saw few complaints about defective batteries - a very common problem with the 30 minute fast charger of the WorxWG151.

The bulk of the complaints go to the short battery run time, with people complaining of only getting 15 to 20 minutes (which is what the spec calls for). Customer support is good, as tested by The NST2036 gets the best cordless trimmer ratings from Consumer Reports, albeit still lower than many gas trimmers, although we are not convinced that Consumer Reports properly rates trimmers. The model gathers 66% positive ratings with a likely error under 10% (59/90 from Amazon and Consumer Reports).

The NST2036 is a solid cordless model, probably the closest there is to a gas trimmer, with good engineering and no obvious quality problems. It battery life runs to specs (15 minutes) but probably requires the use of two batteries in most cases, increasing the price to $270 total. The trimmer is heavy for an electric trimmer, and will only work for people with a solid back. It should only by used who actually have a need for all of its power, along with the ability to carry it. We believe that Black and Decker is updating its cordless trimmer line to Li-Ion, and will probably come out with a lower weight version of the NST2036 in the next year. Within these limitations, we heartily recommend the NST2036.

So far we have discussed electric and cordless trimmers in depth - but what should you be putting in them? Next we review the best trimmer lines... So come back soon!

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