Saturday, July 10, 2010

What Makes a Good String Trimmer For Your Lawn

Best Electric String Trimmers and Lawn Edgers Review Part 2: What makes a good string trimmer  

Last we discussed what you need to know about lawn trimmers and edgers. In this section we evaluate the attributes that make for a good string trimmer.

Reliability and longevity. String trimmers as a whole are incredibly unreliable, and many models last only one season.  It is remarkable to us how unreliable this whole market is - we do not even feel that the best machines of the lot are really worth recommending as true quality products. Be that as it may, we need to recommend the better ones and will do so - but it is clear that even the best will be found somewhat wanting. In fact, the top two selections that can be found on line in the most recent Customer Reports comparative review have such horrendous reviews that they simply cannot, in good conscience, be recommended for purchase.

Weight. Because of the way trimmers are used, and because they are unsupported by the ground, carrying them puts significant strain on the user's back. Every pound shaved from the unit weight makes a big difference to the user after 1/2 hour has passed - all the more so when trimming takes on a half day or a day.

Safety. A trimmer has a very fast moving string or blade which can significantly damage material, and injure people or pets. The mechanical protection from the blade or string is important. So is the way the cord is protected from injury by the tool, when we deal with a corded tool.The cord lock design, which locks the extension cord onto the tool, is another area where some careful evaluation is useful.

Usability. As always, the usability of the tool makes a huge difference to the user's comfort and product's ease of use. In the case of lawn trimmers, it can often make a difference between using the tool at all or giving it away, especially for smaller, weaker or older users. Among the areas to carefully examine are the handle and shalt, the safety trigger (often a problem area), the weight distribution (more weight closer to the hand is better), the ease with which to increase the string length (if a string tool), and the control with which small, precise movements of the cutting head are possible.

Fit and finish. Trimmers are uniformly mediocre at best in fit and finish. There are, however, some differences between some which are only poor, while others are simply terrible.

Precision. Because trimming involves delicate manipulations at a significant distance from the hand, precision is a very valuable attribute. Unfortunately, design compromises often stake precision against cut path or power. Precision is a much more valuable attribute than many consider before purchase, and should often be placed higher than many other criteria.

Power. Many people only use trimmers for trimming grass, which, in most cases, is very undemanding in terms of power - the smallest units will do fine. But, when we are looking at cutting larger weeds or brush, the available power will make a big difference, typically at the cost of additional weight. For a corded model, power is proportional to the electric current coming through the power cord, measured in Amps (bigger is better). For a cordless model, power is proportional to the voltage of the battery, in Volts (bigger is better). On the whole, we feel that, for most people and most uses, a light machine is more valuable than a powerful machine - of course, specific needs will trump this evaluation:-)

Li-Ion Cordless Battery type. There is no ambiguity on this: Li-Ion batteries are better for outdoor tools, as they are lighter, hold a charge better, and last many more recharge cycles.

Cordless Battery Run Time.  There is nothing more frustrating to users of cordless outdoor tools than short running batteries. While there is no perfect measure of run time except for an actual measure of run time at full speed, which manufacturers hardly ever give (expect for Black and Decker and American Gardener), an approximation of it is the battery capacity in Amp.hours or Ah. Most cordless models hover around 15 minutes, where most users need more like 30 minutes, sometimes more. Do not forget that all batteries, in particular NiCad batteries, will lose some capacity as they get recharged more often.

No Auto Feed. If at all possible, avoid auto feed features, which dispense large amounts of string on an ongoing basis without regards to your actual needs. We feel that auto feed features are  an attempt by string trimmer manufacturers to apply the printer model to the trimmer business, in order to try and make most of the margin on feed line orders. Bump and go feed spools are much more reliable and consume a lot less line.

Cut path. A wider cut path makes for faster work but less precision and more weight. In the case of trimmers, we would recommend going with slightly narrower rather than wider cut paths: handling convenience makes a huge difference to the usability of a trimmer.

Customer Support.  Sometimes you need to be able to get in touch with the manufacturer because your unit has problems. The best trimmer will have a manufacturer which provides quick and efficient customer support, responds well to customer needs,  publicizes a phone number for support, and does not have significant waiting time when you call.

Pole/ handle shape. Straight handles are more reliable and more precise, while curved handles are easier on the user's back.

Single vs. double strings. The spool from which the line is issued may have one or two line exits. Double strings make faster work but have significantly less precision.

Motor location. Most trimmers have their motor located next to the spool. A few models have the motor by the handle, making the machine a lot easier to handle as more of the weight is concentrated by the user's hand, but paying for it by having a less efficient transmission between the motor and the spool or blade.

String dispensing. A good unit will dispense string reliably, typically when the user bumps the spool on the ground while the unit is powered. For many models, string dispensing appears to be a significant weakness when looking at user reviews: the spool do not dispense reliably, or dispense too much, or use up too much string too fast... As a note, some trimmers come without a string but with a blade instead.

Next we discuss when to choose gas vs electric string trimmers... So come back soon!

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