If you’ve got a yard, chances are you need a string trimmer. After all, lawn mowers just can’t get into all those little corners of your garden. And just like shopping for all your other yard equipment, you face a variety of choices when it comes to this handy power tool. Let me break the options down:
Cordless trimmers have a limited battery life, but they’re rechargeable, easy to use and quiet.
Photo Credit: Black & Decker Corp.
Pick a string trimmer that best fits your yard-care needs.
Photo Credit: Black & Decker Corp.
Electric-powered string trimmers are generally less powerful than gas models, but they’re less expensive and quiet enough that you won’t worry about waking the neighbors. They’re also extremely light – some weighing as little as 5 pounds! Startup is a breeze with all electrical trimmers, too: It’s usually nothing more than flipping a switch. Also, as with all electric tools, maintenance is minimal and there’s no need for an annual tune-up.
Corded models, as the name suggests, plug into outdoor outlets. However, the cords can be extremely annoying and prone to cuts. Don’t forget to consider the cord’s length, too (usually about 100 feet). This obviously limits how far you can go from the outlet, so these models are usually a better choice for small yards. Depending on how well the trimmer is designed, the cord may also tend to come unplugged.
If you feel a corded model is a little awkward to handle, consider a battery-powered trimmer. Just beware: The batteries may tend to be a little on the wimpy side – with just enough power to do lighter chores like trimming short grass. Also, the charge generally holds for only about 30 minutes. (But you can always invest in a second battery, so one can be on the charger while you’re using the other.)
Unfortunately, the technology behind rechargeable batteries has a way to go, in that they can make for heavy tools. In fact, some battery-trimmers can weigh as much as gas-powered versions. And as with all rechargeable batteries, they don’t last forever. Depending on how often you charge and use your battery, you may need to replace it sooner than you’d like. But whether you choose a corded or battery-operated electric model, the price point is excellent: Corded trimmers sell between $20-$75, while battery-powered versions are typically $25-$100.
Gas-powered string trimmers are more powerful than their electric counterparts and are great for bigger yards, although they tend to be more expensive. (And starting them can be problematic for those who don’t have much luck with rip cords.) These models also tend to be noisy, and if you’re environmentally conscientious, the emissions can be a problem – even with today’s tougher federal emissions laws.
Gas-powered trimmers are available with either a two-cycle engine (sometimes referred to as two-stroke engine) that needs a gas-oil mixture, or as a four-cycle engine, which is the most powerful and expensive. If you just want to trim grass, a four-cycle engine is way more than you’ll need. It’s really a professional-level tool that’s called for if your chores include, say, cutting down some woody brush.
Nevertheless, while four-cycle engines are more expensive, they’re easier to start, a bit quieter, run more smoothly and run just on gas – so there’s no hassle of mixing in oil the way you need to do with two-cycle engines. The downside is that they’re heavier than two-cycle engines (some weighing as much as 15 pounds). In fact, many models even come with harnesses to strap them onto your body for easier use.
When it comes to cost, gas-powered trimmers start at around $60-$70, but most sell in the $100-$150 range. More powerful models can cost upward of $300.
Of course, I have to say a little something about trimmer accessories, too. The more powerful your trimmer, the more likely there are attachments available. In fact, some models are designed with a special shaft that comes apart so you can replace the cutting head with an attachment that turns your trimmer into an edging blade, leaf blower or a number of other power tools.
An edging attachment is probably the most popular accessory. But heads-up: As a rule, the more powerful the trimmer, the more effective it’ll be. So if your trimmer is relatively underpowered, any attachments will be, too – perhaps making them nearly useless for the particular job you had in mind.
So before you head out to buy a new string trimmer, evaluate your needs. If you’ve got a big yard with a lot of little jobs to do, consider paying a bit more for a tool that’ll get those jobs done. If you’ve got a small yard with fewer needs, don’t bother with the powerful, pricey models – but do spring for a tool you’ll be pleased with. Happy (and safe) trimming!