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Product Review 1: Line Trimmers & Brushcutters

How to Select a Line Trimmer; or, How to avoid Wacky questions about weedwackers – May 2002

WESTFIELD: A string line trimmer – commonly known as a weedwacker – is a versatile tool for helping to maintain the ever-encroaching weeds and grass around the home or commercial facility. A common sight in the Spring and Summer, the stick-like, buzzing line trimmer is seen and heard throughout the day as landscaper and homeowner address the need for that “finished”, edged and trimmed look.

A good line trimmer is a great time saver; a poor one is a source offrustration. A good one starts promptly, has a balanced feel in the hand, and trims or edges quickly with a minimum of vibration and fuss. A poor one starts reluctantly, is unbalanced, and usually presents frustrating problems with the way the line head and spool advances fresh cutting line.

Line trimmers are powered in one of three ways: gas line trimmers (usually with a 2-cycle engine; although some 4-cycle units are available), corded electric line trimmers (plugs into 110V circuit) and cordless electric line trimmers (operates off of batteries). Some folks like an electric for the lower noise and reduced weight; however, the trade-off becomes the lack of mobility (oneself is either “married” to the cord on a 110V unit; or, with a cordless trimmer, the necessity for regular recharging – perhaps in the midst of a job!), the reduced power to trim and edge with the electrics, and the greatly reduced life expectancy of an electric versus a gas trimmer. So, most people opt for a gas line trimmer.

Gas line trimmers come in two basic configurations: (1) bent shaft and (2) straight shaft. Bent shaft is normally used by most homeowners while straight shaft line trimmers are the overwhelming choice of the professional landscape contractor. A good, bent shaft line trimmer is generally more than adequate for the average homeowner; however, a straight shaft trimmer offers some distinct advantages (which is why the commercial user prefers a straight shaft trimmer!).

First, a straight shaft line trimmer enables an easy reach under low, overhanging bushes and shrubbery. Second, the extra length of the shaft increases the distance of the user from the spinning line head which, when operating, results in a considerable spitting and flinging of debris (always wear eye protection!). Third, it is easier to deliver consistent power from the engine to the spinning line head with a straight shaft versus a curved (bent) shaft. This staight shaft also reduces vibration, which reduces wear and tear both on the product and on the user’s hands, wrists and forearms. Fourth, a better straight shaft line trimmer can utilize a solid, steel shaft instead of a flex cable to deliver the power to the line head (a solid, straight steel shaft – for obvious reasons – cannot be used on a bent shaft trimmer). This further enhances power delivery to the line head, as well as further reducing vibration. Lastly, a straight shaft trimmer will accept optional steel saw blades for cutting scrub and brush up to 1″ thick – you cannot put such accessories onto a bent shaft unit (the bent shaft units are not powerful enough to effectively spin the blade; plus, the ankles and the blade would be within kissing distance …). In this latter application, the trimmer is more appropriately referred to as a brush cutter.

Therefore, the largest, most powerful line trimmers are always straight shaft machines. The standard handle assembly on larger units can also be upgraded to “bull handles”, which are large, U-shaped handles providing optimum control when cutting back quantities of grass or weeds for extended periods of time. Such units with bull handles also generally come equipped with a harness over the shoulders and back to comfortably position the trimmer and help take up any extra weight.

The key to selecting a line trimmer for home use is to understand that a quality unit offers ease of starting, more comfortable trimming due to better balance and less vibration, better power for smoother, faster trimming or edging, and, lastly, but, perhaps, most importantly, a line head that operates properly – i.e., it smoothly advances fresh monofilament trimming line upon demand and does not suddenly fly apart into its component pieces without warning. A good quality line trimmer will last the average homeowner fifteen to twenty years with substantially little or no maintenance problems, and will leave the user quite satisfied with its performance. Look for a brand of manufacturer that makes commercial line trimmers for landscaping use, and ask to see their homeowner models. In this way, oneself will be able to acquire a homeowner model made with quality. And, if maintenance is required, the parts will be readily available – unlike the mass merchant brand of trimmer.

For further questions on line trimmers; or, for any questions containing to Outdoor Power Equipment (OPE), please contact The Eardly T. Petersen Company at 908-232-5723; or, visit them at 224 Elmer St., Westfield or at their website at