Photos by Manufacturers (Lead Photo by Rob Brown, Detail Photos by Rich Keller)
Battery technology has changed tremendously in the last few years, and it isn’t just cordless tool companies that are taking advantage of this. True, some of the units I tested are put out by power tool giants like DeWalt and Makita, but longtime companies that have exclusively made yard care tools (traditionally called Outdoor Power Equipment) like Husqvarna and Echo are also carrying battery equipment now. I looked specifically at 36–58V units, and many of these products boasted “gas-like power”. These claims would have seemed outrageous 10 years ago, but not anymore. Keeping your property clean and beautiful has been made even easier with the selection of string trimmers available today.
w/2x 3.0Ah batteries
The Makita trimmer has a long shaft on it, which is nice for reaching around and under shrubs and trees. It also keeps me further away from the flying debris, which I really liked. At first I found the line kept breaking on me, but after I installed some new line, the unit worked great. The soft start brushless motor has two speed settings; low was good for around delicate shrubs, while high had lots of power without being too powerful. One feature unique to the Makita trimmer is reverse. If you’re wondering why reverse, that is for clearing brush and debris that gets caught around the head. If the head gets clogged up, you power it up in reverse for a second, and it flings off all the debris. This is a great feature when you’re working in long grass. The Makita uses 2x18V batteries from their current 18V lithium ion platform, making it compatible with all their 18V and 36V tools. If you buy the trimmer as a kit; it comes with their dual 18V charger which is a very nice charger to have if you have the Makita 18V platform in your tool bag already. I did find the Makita a little awkward for edging because of its length, but that’s very typical of a long straight shaft trimmer.
Echo has been making outdoor power equipment for a long time, so they have lots of experience with making string trimmers. Like some of their gas-powered units, this trimmer featured a split shaft with a quick connect system. This allows you to buy other accessories like a hedge trimmer or a cultivator that can be used in place of the included string trimmer head. The 58V system is a bit higher voltage than the other systems I tested, and I did notice a power difference. In my case, I don’t think this was any advantage, as it started ripping my grass out by the root instead of cutting it. The unit does have infinite variable speed available at the trigger, so it’s easy to dial that power back a bit. Overall the unit was a bit heavy, although it was well balanced. It also had the largest cutting circle of any of the units I tested, at 16″. I think probably for most people the Echo will be too big and powerful; however, it really depends on your needs. If you have a country lot or a farm and you’re looking for a unit that will really rip through tough weeds and grass, I think this is it.
w/ 2.1 Ah Battery
I really liked the Husqvarna trimmer over all. The assembly was pretty quick and easy. One of the really nice features was the adjustable shaft length. Two cam locks allowed different sections to telescope in and out and made it very convenient to change length on the go. I found the controls and feel of the unit to be very comfortable and ergonomic. I also found the Husqvarna unit to work really well edging along my curb, and had just the right amount of power. Eco mode was powerful enough for trimming, and full power could cut through tough roots for edging. I did find that the unit was a bit nose-heavy, but it wasn’t a deal breaker for me.
DeWalt offers trimmers in three different voltages (20V, 40V, and 60V) and you may be wondering why so many choices. The 20V and 60V versions are compatible with their current 20V and 60V Flexvolt line-up. The 40V trimmer, which I looked at, is only battery interchangeable with DeWalt’s other 40V cordless products. The 40V line from DeWalt is geared exclusively for lawn care professionals who don’t need to have battery interchangeability with other tools in DeWalt’s line. The benefit of not being able to use your 40V trimmer battery on your cordless circ saw is that the 40V battery has been optimized to work the best it possibly can for outdoor power equipment. DeWalt also makes a number of other tools in the 40V platform, including blowers, hedge trimmers, chainsaws, and even backpack blowers. One thing I liked right away about the DeWalt trimmer was the fact that it came out of the box fully assembled. It seems like a little thing, but it’s nice to not wonder what to do – you can just get to work. The 40V 6Ah battery is pretty big, actually a little bit bigger than a Flexvolt battery, but once it’s in the trimmer it balances out nicely. The brushless motor has two speed modes and lots of cutting power. With 15″ of cutting capacity, this trimmer can head through some tough stuff in a hurry.
The Greenworks trimmer was a bit lighter than some of the others I tested, but it didn’t lack in power at all. The split shaft system was easy to assemble, and easy to disassemble for storage. The unit has variable speed, but I found the unit seemed to go from slow speed when barely pressing the trigger, to almost half speed without depressing the trigger much more. There doesn’t seem to be a great range of low speeds. One thing I did like with the Greenworks trimmer was the auto feed head. Basically, you just trim away, and the line advances itself as it needs to. The unit also has charge level indicators on the 4Ah battery. The 12″ cut capacity is not the biggest of the units I tested, but still ample enough to do a city-sized lot reasonably quickly.
At first glance this unit looks very much the same as the Greenworks unit, and indeed the batteries are interchangeable. There are some feature differences that distinguish the two units from each other. One feature is the split shaft. The Yardworks trimmer uses a tool-free system that is very fast to put together and take apart. This makes assembly quick out of the box, and makes it easy to take the unit apart to store if you want to. I also found there was a good system to rotate the head of the unit around for edging. On the Greenworks unit, the head is fixed, and you have to flip the whole trimmer upside down to edge, but that isn’t the case with the Yardworks unit. The Yardworks trimmer lacks the auto feed head. Every time you need more line, you have to stop and press a button on the trimmer head to manually pull more line out. The guard on the Yardworks unit has a wheel on the back of it, which makes the job of edging easy (when the head is rotated around for edging, the wheel contacts the ground). However, I did find that the guard was way too large to really see anything that you’re trimming.
The Ryobi trimmer features a split shaft, which is common to a lot of the trimmers I tested for this article. Like a couple of other units I tested, Ryobi has some optional accessories that can be used in place of the trimmer head. Not every trimmer with a split shaft has extra accessories available. For example, a blower, a cultivator, and a pole pruner/chainsaw can all be powered with the same motor. This is a great system to get into if you want to do some serious yard work, as you can economically purchase these attachments to allow you to do more with the motor you already own. The Ryobi trimmer has an adjustable cutting swath from 13–15″ with variable speed control at the trigger. The Ryobi trimmer had lots of power to cut, but not to the point of being overpowered.
Black and Decker
The Black & Decker trimmer has a couple of nice features. It has a brushless motor, which is really surprising for the price point and it’s fairly lightweight, which is nice. I also really like the design of the shaft. The length can be adjusted quickly and easily with the cam lock, and the head rotates easily with one button for edging. It also comes standard with an auto feed head, which means you won’t be fumbling around trying to advance the line. One concern I have with the unit is the 1.5 Ah battery, which was the smallest of all the units I looked at. I am concerned that the unit will not have great run time.
Sometimes it’s hard to pick a “best choice” in a category. All of these trimmers were able to do the job on my average-sized city lot. When the grass gets really unruly, it can take almost 15 minutes to do all my trimming, maybe 20 if I edge along the curb. I admit that my lawn probably wasn’t the greatest challenge these trimmers could ever face, but I think it probably is a good representation of the average reader. There are a couple of factors that might make you choose a different a trimmer than I did though. Battery interchange is a big convenience. If you have already invested in batteries of a particular make, it would be no surprise that you would want to purchase a trimmer that would go along with it. Out of the ones I tested, I think you would find that any of these units will perform well for you. If you were starting from scratch, with no inkling to go any particular way, here are my thoughts.
For the “Best Professional” choice, I would pick the DeWalt. It has plenty of power, good balance, and a battery that is specifically designed and optimized for outdoor equipment. It’s also modestly priced and comes assembled and ready to work. All you need to do is charge the battery before its first use. I also like the fact that the DeWalt has a brushless motor. For the professional user, that means more runtime per charge, and longer life of the tool before breakdown.
For the “Best Hobbyist” choice, I would pick the Ryobi trimmer. Given the price point, I think it gives the best bang for your buck. It has a good battery system that can work on other tools, and there are some interchangeable accessories available to use in place of the trimmer head on this unit. It also uses heavier line, which I am a fan of. I don’t find that the .065″ line is great for edging along concrete. The .080″ line seems to stand up better.
For the “Best Overall” choice, I really liked the Husqvarna trimmer. It is lightweight, powerful and easy to use. I like that the length adjusts quickly and easily with a cam lock (B&D also had this feature). My lot is hilly, so being able to shorten the machine quickly when working above your feet is great. I also found the unit worked very nicely for edging. It is very light, powerful and easy to maneuver.