String trimmers (a.k.a. weed whackers or weed eaters) are available as corded electric, battery powered and gas models that can have 2- or 4-stroke engines. Cordless and corded models are lighter, much quieter, require less maintenance, non-air polluting and less expensive than gas models, though they are somewhat less powerful. While most trimmers are handheld, heavier models (in particular professional-grade gas trimmers) can have a shoulder strap or harness and large two-handed handles. The shafts (a.k.a. shanks) can be straight or curved, which some people find easier to maneuver. Any trimmer can be used as an edge trimmer simply by tilting it to one side. This can be tiresome if you have a lot of trimming to do. On some models the trimmer head can be rotated into a vertical position to make edging much easier. Some newer models are attachment-capable, allowing you to remove the trimmer head and replace it with other landscaping accessories such as a pole saw, hedge trimmer, chain saw or leaf blower. Trimmers have either an automatic string feed mechanism or bump (a.k.a. tap) feed feature. With a bump feed trimmer, you have to tap the head on the ground when the string gets too short; centrifugal force pulls the string from the spool. String (a.k.a. line) is typically made of nylon and available in different diameters and shapes. Some trimmers have spools that feed two strings making them better suited for heavier patches of grass and troublesome weeds. Trimmers referred to as brush cutters use blades rather than string and are designed for cutting shrubs and saplings.
Power source: corded (120 AC), battery (18V – 36V), gas
Cutting path: 12″ to 15″
String thickness: about 0.065″ to 0.110″
Price range: $50 to $900
The way you hold the trimmer and the speed at which you run it vary depending on whether you’re trimming, tapering or edging. Don’t be a know-it-all; read the user manual.
Use the string size recommended by the manufacturer. String that’s too thin can reduce cutting power, while string that’s too thick can strain the motor.
If the string on a trimmer you purchased breaks too easily, upgrading to a higher quality string will work wonders.
Large trimmers can be quite heavy, upwards of 15 pounds, and awkward to handle. Choose a trimmer that you can easily handle for your yard size.
The string on a trimmer spins at several hundred miles per hour and can dislodge rock shards and the like into the air. Always wear eye and ear protection along with leg coverings and gloves.
Carl Duguay - [email protected]
Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.