String Trimmer 101

The last piece of outdoor power equipment I bought was a gas-powered string trimmer.  And honestly, it’s the one my neighbors borrow the most during the dog days of summer.

String Timmer 101 by Briggs & Stratton

I think the reason my string trimmer has become community property in the neighborhood is because my neighbors are afraid.  String trimmers just haven’t been available to us as American consumers as long as, say, walk behind mowers.  And the act of purchasing a string trimmer can be daunting.  Here’s the good news:  I’m here to help.

First, let’s talk about why you need a string trimmer.

I think there are two primary reasons to own a string trimmer (besides making your neighbors jealous).  The first is to reach the hard-to-reach places your mower won’t go – brush, weeds, longer grass on steep inclines ir against a tree. The second is actually my favorite reason – because it makes your yard look neat, tidy, and “finished” (yes, I am a little bit of a neat-freak).  I love casually walking along on a sidewalk, next to a recently-mowed and striped lawn, with the clean lines of a string-trimmed lawn.

So, which trimmer should you buy?

Electric trimmers can get smaller jobs done, but my preference is still a gas-powered trimmer.  I like the freedom of walking around my yard without having to be “plugged in”.  And I love, love, love the feel behind a gasoline-powered trimmer.  I can actually feel the power, and it gives me the confidence I need to tackle the almost-out-of-control weeds that keep popping up in my backyard this season, or the brush that lines my backyard and a local farmer’s field.

So what else should you consider when purchasing a string trimmer?  There are some basic questions you should ask when you are “ready to buy”:

  1. How much power do you need? The biggest factor to consider when choosing a trimmer is how big is your yard?  Ultimately, the bigger the property, the more power you want to tackle the job.  But you will also need to think about the terrain in your yard.  Is it woodsy or weedy?  Do you have just rocky areas, just sloped areas, or the dynamite duo of rocky, sloped areas? Is your primary goal really to make your sidewalk look pretty (the neat-freak in me is screaming “Yes!”), or are you in fact trying to clear a hillside of saplings?
  2. Next, you will want to think about who will be using your string trimmer (besides your neighbors). Choose a trimmer that doesn’t feel too cumbersome because you’ll be carrying it around your property. Gas trimmers are heavier than electrics and weigh between 10 to 14 pounds, but they are more powerful and they provide the freedom of movement without being tied to a cord.
  3. How much maintenance does the model require (in other words, how much maintenance are you willing to do)? Gas-powered string trimmers are available in two-cycle and four-cycle models. Two-cycle models require you to mix fuel and oil and keep it on hand in a separate fuel container for your trimmer. Larger 4-cycle models are also available which use gasoline only, like your tractor or lawnmower (oil for lubrication is in a separate reservoir in the engine). Four-cycle engines tend to be more powerful at lower speeds and run cleaner, producing fewer emissions than a 2-cycle engine (without a catalytic converter).
  4. How does it feel? While a lighter trimmer seems on the surface to be a sure-fire decision, it isn’t just about the weight of the trimmer.  Good balance can be just as critical. One recommendation is to “test drive” the trimmer.  Adjust the front handle for comfort and hold the trimmer in the cutting position with both hands. Its weight should be distributed so that you don’t struggle to keep the trimmer head several inches above the turf. Also check that all the controls are smooth and easy to reach. If you’re left-handed, make sure a gasoline-powered trimmer you’re considering has a deflector that routes the hot exhaust gases rearward (most now include one).
  5. What features do you want? 

When shopping for a string trimmer, look for features that enable you to get faster starts, fewer tangles, and easier handling. Some heavier models offer a shoulder harness, which can ease handling and reduce fatigue. Other convenient features include easy-to-reach and easy-to-adjust switches and comfortable handles.

I don’t mind that I am the neighborhood outdoor power equipment expert, or that my neighbors borrow my string trimmer.  I actually feel a bit of an obligation as a “power equipment ambassador”, to guide my neighbors in their journey to master yard work.  I just wish they would remember to bring it back polished.

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