Those cramp-inducing grass clippers of the Leave It to Beaver era have evolved, mercifully, into the string trimmer. String trimmers reduce the time and effort involved in yard work, which has landed them among the most popular and best-selling yard tools. Although simple in function, string trimmers vary widely in performance and neighbor-annoying noise, but Pronto’s String Trimmer Buying Guide will point you to the tool that you—and your neighbors—will love to use.
Gas trimmers are the most powerful, but also the heaviest, messiest, noisiest and most polluting. Gas string trimmers also require the most maintenance, but they’re the best choice if you have a large yard or thick weeds to trim.
Corded electric string trimmers are not quite as powerful as gas trimmers and they are limited to the range of a 100-foot extension cord. Corded string trimmers are quieter, lighter, less polluting and virtually maintenance free.
Cordless string trimmers are the quietest models available, and their cutting power compares well to corded trimmers. Battery life is a concern, as most batteries take 24 hours to charge and offer only 15 to 45 minutes of operation. Consider getting a second battery to extend trimming time.
There are two types of string trimmer shafts. Curved shafts offer greater comfort, better balance, lighter weight and easier handling than straight shafts. Straight shafts are better at getting into hard-to-reach places under bushes and decks. Look for telescoping shafts and split shafts that allow a string trimmer to use additional attachments.
The string trimmer you buy will determine the thickness and cutting width of the string you can use. Cutting paths range from 8 to 18 inches. Most string trimmers have a bump-and-feed mechanism to feed new string. Find out how complicated it is to replace the string and look for a narrow gap between the spool and the debris guard to prevent tall grass from wrapping around the cutting mechanism.
The sharing of weight between both ends of a string trimmer’s shaft. The better the balance, the lighter the string trimmer feels.
A mechanism that allows you to advance new string onto the spool by tapping the bottom of the cutting unit on the ground.
The shield at the top of the cutting unit that prevents cut grass and other debris from being thrown at the user while trimming.
A metal rod that runs from the handle of a string trimmer to its cutting mechanism. Shafts can be straight or curved.
A type of string trimmer shaft that allows the trimmer spool to be replaced by other attachments for edging or cultivating.
The part of a string trimmer that holds the wound nylon cord. Spools can either be fixed, which requires you to wind replacement string around them, or replacable, which lets you pop in a new string cartridge when string runs out.
Plastic or nylon cord of varying thicknesses that spins at high speeds to cut grass and weeds. The thickness of a string trimmer’s cord determines the thickness of the materials it can cut.
The single most important consideration when you’re buying a string trimmer is its power supply. String trimmers run on either gasoline or electricity, and electric models are further divided into corded and cordless models.
Gasoline-powered string trimmers have three major features going for them: they are the most powerful, most durable and most portable string trimmers on the market. They are the best at cutting tall or thick grass or weeds, and, due to their usually larger string size, they can even cut small brush. Since they carry their power supply with them, they can travel with you as far as your trimming takes you. Professional landscapers use gasoline-powered string trimmers almost exclusively.
Gasoline-powered string trimmers are the least environmentally friendly, however. They are the noisiest string trimmers by far and they emit noxious exhaust fumes. Both of these drawbacks are being addressed with new hybrid engines that are both quieter and cleaner.
Gasoline-powered string trimmers are messier to deal with and require more attention than electric trimmers. Most gasoline-powered trimmers use two-stroke engines which require that oil be mixed with the gasoline in exact proportions. Gasoline-powered string trimmers also require regular maintenance, including cleaning or replacing the air filter and spark plug.
Gasoline-powered string trimmers are also the heaviest choice, with weights ranging from 10 to 15 pounds or more.
Corded electric string trimmers are less expensive than gasoline-powered trimmers. They are the lightest string trimmers available, with some weighing as little as five pounds. They require none of the messy and complicated refueling of gas models and need virtually no maintenance. Barring a power outage, a corded string trimmer is always ready to go.
Corded string trimmers start with the simple push of a button, they are much quieter than gasoline-powered trimmers and they don’t give off pollutants. While corded string trimmers generally aren’t as powerful as gas-powered trimmers, new designs are bridging the gap.
The major drawback to corded electric string trimmers is the cord. Wherever you wander in the course of your trimming, you are always tethered to an electrical outlet. Depending on the size of your yard, that may prevent you from getting as far as you need to go. A heavy duty 100-foot extension cord is the maximum range for corded string trimmers. Beyond this distance, the trimmer won’t get enough power for proper operation.
Cordless electric string trimmers use removable, rechargeable batteries as their power supply. Like gasoline-powered string trimmers, they are fully portable. And like corded electric string trimmers, they have no messy fuel requirements, start with the push of a button, are environmentally cleaner and, as long as the battery is charged, they are always ready for use. Cordless electric string trimmers are the quietest of the three choices.
The batteries in cordless string trimmers take up to a day to charge, and the charge lasts only 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the model. While this is good for trimming smaller yards, it is inadequate for large jobs. The solution to this is to purchase an extra battery, and some cordless string trimmers include an extra as part of the package. Cordless electric string trimmers can be almost as heavy as gas trimmers, and if the motor is at the bottom, they can be difficult to handle.
Your second consideration when looking for a string trimmer is the shaft. There are two styles: straight and curved. The bottom portion of a curved shaft bends—curves—toward the ground. Curved shafts are generally more comfortable, better balanced, lighter and easier to maneuver up close than straight shafts. Straight shafts are longer, which gives them better reach. Choose a string trimmer with a straight shaft for trimming under bushes and shrubs, decks and other hard-to-reach places.
Some string trimmer shafts telescope, allowing you to adjust length and reach. String trimmers with split shafts let you to use a variety of extra attachments, such as blowers, hedge trimmers and cultivators. When you’re comparing shafts, think about the balance of the string trimmer and make sure that all controls are easy to reach.
The string in a string trimmer is plastic or nylon cord that extends from a rotating hub at the bottom of the shaft. String comes in varying thicknesses and cutting widths range from 8 to 18 inches. The string you can use will be decided by the string trimmer you buy, so if you value a wider cutting width, look for a trimmer that has one.
Most string trimmers have a bump and feed mechanism. When the string breaks, you simply tap the bottom of the trimmer on the ground and new string is fed onto the hub; a blade on the safety shield cuts it to the right length. Other trimmers have an automatic feed, releasing additional string whenever it is needed.
Think about how much work you’re willing to do to replace the string. While some string trimmers use replaceable string cartridges, others require you to wind replacement string around a fixed spool, which takes time. Look for string trimmers that have a short gap between the debris guard and the spool, which prevents tall grass from wrapping around the top of the cutting mechanism and slowing the motor.