String Trimmer Buying Guide
From ease of use to cutting versatility and maintenance, here's everything you need to know about buying a weed whacker.
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Tools used to cut down weeds and harvest crops date back to the oldest human civilizations. Basic scythes are even shown in Neolithic cave paintings.
The good news is, we’re not stuck in the Stone Age! While tools for trimming back weeds and harvesting crops remained mostly unchanged for thousands of years, today we’ve developed technology to allow us to work far faster and with less effort.
What Is a Weed Whacker?
Weed whackers are power tools that consist of a long handle and a rotating head that spins a string-like “blade.” These blades come in different forms, but the most common is a thin piece of nylon, giving these tools the alternate name “string trimmer,” as well as “weed eater” and “weed whip.”
No matter what they’re called, finding the best weed whacker is all about comfort and how often you use it.
Curved vs. Straight-Shaft Weed Whackers
Much like classic scythes, weed whacker shafts are straight or curved. A curved trimmer will be held at a slightly different angle than one with a straight shaft. Most users find the curved form more comfortable, but that’s not universal. If possible, try out both types to see which is the best fit for you.
Straight shafts also allow for a straight drive belt, which provides more power to the rotor. Cordless string trimmers are typically straight shafted because battery life will drop off when power is lost to the curved drive belt. Straight-shaft weed whackers are also capable of accepting attachments, such as edging or saw heads. They excel at accessing hard-to-reach spots.
Curved trimmers are generally targeted to homeowners who value comfort over power, and to pros who know they’ll be using that trimmer for hours at a stretch. Professional-grade curved models are usually gas-powered to overcome the curved drive belt.
Electric vs. Gas Weed Whackers
The choice between electric and gas weed whackers boils down to power and ease of use.
Gas-powered weed whackers are more powerful than electric models. But they also weigh more, and the motor generates vibrations that can cause muscle fatigue. That said, gas-powered weed whackers have a longer run time than most electric models, making them a good pick if you have an especially large yard (an acre or more) or tough vegetation.
If weight is a concern, consider a model with a two-stroke engine, as those tend to be lighter than four-stroke models. (Note that two-strokes run on a gas/oil blend that you’ll need to mix yourself or purchase.)
Electric weed whackers are available in plug-in or battery-powered versions. Plug-ins are the most affordable, but they’re limited by the length of your extension cord. They’re a good choice if you won’t use them often, or expect to be working only in the area directly around your home.
Battery-powered models aren’t constrained by a cord, and higher-end models have power that rivals gas-driven models. Generally speaking, 20V batteries provide less power but are lighter, while 36V or 60V batteries can tackle larger projects.
Weed Whacker Brands
Most major brands of lawn tools produce at least one line of weed whackers. Popular brands include Toro and Honda. Manufacturers of power tools such as DeWalt and Makita also have string trimmer lines. Newer names like Greenworks and EGO often focus on battery-powered options.
Luckily, almost all these lines are available to comparison shop at home improvement stores such as Lowe’s and The Home Depot, as well as other lawn equipment retailers. If you’ll be using your weed whacker frequently or have a large property to maintain, it’s strongly recommended you go to a store so you can feel the heft and balance. If you’ll only be using it occasionally, shop around online for the best possible deal.
Weed Whacker Features
Like most power tools, there are multiple options and features to look for when considering a weed whacker. Some of the most useful include:
- Vibration control to reduce arm fatigue, which is especially important on gas-powered models.
- Interchangeable heads, available on straight-shaft models, allow you to transform your weed whacker into anything from an edger to a limb trimmer.
- Battery interoperability keeps your charging station simple and lets you power multiple tools with the same batteries.
- Easy blade replacement is more important the more often you use your weed whacker. You may also consider fixed-length blades, which use pre-cut lengths of string, rather than spools.
- Bump feed or bump head allows you to advance the spool of string with a simple tap on the ground, rather than manually drawing out the next length of string.
Weed Whacker Maintenance
All weed whackers need to be wiped down from time to time as the pulpy remnants of cut grass and weeds can clog up the spinning motion.
As you might expect, a gas-powered weed whacker requires more maintenance than an electric version. Plan on annual maintenance such as a tuneup, cleaning, new spark plug and so forth. You can DIY for about $20 a year, or you can pay about $100 at a lawn tool service center.