Powered trimmers revolutionized the landscaping industry when they appeared in the early 1970s. Gone were the days of hand trimming around sidewalks, flower beds, buildings, retaining walls and fences. Trimmers are now vital tools for landscape professionals, and manufacturers have created products and accessories to fit almost any application. The challenge these days is choosing among so many options. Here are five questions to ask before purchasing new trimmers for your company.
1. Who will be operating your trimmers?
Many companies reserve trimming duties for new crew members who are just learning the ropes or temporary summer workers who give crews extra support during the busy season. If this is your firm’s tactic, keep in mind new and seasonal workers will need to be trained to operate the particular trimmers your company uses. Some of them might not have experience operating any type of trimmer, and, depending on the type of trimmer heads you purchase, you’ll need to teach them how to cut, wind, load and advance line. Be sure to build this training time into your hiring schedule.
Also, consider the learning curve and ease of use when shopping for new trimmers. Loading and advancing line is easier and faster with some trimmer heads than with others (See question 5 below).
2. Should you buy gas or electric models?
In the past, professional landscapers almost always chose gas-powered trimmers, but innovations are making the decision tougher.
Some electric models now match the performance of gas-powered models. They also offer the benefits of easier starting, fewer maintenance needs and no fuel costs or pollution. Lower noise levels make it easier to protect employees’ hearing (and stay compliant with occupational safety and health regulations), and clients usually appreciate noise reductions as well. On the “con” side, corded electric models limit mobility, especially when obstacles are present, and crew members have to spend time plugging extension cords into different outlets. Battery-powered trimmers eliminate cord-related issues, but batteries typically have to be recharged or replaced multiple times during the work day.
Gas models are still more powerful than many electric models and have the advantages of long run times and unlimited mobility. Crews don’t have to carry extension cords or extra batteries or wait for batteries to charge, and they’re likely using gas already for other equipment. On the downside, crew members have to get the fuel-oil mix right and avoid gas with high levels of ethanol, which can damage small engines.
Whether gas or electric trimmers are best for your operation likely depends on the types of properties you service and your customers’ preferences. In areas where eco-friendliness and low noise levels are valued, electric models could be the right choice. If you’re tackling large areas and clients don’t have noise or environmental concerns, gas trimmers might fit the bill.
3. Should shaft housing be curved or straight, and should drive shafts be solid or flexible?
Trimmers with curved shafts are lighter weight and easier to maneuver in some circumstances, but they’re designed primarily for consumer use. Professional landscapers typically go with straight-shaft designs because they’re more powerful and durable and have a longer reach that allows you to trim under shrubs and decking and in other tight spaces. Most models come with interchangeable heads, allowing crews to tackle a range of jobs.
Straight-shaft trimmers have either solid-steel drive shafts or flexible-cable drive shafts within the shaft housing. Solid-steel drive shafts have a reputation for being more durable and powerful, but experts say flex-cable drive shafts deserve a second look. Solid-steel drive shafts transfer more torque from the clutch to the head without dampening power, but because flexible drive shafts absorb shock, they reduce gear and clutch wear and damage. If the housing containing a flexible-cable drive shaft gets bent, you might be able to continue using it. However, if the housing on a solid-steel-drive-shaft trimmer gets bent, you must replace it.
4. Should you sample multiple trimmer types and brands?
The good news about judging trimmer performance in relation to your jobs is you don’t have to guess about it based on specs or reviews. And you don’t have to invest in multiple trimmer types and brands, either. When you’re buying several trimmers, most distributors will let you test their products in real settings. If you plan to use attachments, see how the trimmers handle those, too.
Field testing is the route to go because equipping your entire fleet with only one or two trimmer types improves efficiency. Training workers is faster and easier, and your mechanics will become familiar with the machines, making maintenance and repair quicker. You can further reduce downtime by cost-efficiently stocking common replacement parts.
5. What type of trimmer head and line do you need?
Choosing a trimmer head is likely your most important decision. It determines how line is loaded and fed through the system and has the most bearing on how your trimmers operate. It also governs the type of line you use because most trimmer heads are designed to handle a particular size range.
In general, line ranges in thickness from 0.06 to 0.155 inches. Thicker line tends to last longer, but for light jobs, thinner line could work just as well. Claims abound regarding which line material is more durable and which line shape – smooth or edged, round, square, spiral, etc. – cuts most efficiently. In general, edged lines are considered better than round for commercial applications, heavy weeds and medium- to large-sized properties. Almost every line type has advantages and drawbacks. Trying various sizes and shapes on your jobsites is the best way to find the right match for your applications. You likely have a preference for certain types of line already, so make sure those sizes will fit the trimmer heads you’re thinking of purchasing.
There are five trimmer-head designs: automatic feed, bump feed, manual feed, fixed head and disk.
With automatic-feed heads, the operator winds line around a spool, threading equal lengths of line through two openings in the trimmer head. During operation, the system automatically feeds line, saving time. If the line-spool motor stops functioning properly, however, repairing or replacing it can be time consuming and expensive.
Like automatic-feed trimmer heads, most bump-feed systems use line wound around the spool by the operator. The operator dispenses line by lightly “bumping” the trimmer on the ground, prompting a spring system to release line. Bump-feed systems give the operator more control over how much line he or she uses, and because the spring system is less complex than a line-spool motor, repairs are usually quicker and easier.
Manual-feed heads also use spools of wound line, but require the operator to turn off the trimmer and manually advance line. The trade-off is fewer parts to potentially break.
Fixed-head designs don’t use line spools. Instead, operators thread individual pieces of line into the trimmer head. While fixed-head designs eliminate the hassle of winding line, the operator has to stop the machine and replace line as needed since the trimmer head doesn’t hold extra line.
The newest trimmer-head design overcomes many disadvantages associated with traditional designs and makes line replacement much faster. The Oregon Gator® SpeedLoad™ Cutting System doesn’t require cutting, winding or threading line, and line doesn’t get tangled in the trimmer head the way it can with most other designs. The system uses discs of pre-wound line that operators can load in 20 seconds or less, without tools or the risk of losing parts in the grass. Discs fit into operators’ pockets so they don’t have to make a trip to the truck for replacement line. The trimmer head dispenses line using the bump-feed method.
To learn more about the Oregon Gator® SpeedLoad™ Cutting System and watch a video demonstration, visit gatorload.dfmstore.com/product.aspx.