How to buy - Handheld brushcutters

Getting the right configuration of power and attachments on brushcutters makes light work of brushcutting.

Brushcutters and line trimmers are essential tools for grounds care workers. They are ideal for clearing vegetation, mowing hard-to-reach places, cutting grass on banks and for tidying up around obstacles. They are also used in forestry practices, by Christmas tree growers and for harvesting foliage.

What makes brushcutters and trimmers so useful are the options they offer. There is a diversity of models of differing configurations, power ratings and attachments. Choose between straight or bent shafts; two-stroke, four-stroke or hybrid engines; displacements from 18cc to 52cc; backpack models, blades or nylon-line trimming heads. But which is best used where?

Nylon-line cutting heads will rip through grass and are especially suited to trimming around the base of trees or obstacles. Bladed cutting heads are more severe and will cut through tough and thick vegetation or where the grass has grown densely because of infrequent mowing. Useful, yes, but remember that blades should only be used on straight-shaft brushcutters with bike-type handles. Never try to fit a blade to a bent-shaft, loop-handled trimmer.

Loop-handled trimmers have small- to medium-sized engines and are the right configuration for mowing vegetation on banks or steep slopes as they can outmanoeuvre their bike-handled counterparts. Operatives find it easier to maintain their balance on sloping ground using a loop-handled model.

For mowing large areas on flat ground, the bike-handled style is hard to beat. The arrangement of the handles allows the operative to sway with a scything motion. These models are preferred where long hours of use are anticipated, but this means the operative has to wear a harness. For a "quick trim" around posts, the loop-handled unit gives a "grab it and use it" solution.

Where the work is particularly heavy, say for clearance or where cutting is infrequent, a large engine size and high power rating will be required. But remember to look for a unit that is comfortable. Weight and balance are two factors affecting comfort. Get those wrong and fatigue can quickly set in. Other important aspects are noise and emissions.

Japanese manufacturer Komatsu Zenoah recognised some years ago that there was a rising demand for low emissions and improved economy in a two-cycle engine. The company developed a new range — the Strato-charged two-stroke. This new concept, believed to be the first small, catalytic-converter-free, two-stroke engine to comply with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) rules, also proved to be up to 30 per cent more fuel efficient and reduced hydrocarbon emissions by up to 73 per cent compared with conventional engines. The Strato-charged engine has been introduced to all Komatsu-Zenoah brushcutters supplied in the UK by Allen Power Products of Didcot.

The engineering department at Kawasaki has been busy improving the engines used in the company’s brushcutters. New to the line-up is the loop-handled KBL27-A and horn-handled KBH27-A — both with improved 27cc two-stroke, horizontal shaft engines. A new carburettor has been fitted with a slow-idle starter device to prevent the blade turning during start-up. Starting is also made easier by use of Kawasaki’s Advanced Recoil starter. This reduces the pulling force required to fire up the engine. Kawasaki has headquarters in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire.

Stihl’s solution to reducing noise and emissions is 4-Mix — an engine that combines the advantages of two-strokes and four-strokes to provide a cleaner machine with a more pleasant sound and higher torque. This engine features on the new 36.3cc FS130. Available with loop or bike handles, the FS130 weighs less than six kilograms. Also new is the FS480, in long- and short-handled versions, with a 48.7cc engine and an empty weight of around eight kilograms.

Finally, remember that from 6 July you will be legally required to pay attention to vibration levels and adjust the hours of work accordingly. Tackling the issue of hand/arm vibration, Milton Keynes-based Makita UK has introduced the 40.2cc RBC 421L professional brushcutter with 1.9m/s2 wide-open throttle (WOT) safety rating. Fitted with nylon-line trimming head or star blade, this model weighs 7.8kg.

Echo has teamed up with the Industrial Noise & Vibration Centre for independent testing of its products. Manufactured in Japan and the US, Echo tools are supplied in the UK by Countax of Oxfordshire.

Among new introductions with low vibration are the 30.5cc SRM330U (1.9m/s2) and the 42.7cc backpack RM4000 (2.9m/s2). The SRM250 series, SRM330L, SRM4000 and SRM5000 also report low figures.

A further feature of the 250 series is the i-start device to remove 90 per cent of the effort of starting the engine.

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