Q: Why should I consider buying a multi-function system?
A: Like the Swiss Army Knife, multi-function tools come into their own when you need versatility but are short on storage or transport space. With this type of kit you are investing in an engine that can be used to drive a range of attachments to carry out tasks from hedgetrimming to sweeping. But unlike the Swiss Army Knife, you do not have to buy everything at once and if you do not need one part of the system you are not saddled with the prospect of paying for it and storing it.
Most of the well-known handheld power-tool manufacturers, including Stihl, Husqvarna and Echo, offer some form of branded system that we can call a multi-function tool. It means you can opt for your preferred brand, buy a suitably sized engine unit and then collect the attachments on a "need one of those now" basis, and so spread the finance required.
Multi-function tools save you buying half a dozen different machines, some of which may spend six months taking up valuable space in the shed. However, the engine can be put to good use all year round.
Q: What kit is available?
A: Most multi-function tools start out as a grass trimmer - a must-have item for those working in garden or grounds maintenance. With the exception of Stihl's MultiSystem and the Mantis, which start off as a cultivators, the norm is to buy the engine with a trimmer attachment and then collect whichever other tools you require. Most people find the hedgetrimmer attachment is the next one they need, and then discover that a powered pruner would be useful for those hard-to-reach pruning jobs. Of course, a sweeping attachment helps speed up the following clean-up and a mini-cultivator is handy in the spring if you are preparing beds for annual displays. The attachments should be easy to change - most are a simple tool-free operation.
Engine units are usually between 25 and 40cc. Stihl offers the widest choice of engine units, with capacities of 27.2, 28.4, 31.4 and 36.3cc for its CombiSystem. The company also has a MultiSystem that concentrates on ground level tasks, such as lawn aeration, scarification, cultivation and sweeping.
Q: Does buying a multi-function system mean I'm putting all my eggs in one basket?
A: Yes. While these systems have lots of benefits, if the engine unit is damaged or breaks down you're stuck. For this reason I cannot stress enough how important it is to check the warranties and insurance. Spares and repairs need to be readily available - back-up must be second to none. Make sure you buy from a dealer you trust and who is always ready and able to help. Maintenance and servicing should be as simple as possible so you don't put off things such as filter changes.
For the same reason it is essential to keep the machine safe and secure. Your work schedule can be easily thrown into complete chaos if a thief or vandal targets your multi-tool system. Consider buying a tool safe to ensure the engine unit and attachments are secure overnight, during transit and on site.
Q: What's new?
A: Echo UK has introduced the PAS-265ES Multi-Tool with seven different attachments. The powerhouse of this system is a two-stroke 25.4cc Echo engine and the upper shaft unit provides the drive to the attachments, which include grass trimmer, edger, cultivator, power pruner, scarifier, brush and articulating hedgetrimmer.
The 45cm hedgetrimmer attachment is capable of up to 90 degs of adjustment, and the power pruner is designed to prune branches and trees up to 4m high. The scarifier attachment removes moss and thatch from lawns, while the edger is intended for trimming and tidying lawn edges and has a guarded rotating steel blade. The cultivator has the capability of digging down to 22cm using 12 spring-steel blades and the brush takes the effort out of sweeping paths and driveways.
Changing attachments is simple and controls are unified for all tool options, so you do not have to learn different controls for each task. The PAS-265ES engine and upper shaft unit has a retail price of £259 excluding VAT and prices for the attachments start at £99 excluding VAT for the grass trimmer head.
Stihl has added an axial type, shaft-mounted lightweight blower to its CombiSystem. The blower delivers a powerful jet of air to help clear leaves and litter. Depending on which engine unit is used, the blower can deliver equivalent blowing performance to a standard handheld machine. Join it to the top-end KM130 and it gives the performance of a backpack blower, with a throughput of around 1,020cu m/h and a maximum air speed of 75m/s.