Review - Hedge trimmers

Grounds staff at Bridgwater College try out a selection of the latest battery and petrol models on a cherry laurel hedge, but which will they like best? Sally Drury finds out

Stihl HLA 65 - image: HW
Stihl HLA 65 - image: HW

Tested This Issue

- Stihl HLA 65
- Makita EH7500W
- Stihl HLA 85
- Makita DUH551Z
- Cobra LRH40E
- Makita EN4950H
- Hyundai HYHT36LI

Review Panel

Sam Braund, grounds worker, Bridgwater College, Cannington Campus

Keith Hoare, grounds supervisor, Bridgwater College

It is time for the last clip of the year and at Cannington, the land-based studies centre of Bridgwater College in Somerset, the grounds staff are tasked with trimming the cherry laurel hedge alongside the car park of the department of animal management.

Time then to ask grounds worker Sam Braund and supervisor Keith Hoare if they would use a selection of recently introduced hedge trimmers.

As battery technology continues to improve, we have two such models from Stihl, both long-reach units, to tackle the hedge, which is more than 3m high. We also have battery tools from Hyundai and Makita, both being standard format units for regular hedge-cutting work. Another long-reach unit is the electric powered Cobra, supplied by Henton & Chattel, and we have a four-stroke petrol cutter with a massive reach from Makita.

Finally, because Braund loves engines, we have a standard format, petrol engined machine from Makita. Which ones will impress our testers?

Conditions on the day of the test were hot with bright sunshine. The hedge presented a wide range of branch diameters up to 25mm in thickness.

Stihl HLA 65

What's not to like about this trimmer? It's got performance, is well-balanced, works quietly and it's got convenience - all wrapped into one machine. It's a dream to use on tall or wide hedges and is ideal for those situations where noise has to be kept to a minimum, such as outside classrooms, in residential areas and even on the golf course. We love it.

It uses the same 36V lithium-ion battery that powers three of Stihl's chainsaws, four brushcutters, six of its hedge trimmers, the pruning shears, blower, sweeper and two Viking lawnmowers. It might be worth considering buying a couple of batteries along with the charger, then investing in the tools you need.

The long-reach HLA 65 has a brushless electric motor that is energy efficient and practically maintenance-free. With outstanding efficiency, the battery power is directly translated into pure performance for excellent cutting results. Furthermore, during operation the electronically controlled motor continuously monitors the load and adjusts the engine to maintain a constant speed regardless of load. This one just keeps going - no struggling.

Other key features include the loop handle that allows total freedom of movement and ease of use, even in confined spaces, plus the quick and easy adjustment of the cutter bar. The bar is double-sided to allow vertical and horizontal trimming. Simply pull down the collar to adjust the head up to 115 degs (-45 degs/+70 degs) to suit the application, working vertical and overhead. It can also be folded back on itself to reduce the length to just 1.25m for transport in the back of a utility vehicle or the boot of a car.

Being made by Stihl, the attention to detail shines through on this tool. There is a nicely rounded tip protector to safeguard the end of the blade when working in contact with the ground.

This machine is not only a practical performer, it is comfortable too. The ergonomics and balance are remarkable. "There's plenty of power, it's not very heavy and there is the option of the harness for long periods of use," notes Braund. "The only improvement I can see is to have more adjustment - it's a long way between the steps." Hoare adds: "I like it. It is lightweight - a pleasure to use. The battery clips in easily and it is well protected."

Expect a runtime of up to 140 minutes - and let's be honest, after a couple of hours of hedge trimming you will be ready for a cup of tea.

Although Stihl offers a standard charger for just £30 + VAT, we reckon it is worthwhile investing in the AL 300 Quick Charger. Although it costs £55.83 + VAT, it will power up the AP180 battery to 100 per cent in 70 minutes, or to 80 per cent in 40minutes, compared to 210 minutes required by the standard AL 100 charger.

The HLA 65 can also be used with Stihl's AR 900 backpack battery, giving a runtime of up to 660 minutes.

Blade: 50cm double-sided
Tooth spacing: 33mm
Maximum cutting thickness: 26mm
Stroke rate: 3,000/min
Weight: 3.5kg without battery
Total length: 2.06m open/1.25m folded for transport
Recommended battery: AP180
Sound pressure level: 85dB(A)
Sound power level: 94dB(A)
Vibration level: 3.5m/s2 left and 3.5m/S2 right
List: Price £229.17 body only; AP180 battery £150; AL 300
Quick Charger £55.83 (all prices + VAT)
Tel: Stihl - 01276 20202

Makita EH7500W

Vroom, vroom! Braund is in his element. We take a break from battery models to look at this petrol-powered Makita and Braund - I've nicknamed him Cylinder Sam - has a thing about engines. With 22.2cc engine and 75cm double-sided blades, we are expecting a cracking performance from this trimmer. We are not disappointed.

The EH7500W sits perfectly on the ground and is easy to fuel with two-stroke. A couple of short pulls on the starter cord and the engine fires into life - little effort required. A few revs and we put it to work.

"This is pretty good," yells Braund. "It's quite lightweight for the power it's got." It zips through the hedge, making mincemeat of thick branches - the long blades felling a large swathe of hedge in a single pass. The blades are precision-ground and dual-action, so leave a nice finish without fighting or tearing the foliage. The stroke rate is an amazing 4,390/min.

Hoare rotates the handle. It is a useful feature of this machine, with five positions to add comfort. There are no unnecessary vibrations and the 0.4-litre fuel tank gives time for plenty of work. "I could use this for long periods of time, including reaching high up over my head," Braund concludes.

Blade: 75cm precision-ground, double-sided
Maximum cutting thickness: 21.5mm
Stroke rate: 4,390/min
Engine: 22.2cc two-stroke
Weight: 5.2kg without battery
Fuel tank capacity: 0.4 litres
List: Price £574 + VAT
Tel: Makita UK - 01908 211678

Stihl HLA 85

Sharing many of the features of the HLA 65, this Stihl trimmer has brushless electric motor, quick and easy head adjustment to 115 degs plus double-sided blade and tip protector. It also employs the same lithium-ion AP 180 battery. What makes it stand out is the telescopic shaft.

With a total extended length of 3.3m, the HLA 85 means tall or deep hedges can be tackled with the operator's feet firmly on the ground. For its size, we find it surprisingly lightweight in its shortest positions. Vibrations are extremely low and, of course, there are no emissions.

Typical Stihl construction, this tool is well-engineered and soundly built. It's tough. The battery slots in with a confident click. It's unlikely to slip out and is nicely protected from branches and debris.

Both testers first use it with the shaft retracted, then gradually extend the shaft to its full reach. "That's impressive," says Braund. It's clear from his expression that there is a "but" coming. "But unless you stick to using it vertically, it is hard not to drop the head."

Would he angle the head to top the hedge? "No," he replies. "This is so tall you can't see the top of the hedge anyway."

Blade: 50cm double-sided
Tooth spacing: 33mm
Maximum cutting thickness: 26mm
Stroke rate: 3,000/min
Weight: 4.4kg without battery
Total length: 3.3m fully extended
Recommended battery: AP 180
Sound pressure level: 75dB(A)
Sound power level: 94dB(A)
Vibration level: 2m/s2 left and 2m/S2 right
List: Price £307.50 body only; AP 180 battery £150; AL 300
Quick Charger £55.83 (all prices + VAT)
Tel: Stihl - 01276 20202

Makita DUH551Z

Want to trim box or yew? Need to tackle overgrown hawthorn? Why take two trimmers to work when one will do? This one will do it all and it has a twist handle to offer safe and convenient working positions.

The DUH551Z is a cordless trimmer powered by two 18V batteries, working in series to supply energy to the 36V DC motor drive system. These batteries are commonly used in Makita power tools and many garden products, including its brushcutters, blowers, knapsack sprayer, chainsaw and lawnmower units.

Having two batteries makes the back end heavy, but that does relieve stress on the front arm. Braund finds the front handle chunky but likes the power that oozes relentlessly from this machine.

Fitted with a 550mm double-sided blade, this trimmer doesn't shy from branches up to 18mm in diameter. Gripping the throttle gives a soft start to the blades but what we like is the variable speed control. Braund clicks the dial through the speeds from one to six, each step resulting in a higher stroke rate from 1,000-1,800/min. "I like that," he confirms. "It's a useful feature to have a choice of constant speeds."

Hoare clicks the rear handle left and right, returning it to the centre. There are five positions, locking at 45 degs and 90 degs to make vertical and angled trimming easy and fast. "It's an advantage to move the handle around - and it has a confident click to let you know it is secure," notes Hoare.

Makita's expertise in the battery tool market shows in the clear-to-read battery capacity warning lamp. A trigger time of around 1.5 hours is possible, depending on the condition of the hedge and the blade speed selected. Charging time can be as quick as 22minutes, with 80 per cent reached in just 10 minutes.

Blade 55cm double-sided
Maximum cutting thickness 18mm
Stroke rate Variable from 1,000/min to 1,800/min
Weight 5.1kg including battery
Recommended battery Makita 18V Li-ion (x2), sold separately
Vibration level 2.5m/s2 left and 2.5m/S2 right
List Price £305 + VAT (body only)
Tel Makita UK - 01908 211678

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