Review - Loop-handled trimmers/ hand-held brushcutters

Noise, vibration, weight, power and torque are all factors to consider when selecting kit, says Sally Drury.

The Bosch ART 26 LI loop-handled trimmer - image: HW
The Bosch ART 26 LI loop-handled trimmer - image: HW

Brushcutters and line trimmers are essential tools for grounds care workers. Their usefulness is bolstered by a diversity of models offering different 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 and blades or nylon-line trimming heads.

Here we focus on loop-handled machines. Having smallto medium-sized engines, they tend to be light and can out-manoeuvre their bike-handled counterparts on banks. Having a shoulder strap rather than a full harness, loop-handled units also make ideal grab-and-trim machines to follow mowing operations.

Bike-handled brushcutters for use in clearance operations will be covered in a future Buyers' Guide and Kit Tests.

 

Tested This Week
Echo SRM-265TESL
Shindaiwa T310XS
Sanli GTS26
Efco DS2800S and DS2600 4S
Stihl FS70RC-E
Stihl FS240C-E
Stihl FSA85 Cordless Grass Trimmer
Pellenc
Bosch ART 26 LI

The Review Panel

Andre Gardner, grounds manager, Bridgwater College, Cannington Campus

Jane Alcock, head gardener, Walled Garden, Cannington Campus

Ian Phipps, grounds mechanic, Bridgwater College, Cannington Campus

Loop-handled grass trimmers and brushcutters are indispensable when it comes to trimming up after mowing operations. Whizzing round obstacles and along fence lines, they quickly get the job done. Being lightweight and easily manoeuvred, they are suitable for operations on uneven and sloping ground.

We asked the grounds team at the Cannington Campus of Bridgwater College, to put some new machines through their paces. The kit included three battery-powered units as well as an assortment of two-stroke, four-stroke and hybrid-engined units. The trimmers were used to tidy fence lines, cut grass between trees on the golf course and trim around chipping nets. Conditions on the day were dry, sunny and warm.

ECHO SRM-265TESL

Do not be fooled by the size of this one. It is a 25.4cc machine, but it behaves as though it has 34cc. This trimmer is powerful and quick. Its impressive torque is thanks to a new gearbox. Echo calls it the "high torque head". It gives a 1:2:07 gear reduction ratio to generate up to 50 per cent more torque than previous models. The result is a cutting head that whizzes through vegetation at speed. By using a relatively small engine, weight is kept low yet cutting power is outstanding.

Alcock says: "It cuts really quickly, there's plenty of power and it seems very efficient. I didn't have to bump out more cord - it just keeps going."

By installing thicker line, it can tackle a range of tasks. This trimmer did not complain, irrespective of cutting grass or thistles. Vibration levels are minimal. The 265 is backed by Echo's two-year professional warranty (five years for domestic use).

Specifications
Engine: 25.4cc two-stroke
Power output: 0.9kW
Weight: 5.9kg
Fuel tank: 0.5litres
Fuel consumption: 0.6litres/hr
Vibration: Left 2.4m/s2 & right 3.1m/s2
Cutting head: Two-string head
List price: £429 + VAT
Contact: Countax - 01844 263886

SHINDAIWA T310XS

After using the Echo SRM-265TESL, the Shindaiwa T310XS seems like an ordinary, conventional, everyday two-stroke trimmer, though it does have lots of power. "It's fine, easy to fuel up, starts well, good to use. It's just what you'd expect from a two-stroke loop-handle," says Gardner.

But look closely and you find some nice features. We like the soft, "over-moulded" front handle with 8 degs offset - it provides natural wrist positioning to give a comfortable yet firm grip. The primer bulb is tucked out of way, where it should not come to any harm. This trimmer also has a four-bolt, closed-ported and chrome-plated cylinder for durability, lower emissions and better fuel economy.

It has a standard two-stroke engine rather than one of Shindaiwa's famous C4 hybrid engines and it makes the usual two-stroke engine noise. But it seems clean and gives sufficient power to cut through thick grass. Vibration is not noticeable.

The Shindaiwa is well built and has a two-year professional warranty, which makes it worth considering.

Specifications
Engine: 28.9cc two-stroke
Power output: 1kW
Weight: 6.1kg
Fuel tank: 0.75litres
Fuel consumption: 0.5.7litres/hr
Vibration: Left 2.3m/s2 & right 4.5m/s2
Cutting head: Two-string head
List price: POA
Contact: Countax - 01844 263886

SANLI GTS26

Just look at the price. At £132 (£159 including VAT) this is surely a wise investment for the owner of medium-sized gardens? It starts nicely, is easy to use and eliminates the risks associated with cables. But we reckon there may be commercial operators who could benefit from this nifty 26cc trimmer.

Built in China to Sanli UK's specification, the GTS26 is one of a range of four engine-powered brushcutters - the most expensive being a 43cc model with a list price of £190.83 + VAT. The loop-handled version has controls in exactly the right place and is comfortable to use. It also zips through some thick grass along a fence line.

"It's a nice bit of kit. I wouldn't know any difference between using this and some £400 machines," says Phipps. "All markets could consider this machine. You could give it to an operator to use until it stops. It's got a one year professional-use warranty and is backed by spares.

"At £132 you can use it for a season and know it's earned its money. It seems sturdy, though only time will tell how reliable it is."

Specifications
Engine: Sanli 25.4cc two-stroke
Power output: 0.7kW
Weight: 5.2kg
Cutting head: Two-string head and three-tooth blade
List price: £132.50 + VAT
Contact: Sanli - 01235 861640

EFCO DS2800S and DS2600 4S

These two similar-sized trimmers from Italian manufacturer Efco could not be more different.

The DS2800 is from the Universal range. It boasts aluminium housing, a 7mm internal drive shaft, a digital coil with electronic control, high torque and low fuel consumption. It starts easily. It cuts grass. We appreciate the snap cover on the generously proportioned paper filter. But we do not like the vibrations, which were recorded by Efco at 3.5m/s2 (DX) and 3.9m/s2 (SX).

"There's a lot of vibration there," notes Gardner. Alcock confirms that she is disappointed by this, too.

Gardner tries the four-stroke machine for comparison. The DS3600 4S is powered by a bigger Honda engine, so it weighs a bit more. But Gardner is happy with it.

"Completely different beast," he smiles. "It's a good machine. It's easy to start, so easy I almost yanked my arm out of its socket. There's not quite as much power as the two-stroke,but in other respects it is much better."

The manufacturer-recorded vibration levels for this machine are higher than the DS2800S but, oddly, they feel less.

The reduction in unburned hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide, plus the easy starter and greater comfort in use, mean the four-stroke model gets the thumbs-up.

Specifications
Model: DS2800S/DS3600 4S
Engine: 27cc two-stroke/Honda 25cc four-stroke
Power output: 1kW/0.8kW
Weight: 5.5kg/5.6kg
Fuel tank: 0.58litres/0.6litres
Vibration: 3.5m/s2 and 3.9m/s2/ 4.5m/s2 and 6m/s2
Cutting head: Two-string head and three-tooth blade
List price: £272.34/£331.91 + VAT
Contact: Emak - 01543 687660

STIHL FS70RC-E

This is one of a new generation of Stihl machines driven by the high-torque, eco-friendly and fuel efficient Stihl 2-MIX engine. It is packed with user-friendly features.

The starting mechanism appeals to Alcock and Phipps. You would be very unlucky to flood this machine. We tried. We failed.

Starting is in three simple steps: prime the fuel pump, set the choke and pull-start the engine. There's no on/off switch as such. There is a "kill" switch, but after use you flick it to the off position it automatically resets so it is ready for the next start. Setting the choke has to be a conscious decision and it automatically switches itself off when the engine is revved. The pull-start is Stihl's stress-free ErgoStart.

We like the transparent fuel pump and the new head guard. It is more open and gives a great view of what you are trimming.

"It's a great machine, fairly light, nice shape, well built, mechanically sound. This is Stihl quality," says Phipps. "It's easy to use and the controls are comfortable, maybe a bit of vibration, but nothing to concern me. It copes well with growth a bit thicker than it is designed for - it didn't struggle with the very dense material at all."

Specifications
Engine: 27.2cc Stihl 2-MIX
Power output: 0.9kW
Weight: 4.8kg
Fuel tank: 0.34litres
Cutting head: AutoCut C25-2 double-line easy-refill head
List price: £299 + VAT
Contact: Stihl - 0800 137574 (quoting HWFS)

STIHL FS240C-E

Available with a bike or loop-handle, the FS240 is another new-generation 2-MIX machine from Stihl. We look at the loop-handled version that uses the "no-flood" starting system from the smaller FS70 unit.

"The ErgoStart is good," says Alcock. "No stress and no fuss. I really like it." Then she admits: "I did tried to flood it, but I couldn't."

Phipps sees the advantages of the ErgoStart. "There's no need to pull hard on the cord, so you are not going to snap the rope or break the starter spring or recoil unit," he says.

With the open guard he is able to trim around the chipping cage at Cannington Golf Club. "It's easy to see around the fiddly bits," he says. "Equally, it has loads of power to plough through the dense material. This would be a good all-rounder for landscapers."

The FS240 can be fitted with the brush knife and circular saw blade when using the approved guard and stop kit.

Specifications
Engine: 37.7cc Stihl 2-MIX
Power output: 1.7kW
Weight: 7.4kg
Fuel tank: 0.75litres
Cutting head: AutoCut C25-2 doubleline easy-refill head and metal blade
List price: £555 + VAT
Contact: Stihl - 0800 137574 (quoting HWFS)

STIHL FSA85 CORDLESS GRASS TRIMMER

No cables, no emissions, no servicing, light in weight and low in vibration, this is Stihl's first grass trimmer and, with hedge trimmer, chainsaw and blower, brings the total cordless range to four.

All the tools are powered from the same lithium ion battery, so you only need to buy one battery to run all four. If you are busy, however, you will probably need two batteries - one in use and one on charge.

The battery pack can be charged several hundred times with no significant loss of capacity, we are told. Trigger time is approximately 50 minutes, depending on the density of vegetation being cut.

"It's very light, well balanced and easy to use," says Phipps. "And it's quiet." At 165cm long, the trimmer is also comfortable to use.

The build is tough. We like the easy-refill AutoCut C line head. It gives a 350mm diameter cutting circle and zips through grass. We are also pleased to see a spacer bar.

Specifications
Weight: 4.5kg
Cutting head: AutoCut C4-2 double line head
Vibration: Left 1.4m/s2 & right 0.8m/s2
List price: £307.50 + VAT (RRP) for trimmer, battery and AL300
quick charger
Contact: Stihl - 0800 137574 (quoting HWFS)

PELLENC

Squeeze the trigger on this machine and you have to wonder if it has the oomph to do the job. But do not be fooled by the lack of noise. This trimmer mows through grass easily and is not shy of brambles. What is more, there is no fuel to mix or carry.

"This is a great machine for schools and colleges, especially when you need to work close to the classrooms," suggests Phipps.

The Pellenc is battery-powered, running off a 3.6kg worn knapsack-style on your back. The battery gives five hours trigger time and can be quick-charged within an hour and a half, charged over night or charged during a day using a solar panel.

"I love it," says Alcock. "It's so simple and quick to adjust and the battery is really comfy on your back." She appreciates the twist-pull telescopic shaft and quick-angle head. The battery costs around £1,000 + VAT, but running a hedge trimmer, chainsaw and pruners off it would spread the investment. And with the option of a solar power charger it has got to be the way forward.

Specifications
Cutting head: Two-line head
List price: POA
Contact: Etesia - 01295 680120

BOSCH ART 26 LI

It only takes a couple of minutes to lock together the pieces of the lightweight ART 26 Li. It has a telescopic shaft that extends from 80cm to 114cm, though it is too short for Gardner, who is quite tall. The cutter head will also adjust, rotating through 90 degs so you can use the unit to trim vertical edges. It has a plant protector, so you maintain a safe distance from shrubs, and two bags of "slot-on" plastic blades.

The blade system is sufficiently robust to cut through dense grass. The first thing we notice about the ACT26 LI is the lack of weight. You hardly know you are using it. Combine this with the lack of cables and the Bosch should prove perfect for, say, retired gardeners. And, because it lacks noise - it makes a gentle whirring sound - it may also solve a problem for anyone maintaining domestic gardens. "Great for the city garden," says Phipps.

The Bosch will cut 1,000sq m before the battery needs recharging. Recharging time is three hours.

Specifications
Weight: 2.4kg
Cutting head: Plastic blades
List price: £87.49 + VAT
Contact: Bosch - 01449 742000


Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Read These Next

Tomorrow's tractors

Tomorrow's tractors

These machines have advanced rapidly over recent years but what does the future hold? Sally Drury looks ahead.

Tractors - Maintenance models

Tractors - Maintenance models

The tractors chosen by professionals across the sector reflect the best features, backup and support on offer, says Sally Drury.

Guide to Glee 2017

Guide to Glee 2017

A vast array of new garden products will be displayed at this year's show. Matthew Appleby previews what visitors can expect to see.


Horticulture Jobs
More Horticulture Jobs

Industry Data

An exclusive report for HW subscribers revealing the key development trends, clients and locations for 2017.

Are you a landscape supplier?

Horticulture Week Landscape Project Leads

If so, you should be receiving our new service for Horticulture Week subscribers delivering landscape project leads from live, approved, planning applications across the UK.

Landscape Contracts & Tenders

Products & Kit Resources

BALI National Landscape Awards 2016

Read all about the winning projects in the awards, run in association with Horticulture Week.

Noel Farrer

Founding partner of Farrer Huxley Associates Noel Farrer on landscape and green space
 

Read Noel Farrer