Reviewed: Brushcutters

New machines from Echo, Makita, Stihl, Tanaka and Canycom Samurai reflect the huge variety of models but how do our reviewers rate them? Sally Drury reports.

Echo SRM-420TES brushcutter - image: HW
Echo SRM-420TES brushcutter - image: HW

Brushcutters reviewed this issue

Echo SRM-2620TES
Echo SRM-420TES
Makita EBH252U and EM4351UH
Stihl FS91
Makita RBC414U
Tanaka TCG27EBSP(SL)
Canycom Samurai CMX227


Mark Ekin  - Agriculture and Countryside co-ordinator, Derby College, Broomfield Hall Campus

Trimmers and brushcutters are among the most used items in the grounds maintenance shed. Ideal for trimming up after mowing, many can be fitted with blades and get to work clearing dense vegetation along roadsides and tackling the growth on derelict sites.

The range of handheld units is enormous. There are small grab-and-go nylon-line cutters for quick jobs, mid-range machines for day-to-day tasks and high-powered beasts for mowing down swathes of grass and weeds. Or you could choose to ride.

In this review we look at two of the latest High Torque trimmers from Echo, the new FS91 from Stihl and three units from Makita, including two powered by Makita’s mini MM4 engines. We also look at a Tanaka trimmer. This is a brand that has not received a lot of coverage in the past but one that could be considered by landscapers and professional gardeners.

Finally we climb on the new Canycom Samurai ride-on brushcutter in an attempt to defeat a forgotten bit of ground that has become impenetrable. Will it stand up to the job and what will happen when it is asked to cut a lawn?

The review was undertaken at the Broomfield Campus of Derby College with Mark Ekin leading a team of students from arboriculture, horticulture and land management courses.

Echo SRM-2620TES

The latest model in Echo Tools’ High Torque range, the 2620 is designed to increase productivity and provides oodles of power but in a lightweight machine that also promises to minimise maintenance downtime. A new fan cover means less chance of snagging when cutting under bushes.

The 25.4cc engine features Easy Start. A couple of squeezes on the primer bulb, choke and two pulls fire up the unit ready for action — and we are really talking torque with this machine.

A brand new gearbox design with a gear reduction ratio of 1:2.07 delivers up to 50% more torque at the cutting head than previous models and means the cutting head spins at one-and-a-quarter times per engine cycle.

It gives the cutting performance of a larger machine but without the extra weight of a bigger unit. Acceleration is rapid. It gets the job done, cutting loads of vegetation in one pass.

By installing a thicker nylon line, cutting performance matches the power. Yet vibrations on this solid driveshaft machine are low — just 4.6m/s2 on the loop handle. We like the tool-less air filter cover for easy access. This machine has a pleated paper main filter for longer service intervals and is easier to clean than a felt one.

The 2620 comes with a two-year commercial warranty, five years domestic.

Engine 25.4cc
Power output 1.04kW
Fuel tank capacity 0.61 litres
Vibration left/right 4.6m/s2
Weight 5.8kg
Accessories include S-200 harness, range of line heads and metal blades and hedgetrimmer attachment — bike handle version also available
List price £395.83 + VAT Tel Echo Tools — 01844 278800

Echo SRM-420TES

This is a contractor’s tool.

It features the same 1:2.07 gear reduction as the SRM-2620ES (above), again giving terrific torque and a new dynamic to cutting performance. But with a 41.5cc engine, output is upped to 1.78kW.

The increase in torque allows a bigger head to be used and a 51cm swathe to be cut, increasing work by 17%.

The new model also has a wider, flatter bottom. We find this makes refuelling easier.

Easy Start gets us up and running with just a couple of pulls on the cord.

More has been added in the way of anti-vibration features — plastic casing and rubber cushions inside, soft enough to reduce vibration but with no reduction in manoeuvrability.

Cleverly, the cooling air intake has now been positioned at the rear of the machine to reduce the amount of debris being sucked in.

The 420 also has a heavy-duty, two-stage air filter for improved filtration and longer intervals between services.

We also like the harness that comes with this bike-handled machine.

There is plenty of adjustment, allowing attachment to any one of the half-dozen positions on the shaft. But the best bit is one pull on the red tab and the trimmer simply falls away — great if you need to ditch it in a hurry.

Engine 41.5cc
Power output 1.78kW
Fuel tank capacity 0.79 litres
Weight 8.7kg
List price £715.83 + VAT
Tel Echo Tools — 01844 278800

Makita EBH252U (pictured above) and EM4351UH (below)

These are four-strokes. So they are going to be heavy and slow, right? Actually, the 24.5cc 252U weighs in at 5.7kg, which compares well with Echo’s 2620 (see p56), and the 43cc 4351 weighs 8.6kg — less than Echo’s 41.5cc 420 (see above).

Power output at 0.71kW (1hp) and 1.48kW (2hp) could be considered to be a little lower but it is not that noticeable once you start cutting. In fact, we reckon Makita’s MM4 technology has made the four-stroke engine a very viable option. With the supposed disadvantages of four-strokes out of the way, let’s look at the advantages.

Obviously there are the emissions. We fire up a two-stroke next to the EBH252 to check. There are clouds of white, smelly fumes from the two-stroke. We can see nothing from the four-stroke. We take off our ear defenders for a few seconds and find the revving two-stroke is screeching whereas the four-stroke is quieter — a much deeper, less infuriating tone.

We pick up both machines and find vibrations are substantial through the two-stroke compared with the four-stroke. You can work all day with either of these four-stroke machines. Not having to mix fuel saves time and eliminates the risk of inaccurate fuel:oil measurements.

Makita tells us running costs are up to 60% less than a comparable two-stroke. These well-built machines have easy starting and run at 10,000rpm.

Both are comfortable to use, have adjustable bike handles and would fit in a challenging environment. But don’t forget the separate oil tank.

Model EBH252U/EM4351UH
Engine 24.5cc four-stroke/43cc four-stroke
Power output 0.7kW (1hp)/1.48kW (2hp)
Fuel tank capacity 0.5 litres/0.62 litres
Sound pressure 97.1dB(A)/
Measured sound power 106.3dB(A)/108.0dB(A)
Vibration left/right 2.5/2.9m/s2 and 2.1/2m/sec2
Weight 5.7kg/7.2kg
Supplied with: cutter blade, harness, hex wrench, socket wrench and oil bottle
List prices TBC
Tel Makita — 01908 211678

Stihl FS91

Landscapers should love this one.

It is flexible, highly manoeuvrable and a dream to use. The Advance harness is a cracker too. Starting is simple.

There is a primer and this new model has Stihl’s semi-automatic choke lever. In use, we find the bike-style handles, finished with rubberised grips, are really comfortable to hold and provide plenty of leverage when you want to push forward and swing through the vegetation.

All engine and speed controls are at your fingertips. The 28.4cc 4-MIX engine has oomph, delivering 1.2hp. It is a low-emissions engine, running on a fuel-oil mix just like your normal two-stroke machine, but it gives rapid acceleration when you need it, more power and torque, and it is quieter.

It includes an improved, paper, long-life air-filtration system that should lengthen intervals between changes.

The fuel tank on the FS91 also makes a difference. It holds 0.7 litres of fuel, increasing runtimes by 30% over Stihl’s FS90 machine. But it is the solid steel driveshaft we appreciate most.

When the going gets tough, we swap to a metal blade and carry on. We also like the nifty stop switch.

When you stop the unit the switch returns to "go", ready for the next start. It saves embarrassment and all those wasted cord pulls when you fail to notice the switch is "off".

Engine 28.4cc 4-MIX
Power output 0.95kW (1.3hp)
Fuel tank capacity 0.7 litres
Sound pressure 95dB(A)
Measured sound power 106dB(A)
Vibration left/right 5.3/5.3m/s2
Total length 180cm
Weight 5.5kg
Supplied with: advance Universal harness, metal grass blade and AutoCut mowing head
List price £455 + VAT
Tel Stihl — 01276 20202

Makita RBC414U

Now this is a two-stroke so yes, you can smell the emissions. When you start it there is a little cloud of white smoke.

It also screams when revved and vibration levels are higher. Nevertheless, it is a powerful unit that is well worth a second look and could be a choice for the demanding user who remains loyal to two-stroke engines or has other two-stroke kit and does not want to confuse the workforce with a mix of mixes. This is a tough machine but remarkably comfortable to use.

The 414U has soft-grip bike handles that can be adjusted, giving all the comfort you need for extended periods of working. The handlebar can even be removed from the shaft without using tools — good if you need quick transport between sites.

Without a doubt, the engine has guts. It produces 1.4kW of power and comes with a 1.1-litre fuel tank to reduce those annoying refuelling breaks.

With a blade fitted, the unit proves itself by destroying thick weeds and powering through whippy saplings.

Engine 40.2cc two-stroke
Power output 1.4kW
Fuel tank capacity 1.1 litres
Sound pressure 95.9dB(A)
Measured sound power 107.4dB(A)
Vibration left/right 5.85/4.06m/s2
Weight 7.2kg
Supplied with: cutter blade, harness, hex wrench, socket wrench and accessory bag
List price TBC
Tel Makita — 01908 211678

Tanaka TCGa27EBSP(SL)

If you have not heard of Tanaka, we reckon you should take a look at this brand. It is made by the Hitachi Koki Co, which makes a hedge trimmer with a blade speed of 1.06m/s that gives a first-class quality cut.

But Tanaka also makes a wide range of chainsaws, including four nifty top-handled models. There are blowers — one of them a backpack — augers, engine-powered drills for work on remote sites and a pump for draining ponds and pools, washing cars or watering crops. So what about this line trimmer?

The first thing we notice is the aluminium fan case. Not only is it robust but it helps reduce vibration. At the other end we find a built-in spindle lock. Combined with the gearbox — four-ball rather than a more conventional three-ball — the lock allows the trimmer head to be easily replaced without tools.

Another difference is that there are two piston rings instead of the normal one. This improves chamber sealing to secure pressure and also enhances heat transfer from piston to cylinder wall, helping to extend the working life of the moving components.

The TCG27 has a 26.9cc two-stroke PureFire engine and splined solid steel driveshaft. Yet another nice feature is the guard protecting the fuel tank.

With S-Start, the machine fires up on the first pull. Some giro forces give a little shaking but after 10 seconds it is running smoothly and ready for work. There is no problem trimming along the hedge bottom and it makes a good job of reeds around a lake.

It is lightweight and comfortable to use. Some vibration can be felt through the loop handle but if you want a machine for trimming up, this is definitely worth a closer look. Vibration levels on the bike-handled version are considerably lower (L/R 4.1 and 3m/s2).

Engine 26.9cc
Power output 0.9kW (1.2hp)
Fuel tank capacity 0.52 litres
Sound pressure 86dB(A)
Measured sound power 108dB(A)
Vibration front/rear 6.7/4.1m/s2
Total length 178cm
Weight 5.2kg
Supplied with: two-line trimmer head — bike handle version available
List price £332.50 + VAT
Tel FGM Claymore — 01276 20202

Canycom Samurai CMX227

We are gathered on the edge of a site that has not been touched for years. There are 6ft-high brambles, saplings an inch-and-a-half in diameter and dense weeds. It is impenetrable, yet the demonstrator drives the Samurai straight at it.

Then, slowly, wearing gloves and visor down, he drives through it. With debris flying and above a noise not dissimilar to a woodchipper, Ekin simply says: "Well I never." Clearly the demonstrator, Ian Staniforth of Bedford-based ICB Plant & Machinery, sole UK distributor of Japanese-made Canycom Samurai ride-on brushcutter mowers, has confidence in this machine.

The Samurai units are hand built using forged steel. The cutting blades are quick-release and reversible so the second edge can be used. We inspect them at the end of the day and find no damage.

This is the Samurai CMX227. It sits towards the top of a range of that spans from 14hp to 25hp. They are all powered by Subaru engines. This one has the 22hp Subaru V2 and there is no risk of snapping belts. Driving could not be easier.

Sit on the seat to engage the safety switch, turn the key and lower the cutting deck. A single pedal gives forward and reverse movement. Hydrostatic transmission (HST) goes through a mechanical gearbox, giving it all the benefits of automatic transmission with the power and strength of a mechanical gearbox. A four-wheel drive (4WD) train, provides mechanical 4WD with an HST drive in front for efficiency.

The basis is a shaft system, delivering drive to the cast-iron front axle via grease-packed and sealed joints. A conventional differential on the front axle would impede the material being fed to the blades, so Canycom uses a right-angle drive and drive hubs on each end of the front axle to deliver the traction needed at each front wheel. This also assists 4WD steering.

Depending on conditions the Samurai cuts at speeds up to 4.7mph and has a travel speed up to 8.5mph. Its 30° stability angle is a notable selling feature, according to Staniforth, but one we are unable to test on the flat ground at the Derby College test site. After smashing our way through the jungle on the overgrown site, we take the Samurai to a grassed area to check out its mowing capabilities.

We find it gives a quality cut. "It’s amazing that it can be grinding saplings one minute and cutting a lawn the next," notes Ekin.

Height of cut is adjusted from 0-150mm by a lever to the right of the operator. It can be altered on the move, a feature that delights Ekin. "That’s brilliant. There is so much interest in sculptured lawns just now. The quality of cut and ability to alter the height while mowing is just what we need," he suggests.

Clearly, sound engineering has gone into this jungle-buster, yet it also has the gentleness of a mower. Ekin does not like the seat, but there is a choice. He might find the new suspension seat, not tested today, more comfortable. But he reckons that anyone looking for power and versatility should have the Samurai on their shortlist.

Engine Subaru 22hp air-cooled V-twin Starter Electric
Transmission Main: HST continuously variable/Auxiliary: constant mesh
Steering Rack and pinion
Brakes HST and disc front and rear
Tyres Front: AGR4.00-7 (2PR); Rear: 17x8.00-8 (4PR)
Fuel tank capacity 20 litres
Speed Lo 0.77kph/Hi 0-13.8kph
Turning radius 1.8m
Slopes 25° climbing, 30° stability
List price £11,500 + VAT
Tel ICB Plant & Machinery — 01234 436456

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

Follow us on:
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Google +
Horticulture Jobs
More Horticulture Jobs

Products & Kit Resources

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.