Tested and reviewed - Arboriculture kit

These battery and petrol pole saws help arborists keep their feet on the ground but which will the students at Bridgwater College prefer? Sally Drury finds out.

Pellenc Sellion P130 pole saw - image: HW
Pellenc Sellion P130 pole saw - image: HW

Reviewed This Issue

- Pellenc pole saws

- Makita EY2650H

- Echo PPT-265ES

- Stihl HTA 85

- Husqvarna 536Li PT5S

Review Panel

Bridgwater College arborists working in the industry with part-time study, and their lecturers and technicians.

Arborists, particularly those at Bridgwater College, love to climb. But tree-care work does not always need ropes and harness, and in this review we ask the team from Cannington campus to keep their feet firmly on the ground.

That is the advantage of pole pruners. They allow a chainsaw to be positioned high in the tree's canopy so that small branches can be pruned without the user having to climb and without involving a mobile elevated work platform.

To put the pole pruners through their paces, we return to the home of Richard and Wendy Stirling at Combwich, near Cannington. Work to remove a shelter belt of leylandii is well underway but there are plenty of trees remaining where lower branches can be dropped using our pole pruners.

With so much interest in battery tools these days, we took the Stihl HTA 85 and Husqvarna 536LiPTS - both with integrated batteries - plus a range of Pellenc saws powered by backpack batteries and used them alongside the Makita four-stroke and Echo two-stroke models. The weather on test day was sunny but with a chill wind.

Pellenc pole saws

The look on the arborists' faces says it all when they hear that one of the batteries they are going to be using with Pellenc Selion pole saws costs £1,150 - and that's without VAT.

But with a battery you are paying for fuel up front. If you consider you are paying in the region of £8.50 for five litres of two-stroke fuel and compare it with the 10p or so for an overnight charge of the battery, then after about 110 days of use you should start running it for free.

It is not just the pole pruners that will run on fresh air. The same batteries can power brushcutters, blowers, hedge trimmers and more.

Pellenc was the world's first manufacturer to introduce lithium-ion technology in portable power tools. Today the firm has it down to a fine art. The units have charge indicators and Pellenc even offers a slimline version for tree climbing. But in this test we look at pole saws.

Pellenc offers four pole saws, all in the Selion range. The P130 and P180 are fixed while the T150/200 and T220/300 are telescopic. They all have 1,200W brushless motors - roughly the equivalent of a 30cc engine - and multi-position tilting heads that adjust from +90 degs to -45 degs, so you can really get to the branches you need to cut.

The first thing we notice is their lack of weight. With the battery on your back the only weight in your hands is that of the tool, and they have carbon fibre shafts. The chainsaws on the end of the poles boast automatic chain tensioning, the composite guide being mounted on a spring, and electronically controlled oil flow means the system adjusts chain lubrication according to the required cutting force.

But the thing that most intrigues and impresses us is the folding integrated key. It is a wrench that you pull out from the side of the head, twist to retighten any slack in the chain and then simply fold back into its housing. It is ingenious, easy to use and saves having to rummage around for the right spanner.

At the opposite end we find the trigger with "on" indicator light above it. Incorporated into the handle assembly is the oil tank for the chain. These pole saws oil from the bottom, using ordinary chain oil, via a tube in the shaft. The telescopic versions have spiralling tubes. In the event of oil emptying, a fresh fill can be dragged up to the head by the pump but without energising the motor and rotating the chain.

Pellenc offers a range of batteries, including a brand new waterproof backpack with IP54 rating, but we use the 700 and Poly 5. They can be charged at any moment without affecting the memory or altering the cells. There is no decrease in power when the battery ia low - tools stop when the battery is empty.

The reviewers find the batteries comfortable to wear and by simply plugging in the cable to connect to the tool, and tidying the cable to the arm with a Velcro band, they are ready for work. The fixed pole saws come in 1.3m and 1.8m versions. The shorter telescopic saw extends from 1.5m to 2m, while the longer one gives a 2.2-3m shaft, allowing the operator to reach around 5m into the tree. All are matched with 10in Oregon bars. Vibration is factory recorded at <2.5m/s2.

What we like about the Pellencs, indeed battery tools in general, is the lack of fumes. "You usually get the fumes straight in your face when using a petrol machine at full stretch," points out one tester. "This is so much nicer and quieter, and less vibration."

Should arborists find anything disappointing it will be the chain speed of 10.3m/s. They are used to much faster saws, but the Pellencs nevertheless gave a perfectly decent cut. In addition, the kit is backed by a three-year commercial warranty.

Specification

Model P130/P180/T150-200/T220-300

Length 1.3m fixed/1.8m fixed/1.5-2m/2.2-3m

Head angles +90 degs to -45 degs

Weight 2.7kg/2.8kg/2.9kg/3.4kg

Chainsaw 10in Oregon 1/4in pitch

Chain speed 10.3m/s

Guaranteed noise level 93dB(A)/91dB(A)/91dB(A)/93dB(A)

Vibration levels <2.5m/s2

Price excluding battery £830/£884/£930/£1,048 (all + VAT)

Tel Etesia - 01295 680120.

Makita EY2650H telescopic pole chainsaw

Need to lop off a branch 5m from the ground? No problem for this Makita. It has a powerful four-stroke engine so there is no need to mix fuel, removing the risk of engine damage from incorrect oil application.

The unit sits nice and squarely on the ground for fuelling. This is a 25.4cc version of the latest Makita MM4 four-stroke engine. It develops 1.1hp and offers high performance from what is a compact and surprisingly lightweight design for a four-stroke. Exhaust emissions are cleaner, noise is reduced and running costs are up to 60 per cent lower compared with standard two-stroke engines. A fully pressurised oil-flow system ensures the machine can be operated at any angle.

Starting is no problem - pull the cord and the engine purrs into life. We rev it up and notice that the whine associated with most two-strokes is absent. It is still noisy compared to any of the battery powered units, but not intrusive.

Weighing in at 7.2kg, this pole pruner is easy to handle. It is manoeuvrable and the reviewers are soon working round a tree, dropping branches as they go. "It's lighter than I expected and it is easy to swing it to the branch you want to cut. I feel I have proper control of the saw at the end," says one tester. Another points out that vibration is higher than battery powered kit.

The pole on the Makita EY2650H extends from 2.72m to 3.92m, making it one of the longest on the market. The two sections are locked in the chosen length by a turn-lock and construction is sound, eliminating the flex than can make much cheaper pole saws awkward to steer when at full length.

The business end carries a 25.5cm guide bar with 3/8in pitch 1/2in chain that runs up to 21m/s for a clean, no-nonsense cut. The chain oil tank is mounted to the chain drive transmission housing and has an adjustable oil-delivery pump. The fuel tank capacity is 0.6 litres.

The EY2650H comes complete with a shoulder strap harness and safety goggles as well as both engine and chain oils.

Specification

Engine MM4 four-stroke 25.4cc rated 0.77kW

Pole length Telescopic 2.72-3.92m

Chain saw 25.5cm bar with 3/8in chain running up to 21m/s

Fuel tank capacity 0.6 litres unleaded

Weight 7.2kg

Vibration levels 6.1m/s2 rear grip, 8.6m/s2 front grip

Noise sound pressure 89.5dB(A)

Noise sound power 107.3dB(A)

SSP £559 + VAT

Tel Makita (UK) - 01908 211678

Echo PPT-265ES long-reach power pruner

There are some special features we rather like about this pole saw - or "power pruner", as Echo prefers to call it. Yes, it has a good engine - a powerful stage 2 compliant 25.4cc two-stroke with Echo's Easy Start. This means that it just takes a gentle pull to fire it into action. And yes, it is lightweight with a remarkably rigid telescopic pole that is effortless to extend from its 2.72m home length to 3.73m full length. But it is the attention to detail that appeals to us.

For starters, this pole saw has an incredibly stiff pole. There is no flex whatsoever - not even a wobble. When moving it from branch to branch you can be sure that it will go where you want without shaking. Match this to a great powerhouse and Echo is on to a winner.

Now take a look at the trigger.

The assembly sits in its own housing, separate from the shaft. It is comfortable to use, gives a great grip and, importantly, isolates the throttle from vibration. It also ensures that the unit is manoeuvrable yet controllable.

Then there is the exhaust. Placed centrally, it means you are safe to use this tool left or right handed, though you still get fumes in your face if you reach full-on forward - but then that strains muscles, so avoid doing so if at all possible.

Echo boasts that the chainsaw on this unit is unstallable. Well, we did not manage to stall it. It looks bog standard but Echo got a lot right with this saw head. It is a 30.5cm or 12in bar with 3/8in pitch chain and it cuts like mad. If you want to cut hedges instead there is also a trimmer attachment (not tested) that fits onto this pole.

In the past users have complained about this pole unit being unstable on the ground and yes, it does tend to roll over if you put it on a hard surface. A steadying hand is needed when you fill with fuel. But in use the rigidity of the pole, the powerful engine - albeit a noisy two-stroke - and the enthusiasm of the chainsaw make this a desirable machine.

Should it not be long enough, an optional 1.22m extension will see it cutting branches even higher in the tree. Downside: two-stroke and the heaviest unit on the day.

Specification

Engine 25.4cc stage 2 compliant two-stroke

Output 0.9kW

Length 2.72-3.72m

Chainsaw 12in bar, 3/8in pitch chain

Weight 7.9kg

Options 1.22m extension

List price £582 + VAT

Tel Echo Tools - 0800 597 7777

Stihl HTA 85 cordless telescopic pole pruner

An option for anyone wanting to boost their green credentials is Stihl's HTA 85 cordless telescopic pole pruner. There is no fuel to spill, no cold starts to endure, no fumes, vibration readings as low as 1m/s2 and its low noise means that you can start work early, even in urban residential areas.

Over the past few years Stihl has built itself quite a reputation in the cordless department. The recommended battery for this pole pruner is the AP 300, which will also power Stihl's brushcutters, shortand long-reach hedge trimmers, blower, sweeper, cut-off saw, lawn mowers and pruning shears.

The AP 300 is a powerful 36V, 6.0Ah lithium-ion battery for increased runtimes and big jobs. It has LED indicators so the user can instantly tell the state of the battery charge, it weighs 1.7kg and costs £180 + VAT. But let's take a look at the pole pruner.

The HTA 85 has a maintenance-free brushless EC motor. The pole is rigid in its closed position, giving 2.7m, and only flexes a little when extended to the full 3.9m, easily enabling branches to be reached that are some 5m off the ground. There is a quick-release mechanism for folding the pole down.

When it comes to the chainsaw, well, Stihl's experience is reflected in the construction, operation and cutting performance of the unit.

On the side of the machine we find Stihl's chain-tensioning system in just the right place to ensure that no fingers come in contact with the chain when adjustments are made. It also has Stihl's tool-less oil cap on the tank, allowing quick and easy access to the oil tank for filling, but it does all make for a chunky head.

Weight with battery and chainsaw is 6.5kg, making it lighter than the petrol alternatives. None of the testers reported any difficulty in using the machine - in fact, they are now getting a taste for battery kit. "It's good not to be mixing and fuelling all the time," one concludes. "Batteries let you get straight on with the job".

Of course, you have to remember to keep it charged or carry a spare. Stihl chargers will set you back between £36 and £115 + VAT. A backpack battery is also available to take the strain off your arms and give runtimes of up to 230 minutes.

Specification

Recommended battery AP 300 36V 6.0Ah lithium-ion

Runtime Up to 50 minutes depending on application

Length 2.7-3.9m

Chainsaw 12in Oilomatic saw with 1/4in P PM3 chain

Sound pressure level 76dB(A)

Sound power level 93dB(A)

Vibration levels 1m/s2 left and right

Weight 4.5kg without battery or cutting attachment

Price £462 including VAT

Tel Stihl - 01276 20202

Husqvarna 536Li PT5S cordless telescopic pole saw

A favourite with the majority of our testers, this pole saw gives petrol performance from battery power. "Can battery power get any better than this?" asks one. Naturally, being battery powered, it is a no-spills, no-fuss machine. But this one goes much further.

We love the simple-to-extend shaft. It goes from just shy of 4m to easily give 5m, even 5.5m, of reach into the tree. We also love the battery housing. It is not the bucket type but it has a positive click and a safety lock ensures that it cannot fall out. The 36V lithium-ion battery will also power Husqvarna's cordless trimmer, blower, chainsaw and hedge trimmer.

An intuitive keypad makes the pole saw so easy to operate. There are simple activate/deactivate buttons and an economy setting, called "savE", to give maximum runtime when pruning branches of smaller diameters. An LED indicator displays the battery's remaining charge. The testers also like the fact that you can do on a single charge what would normally take a tank-full of petrol.

But most of all we are impressed with the near-manic chain speed. At 20m/s, this is right up there with the petrol machines. It is fast but smooth. The chain flies round to give a clean, almost surgical-standard cut with no bark tearing. The motor, designed in-house by Husqvarna, is an advanced brushless type providing high and consistent torque. Because the motor is so compact, the operator always has a good view of the cutting action.

Add to this the fact that Husqvarna has mounted the cutting equipment to the left, rather than the right, and there is no excuse for not being able to see exactly what you are doing. The pole, even extended, is sturdy. But what's this? Husqvarna really has thought of everything - there is a hook to help pull down cut branches.

Optional extras for this pole saw include using a backpack battery for longer runtime, a loop harness and a cantilever-style harness.

Specification

Recommended battery BLi150 (option BLi940x)

Runtime Up to 60 minutes depending on application

Length 2.9-3.9m

Chainsaw 10in bar, 1/4in pitch

Sound pressure level 83dB(A)

Sound power level 98dB(A)

Vibration levels 1m/s2 front and rear

Weight 4.9kg without battery or cutting attachment

List price £370 + VAT (battery: £180 + VAT)

Tel Husqvarna - 0844 243 5263.


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