Reviewed - Handheld hedge trimmers

How did seven models fare when tested at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Romsey? Sally Drury finds out.

Reviews: Handheld hedge trimmers
Reviews: Handheld hedge trimmers

For listings, reviews and specifications on handheld hedge trimmers go to WhatKit.co.uk.

Tested This Week
Echo HCA-265ES
Husqvarna 327 HE4X
Husqvarna 327 HDA65X
Shindaiwa 242S
Solo 109LG
STIHL KM 130 R
Kawasaki KCL525A


The Review Panel

Ian Bawcutt, deputy head gardener, Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Romsey, Hampshire

Chris McDonald, horticulturist, Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Romsey, Hampshire


 

Tall hedges need maintaining or they quickly become problem hedges. But do you erect scaffolding? Should you hire a cherry picker? Or should you invest in a long-reach hedge cutter? In this review we look at seven machines that help you keep your feet on the ground yet still trim and top off tall hedges.

After a disappointing earlier test on Echo's HCA-265ES, we take a second look to see whether a shorter cutting head has made any difference. We also inspect the Shindaiwa 242S - the company having joined forces with Echo a few years ago. Both brands are supplied in the UK by Countax.

Husqvarna offers us two machines - a genuine long-reach pole-type and a hybrid between a long-reach unit and a conventional hedge cutter. Solo, distributed by Lely UK, is gaining a reputation among professional users. Our testers look at its multi-tool system in its hedge cutting configuration. Finally, we test one of the units from STIHL's range of Kombi multi-system engines.

The test was conducted during autumn at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Romsey, Hampshire. Conditions on the day were dry and sunny.

Readers should also note that the Efco long-reach hedge trimmer (DS 2800H) was tested last year (HW, 2 September 2011).

Echo HCA-265ES

Try it. This is a machine that you will either love or hate. We tested it at Alscot Park in Warwickshire two years ago and it got a distinct "thumbs down". Today, at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, we have a difference of opinion.

"ES" stands for "Easy Start", and there is no denying that this machine is a dream when it comes to firing up the engine. Effort is reduced by a third when pulling the starter cord. The "HCA" indicates this is a hedge cutter that "articulates". In fact, it can be rotated through 120 degs - perfect for trimming the tops of tall hedges without the need for scaffolding - and a flick of the blades aligns them with the shaft for convenient and safe transport and storage.

At the heart of the machine is a 25.4cc two-stroke engine. There is plenty of power and this is believed to be the cleanest model on the market. Echo tests its engines for emissions by running them for 300 hours and this one is reported to be as clean after 300 hours as it is after one.

When we tested the HCA-265ES in Warwickshire, it was fitted with a 51cm double-sided cutter head. We found it unbalanced, top-end heavy and awkward to use. It is not like Echo to disappoint, so when we told the company that we had difficulty using it, they took our comments seriously. Today we have a 44.6cm cutter. But it still sparks a discussion.

"Maybe because it hasn't got a loop handle, and I am used to loops, but I found it the heaviest machine to use. For me, it was very bottom heavy and I had to put a lot of effort into pushing the engine back towards the hedge to keep the blades from dropping into the hedge," says McDonald.

But Bawcutt disagrees: "I found the opposite. I really like this one. It's nice to use. I like the straight shaft without a loop handle. It's better not to have the loop. A straight shaft offers more positions to hold and there is no hindrance of the ring. For me, it felt nicely controllable with both hands on the shaft and I didn't find weight to be an issue."

But there is no dispute over the quality of cut. These are laser-cut and precision-ground blades. "It's given a really good cut with an excellent finish," Bawcutt confirms.

We are also impressed by the two-year professional (five-year domestic) warranty.

Specifications
Engine: 25.4cc
Output: 0.9kW
Starter: Recoil with Easy Start
Overall length: 2.37m
Blade length: 446mm double sided
Head adjustment: 120 degs
Blade pitch: 35mm
Blade speed: 1.1m/s at 8,000rpm
Handle: Comfort rubber on shaft
Fuel tank capacity: 0.5 litres
Dry weight: 7.2kg
Fuel consumption 0.6l/hr at maximum engine power
Vibration - left handle: 3.9m/s2
Vibration - right handle: 3.7m/s2
Sound power level: 110dB(A)
List price: £499 + VAT
Tel: Countax - 01844 278800

Husqvarna 327 HE4X

Like the Echo, this is a straight-shaft, pole-type, long-reach hedge trimmer. The "4" denotes a 4m reach for an average height user. It is fitted with a 55cm double-sided blade - helping to give that extra bit of reach - so you might think that controlling this long pole would be difficult.

Again, McDonald finds handling the pole awkward. "This has a long bar and it's hard to keep it in against the hedge and not put swipe marks in. The tip keeps going in and digging at the hedge. Does it come with an option of a shorter blade?" he asks.

Echoing his remarks about the Echo, Bawcutt comments: "It's got a nice grip and for me it works fast and effortlessly."

Like the majority of long-reach hedge cutters, this one has an articulating cutter bar. What makes this one stand out, however, is remote control enabling the cutter bar to be adjusted during operation. You do not have to get close to the sharp and often dirty blades. Angle range is 90 degs up and 85 degs down. There is no compromise. It is step-less. You set the blades at the angle you want. And the bar folds back against the shaft for transport and storage.

The teeth are 29mm apart and we find it will cut through twigs up to 20mm. Power comes from Husqvarna's E-TECH II engine, noted for its reduced emissions. It is 24.5cc and produces a power output of 0.9kW. We are impressed with the SmartStart that reduces resistance in the starter cord by up to 40 per cent.

Specifications
Engine: 24.5cc
Output: 0.9kW
Starter: Recoil with SmartStart
Overall length: 2.34m
Blade length: 550mm double sided
Head adjustment: 90 degs/85 degs
Handle: Comfort rubber on shaft
Fuel tank capacity: 0.5 litres
Dry weight: 6.6kg
Fuel consumption: 600g/kWh
Vibration - front handle: 4m/s2
Vibration - rear handle: 5m/s2
Sound power level: 106dB(A)
Sound pressure level: 92dB(A)
List price: £541.66 + VAT
Tel: Husqvarna - 01325 300302

Husqvarna 327 HDA65X

It looks peculiar but this handy, not-so-long long-reach hedge cutter wins praise from our testers. It is a hybrid between a long-reach and a conventional rear-handled unit.

With a traditional model, all the weight is on your left arm. With the 327 HDA65X, the weight is balanced out between both arms. And because of its length, it gives a wider sweep as well as giving that bit more height when you need it.

"With the weight equal on both arms, this one is not tiring to use," notes Bawcutt.

"Whether it is worth it or not will depend on your hedges," says McDonald. "I found it very useful - high, low and on the ends of the hedge - and it could prove useful on bushes, too. I could still reach the top of the hedge and it cuts a lot better than some of the long-reach models, although you still get the same quality of finish as you would with a really good rear-handle hedge cutter."

SmartStart and fuel pump assure easy firing up of the 24.5cc E-TECH II engine. The technology means reduced emissions but, making the machine even more pleasant to use, Husqvarna has positioned the engine so that the gases are diverted away from the operator.

The adjustable, double-sided cutter bar swings through from -10 degs to +55 degs to work comfortably. We also like the Auto Return stop switch that automatically resets to the on position, so it is always ready for use.

Specifications
Engine: 24.5cc
Output: 0.9kW
Starter: Recoil with SmartStart and fuel pump
Overall length: 1.57m
Blade length: 650mm double sided
Head adjustment: 25 degs/45 degs
Handle: Variable position loop with comfort grip
Fuel tank capacity: 0.5 litres
Dry weight: 6.2kg
Fuel consumption: 600g/kWh
Vibration - front handle: 4.2m/s2
Vibration - rear handle: 4.2m/s2
Sound power level: 106dB(A)
Sound pressure level: 94dB(A)
List price: £474.99 + VAT
Tel: Husqvarna - 01325 300302

Shindaiwa 242S

A dedicated pole-type, long-reach hedge cutter, the Shindaiwa 242S has a cutting head that impresses. The 55cm Staysharp chrome blades are double-sided and double reciprocating. Cutting is speedy and neat.

With a 23.9cc engine that is low on emissions, it is not unpleasant to use - quiet, but powerful. A Walbro carburettor helps to fire it into action. Nearly everyone now provides some form of "reduced effort" starting. For Shindaiwa, it is Soft Start. A gentle tug is all that is needed.

The articulation permits 10 set positions through a range of 150 degs. Adjustment is simple and the blades fold back against the shaft for easy transport and storage. The controls are well placed and comfortable to use. Weight is just 6.2kg, but you might want to use the accompanying harness if working for long periods.

We like the heavy-duty air filter, aircraft-quality aluminium tubing and solid steel driveshaft. The fuel tank holds 6.2 litres, meaning more work and less refilling.

Shindaiwa has a saying: "First to start, last to quit." Only time will tell. But this machine does come with a two-year professional or five-year domestic warranty.

Specifications
Engine: 23.9cc
Output: 0.8kW
Starter: Recoil with Soft Start
Overall length: 2.6m
Head adjustment: 150 degs
Blade length: 527mm double sided
Blade pitch: 31mm
Handle: Variable position loop
Fuel tank capacity: 0.62 litres
Dry weight: 5.7kg
Daily vibration figures: Left A(8) 9.2m/s2 - right A(8) 7.6m/s2
Sound power level: 107dB(A)
List price: £499 + VAT
Tel: Countax - 01844 278800

Solo 109LG

Solo's multi-system gives the user many options from a single drive unit. Today we are cutting a hedge. Tomorrow we might be trimming grass, tilling soil, pruning branches or blowing debris in the picnic area.

The uncomplicated quick-release coupling enables rapid tool changes and splitting of the components for easy transport and storage.

The drive unit features a powerful 29cc low-emission engine - Solo's most advanced yet. A primer ensures quick and easy starting, even after long periods of non-use. But what is that smell? "Oh no, my fleece is melting!" One of our testers has just had a close encounter with the exhaust.

"A shoulder strap or a basket would be a useful accessory," Bawcutt suggests. "Although I like the flexibility of not being 'tied to the machine', it does feel a bit heavy and after a while tired arms mean it can get close to the body."

There are just two bolts holding the loop handle in place, so it can be quickly and easy adjusted to give better balance.

Solo's Blue 2 engine kicks a bit on starting. It stalls twice for McDonald, but a little shake soon mixes the fuel. The issue of vibration was not raised by either tester.

Specifications
Engine: 28.9cc low-emission Solo Blue 2
Output: 0.9kw
Starter: Recoil with primer
Shaft length: 75cm, extension 21cm
Blade length: 536mm
Handle: Variable position loop, pivots through 90 degs
Fuel tank capacity: 0.5 litres
Dry weight: 4.5kg plus hedge trimmer attachment
Sound power level: 104dB(A)
List price: POA
Tel: Solo (Lely UK) - 01480 226800

STIHL KM 130 R

STIHL makes dedicated long-reach hedge trimmers - the HL 95 and HL 100 plus the electric HLE 71. But here we are testing part of the renowned Kombi System.

The Kombi is a split-shaft multi-system that gives you more tools for your money - brushcutter, edger, brushes, pick tines, scrub cutter, blower and pole pruner. The power unit is a torquey STIHL 4-MIX developing 1.4kW. There is plenty of grunt, even at low revs, so you do not have to overwork the engine.

In hedge cutter mode, this model also has options. There is a choice of 1m carbon shaft or 50cm aluminium extension. You should not run them both at the same time, but you can match the shaft length to the requirements of the hedge. However, the longer extension does have some flex and can throw the balance out.

"With the 1m extension, I can't lower the machine enough to reach the top of the hedge," says McDonald. There is a harness to ease the weight off your arms and reduce stress on your back. McDonald tries it. "It's comfortable and does help, although it's a little unnerving being strapped to the machine," he notes.

Bawcutt tries the KM 130 R with the smaller extension and finds it easy to use. "It's great, well balanced and I feel in control," he says.

The working range of the adjustable head can be fixed in increments from zero to 135 degs. The bar folds back and locks against the shaft for protection during transport or storage.

Bawcutt has the last word: "It's a very well built, robust machine. It's very STIHL."

Specifications
Engine: 36.3cc STIHL 4-MIX
Output: 1.4kW
Starter: Recoil with ErgoStart
Overall length: 1.6m
Handle: Variable position loop
Dry weight: 4.6kg plus hedge trimmer attachment at 2.6kg
Sound power level: 109dB(A)
Sound pressure level: 99dB(A)
List price: Engine unit £433.33, head £237.50, 0.5m
extension £54.17, 1m extension £79.17 (all + VAT)
Tel: STIHL - 01276 20202

Kawasaki KCL525A

Well known for their motorcycles, what we want to know is whether Kawasaki can cut hedges. The KCL525A is the longer of two extended hedge trimmers from the company, the other having a 1.64m overall length. The extra 40cm of reach on this machine adds a mere 300g to the weight.

Kawasaki tells us that the aim of developing this model is to achieve comfort, balance and efficiency. It is certainly efficient, but McDonald again finds this one bottom heavy and he says the throttle trigger is cumbersome in terms of grip. It is chunky but well made and should give years of service.

Starting is easy with Kawasaki's Advanced Recoil to reduce the effort needed to fire up the 26.3cc engine. As we would expect from this company, this is a quality engine. It has plenty of grunt but it seems relatively quiet. The handles are comfortable, the loop one being adjustable along the length of the shaft, and vibration was not an issue for either tester.

So can Kawasaki cut hedges as well as build motorcycles? There is no denying that this machine gets the job done. It has a high clip rate and the head adjusts through 135 degs to give the right angle for comfort. "It's given a good-quality cut and didn't tear at the hedge," notes Bawcutt.

The manufacturer certainly has confidence in the product. This machine comes with a three-year professional warranty, or five years for domestic use.

Specifications
Engine: 26.3cc
Output: 1.18kW
Starter: Recoil with KAR
Overall length: 2m
Blade length: 525mm
Head adjustment: 135 degs
Blade speed: 1.1m/s at 8,000rpm
Handle: Variable position loop
Fuel tank capacity: 0.5 litres
Dry weight: 6.3kg
Fuel: Two-stroke pre-mix (ratio 50:1)
Air filter: Dry type (foam)
Fuel consumption: 506g/kWh
Vibration - front handle: 2m/s2
Vibration - rear handle: 2.5m/s2
List price: £525 + VAT
Tel: Kawasaki - 01628 856600


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