Choosing a Weed Eater
A string trimmer or weed whacker — perhaps best known as a "weed eater," after the company that pioneered this yard maintenance tool in the 1970s — cuts grass and weeds where a lawn mower won't do. It reaches under and around obstacles, helping to keep driveways, walkways, fencing, and flower beds looking tidy. High-end trimmers cost well north of $300, but for $200 or less, you can find a cheap gas or electric trimmer that will do your yard proud. Some even boast edging capability and can perform other upkeep chores.
Weed Eater BrandsThe original Weed Eater brand, which was acquired by the outdoor power tools giant Husqvarna in 1986, is still in the string trimmers game, especially on the budget end of the spectrum, but these days other names also claim a hold on the market. Black & Decker, Troy-Bilt, Ryobi, Hitachi, Toro, Greenworks, Remington, Worx, Echo, Ego, Honda, and, of course, Husqvarna itself offer weed whackers at a range of price points, starting at the entry level and climbing up from there.
High-end and commercial trimmers are more durable than consumer models, outfitted with solid steel drive shafts and engines that can tolerate thicker, taller grass and brush. They tend to vibrate less than cheaper residential models and often are compatible with an assortment of attachments that expand their functionality, such as a tiller, cultivator, and blade (for cutting thick brush and trimming trees). Nevertheless, some of the best budget weed whackers are favorites with the pros as well as everyday users.
Gas Weed EatersExperts recommend more powerful and costly gas trimmers for large, rural yards with rough terrain. String trimmers fueled by gasoline use a recoil start, but increasingly feature systems that ensure the engine comes to life quickly and without much effort. They have either two-cycle or four-cycle engines. Two-cycle engines use a gas/oil mix; four-cycle engines keep oil separate and can be filled with standard gas or diesel. The latter are quieter and more fuel efficient, have lower emissions, and run more smoothly but generally cost more than those with two-cycle engines. Many users, including pros, prefer two-cycle trimmers for their lighter weight, greater power to size ratio, and fewer parts to break. Regardless of engine type, gas-fed weed whackers cut a wider path than electric models and are better suited for bigger jobs.
Electric Weed EatersFor smaller yards and light-duty maintenance, there are several advantages to using an electric trimmer versus a gas trimmer. Aside from the lower cost, they are less hefty and more easily portable, quieter, and emission-free. On the other hand, corded weed trimmers must remain tethered to a power source, and just maneuvering around the cord may be a hassle. Cordless weed eaters may suffer from short run times — don't expect an entry-level model to conquer even a half-acre yard without needing to recharge — and their batteries need to be replenished after each use. Some newer models, including our favorites, take lithium ion batteries that recharge in just one or two hours.
Straight Shaft vs. Curved Shaft TrimmersAll the weed eaters we researched feature a long, straight shaft; a couple have a telescoping design. The alternative, a curved-shaft trimmer, may be the right choice when working in very tight spaces. Frugal consumers will find far more straight-shaft trimmers to choose among.
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Weed Eater Reviews: What We Considered
To make our picks, we turned to a variety of sources. We looked at string trimmer reviews on sites where consumer product experts conduct testing, including TopTenReviews, Consumer Reports, and Wirecutter, as well as professional tool review sites and yard maintenance blogs. Feedback from consumers was gathered from retail sites such as Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Walmart. Users sometimes proved to be tougher critics than the experts, and no cheap string trimmer receives unanimously glowing reviews. Some of these outdoor power tools clearly perform better than others, and those that do merit a spot on our list.
Trimmer LineA string trimmer cuts whatever crosses its path with a fast-moving plastic string that rotates along the tip; hence the name "string" trimmer. Trimmers with automatic line feed continuously release string as the line wears down during operation, sending out more as soon as it gets down to a certain length. This design tends to eat string faster but is more convenient, because the trimmer is always ready for action and doesn't have to stop for reloading. With a bump feed, you have to knock the head against the ground to activate a spring that lets out more cord from the coil as needed. This type of feed gives you more control over how much string is used, but it obviously requires a bit more effort and a constant eye on the length of the line. Problems often arise with bump-feed weed eaters, because the constant thwacking causes the string to jam. It can take some time to get the hang of it.
Trimmers cut with either one or two lines of string. Dual-line models get the job done faster and put less wear on the string. With single-line trimmers, the string is easier to replace. Regardless, trimmer string diminishes with use, requiring owners to wind new line or replace trimmer spools as needed.
Trimmer string comes in different thicknesses. The thicker the line, the cleaner and faster the cut. Thicker line also is more durable. The most common thicknesses are 0.065 inches and 0.095 inches. The type of trimmer line — round, square, multi-sided, twisted, serrated — also affects performance.
WeightThe weight of a weed eater matters because the user must be able to carry and maneuver it with ease. Some pricier string trimmers come with shoulder straps, a helpful aid, but entry-level models tend to be light enough to make this unnecessary. Battery-operated weed trimmers are heavier than corded electric string trimmers, and gas weed eaters tend to be the heaviest.
Cutting PathThe cutting path refers to the width that can be cut with one pass of the machine. Gas-powered weed eaters usually cut a swath ranging from 15 to 18 inches while electric weed eaters cut a smaller 10 to 15 inches.
Convenience FeaturesThere are several additional features that make some string trimmers easier to use, such as an adjustable handle and a debris guard. On an electric trimmer, look for a cord locking system or a battery charger. On gas models, reviewers appreciate easy-start options and are quick to complain if it takes several tries to start the trimmer. Many newer gas models, including some with budget prices, now boast integrated quick-start technology or offer it as an optional accessory.
Some gas and electric weed whackers also can be used for other yard maintenance chores, either with a twist of the shaft or a push of a button, or by adding accessory attachments. Several models on our list quickly convert to edgers.
A final added feature to look out for is vibration reduction technology. Gas trimmers can shake quite a bit, which can lead to discomfort with prolonged use and, potentially, more serious health issues affecting the fingers and hands. It's somewhat rare to come across a cheap model with an anti-vibration function, but we found a few.