For busy landscapers, hand-held trimmers and edgers are essential tools that withstand a tremendous amount of use. But how much life should a landscaper expect to get out of these products? Some business owners weigh in on how to get the most from edgers and trimmers as well as how to avoid costly maintenance.
Make them last.
Bo Fleming, director of branch operations at Heads Up Landscape Contractors in Albuquerque, N.M., says the choice of what tool to use is based on seasons. “We use the line trimmer and stick edger every day in summer, but in winter, we just use the line trimmer,” he says.
In the wintertime, when not in use, Fleming says gas powered tools should be drained before being stored and stored with the gas cap upright to prevent leakage.
Fleming uses only commercial grade products, and advises to look for one that has an easy release on the trimmer spool, one with a finger throttle and one in which you’d have easy access to the air filter.
Maintenance should be relatively simple, Fleming says. “If it’s handled with care, there should be minimal maintenance on them.” Small repairs are sent to the company's mechanic staff.
Nonetheless, as New Mexico is a warm climate, Fleming says occasionally, the engines will bog down because the machine overheats, which would require a tune up.
Of course, nothing lasts forever. Fleming says to expect a lifespan of three to five years for a line trimmer, and closer to five years for an edger. “We buy them for the long haul. We’re investing and keeping them for the lifespan is what we are shooting for.”
Aaron Rodolph, president of Rodolph Brothers in Casper, Wyo., views the edgers and trimmers as replaceable items, though he does try to keep them running as long as possible.
Rodolph also says his crew had been getting about four to five years of life out of their string trimmers, but then the motors would seize up because the air filter would fall off and dirt would be sucked in, or they would be filling it up with poor quality gas. He says air filter maintenance is priority in extending the life of these tools.
“We had a catastrophic cycle of them failing. That prompted us to get controls in place,” he says. One essential change they made was to switch to a premixed canned fuel, which has a set amount of octane that is engineered for small motors.
Mike Osowski, field manager at Katerberg Verhage in Grand Rapids, Mich., also says to keep the edgers and trimmers going for as long as possible, adding that the absolute number one key to longevity is the type of fuel used. The high ethanol content of fuel does more harm than good, turning the products into the little engines that couldn’t.
“We were putting in new carburetors every two to three years because of the ethanol content.” And, he predicts, it’s only going to get worse. “They’re going to allow more ethanol to be blended in at the pump, and this will hurt these little carburetors even more,” he says. But, since the company switched to straight gas, this has taken care of the problem. Nonetheless, he replaces edgers and trimmers after about three to four years, because the cost of maintenance begins to outweigh the cost of a new tool.
Osowski says he would choose a straight shaft edger over a curved edger for its longer durability with parts breaking less frequently.
“Every piece goes through a certain kind of maintenance schedule,” Rodolph says. “That helps our equipment life. Even though it’s a throw-away, you are still looking to optimize its life.” Another maintenance tip is to make sure that the crew avoids tossing the tools carelessly in the truck after use. “We build racks on all of our trailers for each piece of equipment, which stops them from vibrating and rolling around. That’s been a big help,” he says.
It’s who you know.
Both Osowski and Rodolph highly recommend making sure that you have a good relationship with your suppliers as that could help with parts accessibility.
“The number one thing you consider when buying any piece of equipment is what the service and parts pipeline looks like.” Rodolph says. “We have lots of major models. You look at who is selling them and who is behind the counter and who will fix this thing.”
Osowski says in his area, there are three to four dealers that sell the brand of equipment his company buys, but the service aspect with them is a cut above. "It makes things a lot easier. A dealer can be very helpful,” he says, noting that while cheaper deals might be found at big box stores, you won’t get the same support you would with a dealer.
The author is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh.
Gas vs. electric
We find out which type of trimmer these contractors use.
When it comes to the debate on how a trimmer or edger is powered, each contractor has their own opinions. Aaron Rodolph, president of Rodolph Brothers in Casper, Wyo., has only used gas in his fleet. He says the only downside of gas-powered equipment is the smell, which can stick to your body all day, and lacking the proper type of fuel is a surefire way to reduce the lifespan of your tools.
“A positive of gas by far is just that the technology has been out for so long and the power to weight ratio is really good right now. That is critical if you have a guy toting a trimmer edger all day,” Osowski says, adding that his only complaint with the gas powered tools is the noise level.
If you’re not using gas, your only other options are battery and electric models. Rodolph says batteries have a poor lifespan, especially in an area like Caspar, Wy., where the seasons range from extreme hot to extreme cold.
Fleming added that the down side to battery-run edgers is simply a matter of logic: If the battery dies while on a job, you’re out of luck. And electric edgers carry the risk of a tripping hazard. Plus, if an outlet is not readily available, that can be a problem as well. The only time Fleming would use an electric edger is if the customer requests it for an environmental reason.
In fact, Osowski says that in the coming years, more and more clients, particularly the larger commercial maintenance clients, are going to require their contractors to use clean equipment.
Osowski says battery-operated trimmers and edgers are becoming more available, and while they are not yet where they need to be technologically to provide long-lasting, durable charges, “I am keeping an eye on the lithium battery-operated ones,” as he says they are going to grow in popularity.
Despite all the advantages of gas, they are more expensive to run. Plus, the initial cost of the power tools is more expensive than electric. “You can probably get a decent electric line trimmer for half the price of a gas trimmer,” Fleming says.