The 10-minute trimmer guide

The 10-minute trimmer guide

Features - Equipment

Industry veterans share their string trimmer secrets so you can get the best bang for your buck – without years of trial and error.

June 11, 2012

Philip McClure has been tinkering with string trimmers since age 13. McClure, shop manager at LKM Mowing & Landscaping in Normal, Ill., began learning his way around the equipment when he and his brother, Daniel, started a mowing business in the Chicago area.

Through the nearly 15 years he’s been in the green industry, he’s learned a thing or two about buying and servicing trimmers. McClure and other seasoned handheld equipment veterans condense their years of experience into a short buyer’s guide for string trimmers.

Be a shrewd shopper. Before committing cash to the new equipment, consider the jobs and volume of work that the trimmers will be performing, McClure says. For commercial applications, those familiar with trimmers mostly recommend equipment with a straight shaft as opposed to a curved one, which is designed more for consumer use. The straight shaft puts the head out there more, McClure says, explaining that the straight-shaft models can cut through thicker grass with fewer problems.

McClure prefers solid steel shafts over the kind with flexible cable in them because they’re lighter. “It doesn’t shake as much, which makes it easier when the guys are running them all day,” McClure says.

Maximum Value. “Stihl and Echo are the top two brands out there for chainsaws/handhelds – they’re the top two contenders and the two brands we use,” McClure says.

There are off-brand, less-expensive offerings that McClure says seem to try to mimic the top brands’ products, but he warns that you get what you pay for.

“Price doesn’t always denote quality, but it has something to do with it,” he says. “We don’t have the budget for the most expensive trimmers, but we get the best of what our budget can afford.”

Go on a field trip to test-drive the trimmers before you buy them, he suggests. You’ll be able to get a feel for the equipment’s quality and ease of use.

“It helps to try it out,” McClure says. “Most (distributors) will let you – you’re making a big investment.”

Uniformity makes it easy.
Equipment buyers in the industry recommend resisting any urge to sample trimmers from multiple brands. It makes it more difficult to keep replacement parts in stock. It’s better to buy the same brand – and even the same model – across the entire fleet.

“If you have six different kinds of weedeaters, it’s a lot more difficult to stock all the parts for the different weedeaters,” says Scott Tintera, lead mechanic at Austin, Texas-based Cleanscapes. This allows the mechanics to head off some potential problems.

McClure says he keeps more common parts – carburetors, gaskets, etc. – in stock but turns to a distributor to order the more uncommon parts when they break.

Tintera takes advantage of a dealer discount program when purchasing new or extra parts or equipment.

“They’re easy to work with and the price is right,” he says.

Having a go-to distributor and mechanic can be an especially attractive option to smaller companies that don’t have an in-house mechanic on staff, says Allen Woodward, owner of Redding, Calif.-based WLMS Landscaping.

An ounce of prevention. Like any big investment, the budget-conscious contractor would want to keep the newly bought set of string trimmers running as long as possible. It’s all about regular maintenance, shop managers say.

The crews at Cleanscapes hand the equipment over to the mechanics to inspect each time they clean their vehicles.

When a trimmer does break, it is tagged and left with the mechanics. The crew then uses a spare trimmer, which is documented in a log so the equipment is accounted for. In addition, each crew keeps track of equipment by marking with an assigned color.

The crew’s truck is marked with the same color, Tintera says.

The most common trimmer problems are usually related to fouled-up fuel or a fuel tank issue, says McClure. Oftentimes, dirt can find its way into the gas tank, which clogs the carburetor.

“It can get dirty out there (on the work site) – a little chunk of dirt can make a big difference,” he says.

Weekly or monthly checks of the spark plugs, carburetor, and air and fuel filters can help ensure problems don’t flare up, contractors and mechanics say.

Double-checking that the gasoline and oil mixture is correct (50 to 1 gas to oil) is another important preventive measure, says Julia Pentecost, horticulturalist and landscape designer at Cincinnati-based Wimberg Landscaping.  

There are other periodical maintenance measures that help extend the life of the equipment.

Every season, employees at WLMS Landscaping flush the trimmers’ fuel tanks to make sure there’s no moisture in there to interfere with the fuel, Woodward says.

Taking the time for regular trimmer upkeep is less expensive and time consuming than the alternative, Tintera adds.

“With maintenance, you can make the weedeater last forever,” he says.

“If you don’t maintain it, it’s going to have to be replaced. It’s way more cost-effective to service equipment than to replace it. It’s like having a car and not doing oil changes.”


The author is a freelancer in Lakewood, Ohio.


CORE CGT400 Line Trimmer

The pitch:
The CGT400 Line Trimmer is CORE Outdoor Power’s first available product from its suite of environmentally-friendly power equipment.

  • The product operates using a wireless motor invented by a team of engineers at CORE Outdoor Power.
  • The motor works by means of embedding copper-etched conductors into a multi-layered circuit board stator.
  • The CGT400 features an instant trigger start, high-energy power cell, dual-mode controls for torque and speed, open view grass guard, comfort grip handle and runs just as long as a full tank of gas.

For more information:

ECHO PAS-280 Power Source and Bed Redefiner Attachment

The pitch:
The PAS-280 is the newest power source equipped with a 28.1 cc professional-grade, 2-stroke engine.

  • The PAS only has to gas up and maintain one power head and includes a tool-less, quick-change coupler.
  • Available attachments include string trimmers, edgers, hedge trimmers and brushcutters among others including the Bed Redefiner.
  • The Bed Redefiner includes an over-sized, high-impact plastic shield with guide marker and a large, adjustable support wheel.

For more information:

Grasshopper Edge-EZE Lawn Edger
The pitch:
Save labor and reduce edging time up to 75 percent over walk-behind edgers and string trimmers with the Grasshopper Edge-EZE lawn edger.

  • With a 2.5-inch depth of cut, Edge-EZE maintains established edges at up to 500 feet per minute.
  • Twelve-inch vertical adjustment, a reversible disc and electric actuator allow convenient edging from the sidewalk, turf or curb.
  • Compatible with all Grasshopper zero-turn mowers, Edge-EZE mounts on either side of the out-front or mid-mounted mowing deck.

For more information:

Gravely Edger and Walk-Behind Trimmer

The pitch:
The Gravely edger (pictured) gives you the options of edging, trimming and beveling, and the Pro-Trim Professional Walk-Behind Trimmer removes grass where mowers can’t reach.

  • The Gravely Edger offers a four-position height adjustment, 110-degree pivot head rotation for cutting, trimming or beveling.
  • The trimmer features a reinforced 15-degree pivot head and 14-gauge steel deck for durability,
  • The Pro-Trim also includes a 22-inch cutting width and 1.25- to 4.25-inch cutting heights.

For more information:

The STIHL FSA 85 Grass Trimmer
The pitch:
Eliminating fuel costs and engine exhaust emissions, the STIHL FSA 85 grass trimmer offers users another way to reduce their impact on the environment.

  • The FSA 85 runs at full speed until the battery is depleted, with no gradual drop in power.
  • Has an on-board hanging slot that allows for easy storage, as well as a loop handle that adjusts without the use of tools.
  • Meant for jobs in densely populated and noise-restricted areas, and is five times quieter than the STIHL gasoline-powered equivalent.

For more information:

The Trimmer Assist Strap System

The pitch:
The Trimmer Assist is a universal landscaping strap, as it works with all string trimmers, hand held blowers and edgers.

  • The Trimmer Assist uses new bungee technology to facilitate as a shock absorber, while allowing full movement unlike the conventional straps.
  • Measures 9.250 inches x 2.750 Inches x 1/2 inch.
  • Half-inch thick and comes with a quick-disconnect release.

For more information: