Gearing Up: Cutting-Edge String Trimmers, Hedge Trimmers, Pole Saws & Combo Tools

Lithium-ion batteries are pushing aside older nickel-cadmium technology in hand-held yard-care equipment. And because lithium-ion technology now is widespread, that means that battery prices won’t drain your wallet.

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The line from a superhero movie, “with great power comes great responsibility” also can apply to today’s hand-held yard-care equipment. The emergence of lithium-ion batteries since 2009 gives cordless models a great new power option. Of course, the responsibility of getting your yard chores done still is up to you.

Nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries still can be found in economy string trimmers and hedge trimmers. But the majority of your choices when it comes to cordless yard-care machines are powered by lithium-ion batteries.

Further, manufacturers have tweaked their equipment regardless of power to make their products easier to use than they were 3 years ago. As a result, you’ll be able to take care of your yard responsibilities more efficiently with less fatigue.

POWER PLAY. Models that have lithium-ion batteries have arrived on the home yard-care scene in a big way. For instance, at least 15 lithium-ion-powered hedge trimmers are on the consumer market, compared with just three NiCd models. Among string trimmers, at least 12 use lithium-ion batteries, compared with six that are powered by NiCd batteries—half of which are nearly extinct 12-volt versions. You can expect that trend to continue: One manufacturer, Stihl, tells us that NiCd batteries are on their way out of yard-care equipment.

The move to lithium-ion batteries means that you no longer have to race the clock to finish that last bit of trimming when the battery starts to drain. Lithium-ion batteries retain full power until they have to be recharged. 

You’ll get a break on the weight, too. Yard-care machines that use lithium-ion batteries weigh less than do those that are NiCd- or gasoline-powered. (A few even are lighter than corded models are.) For example, 3 years ago, a 36-volt NiCd-powered string trimmer weighed 12 pounds. Today, a 36-volt lithium-ion model weighs 7.8 pounds. That translates into a lighter machine that’s easier to guide.

Lithium-ion-powered string trimmers now start at $119 for an 18-volt model, which is the minimum voltage for a lithium-ion battery. That’s about $20–$40 more expensive than comparable NiCd-powered tools cost. Three years ago, an 18-volt NiCd string trimmer cost about $100.

Although the cost of lithium-ion battery packs and chargers is expected to continue to drop, manufacturers tell Consumers Digest that the trend won’t be reflected in the prices that you will see for yard-care products. Instead, in the next 2 years, you’re more likely to see more models that have more power for the same price, they say. 

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We’ve noticed voltage inching upward already: Five string trimmers have 20-volt lithium-ion batteries; two each have 24-volt and 36-volt batteries. And at least one 40-volt lithium-ion model now exists: GreenWorks was set to introduce this spring the 21132A ($200).

But when it comes to supplying maximum power for tasks such as trimming thick grass or cutting through tough brush, lithium-ion power still trails gasoline power, and we expect that to continue for years to come. Gasoline-powered models also have a longer run time. For example, a typical lithium-ion string trimmer will run for about 15 minutes before it requires a recharge; a gasoline string trimmer typically has a gas tank that holds enough gasoline to run twice that long. And refueling, of course, takes only a few minutes for a gasoline-powered string timmer, compared with at least 60 minutes even for lithium-ion-powered models that have quick-charge capability.

COMFORT ZONE. Meanwhile, manufacturers have tweaked the positioning and the length of the handles of their trimmers. We found that these tweaks make the models more comfortable to hold and thus less fatiguing to operate. What’s best of all, these innovations come without any increase in price.

For example, you’ll find more string trimmers that have telescoping (adjustable-length) shafts, so you won’t have to bend over as much as you work. At least 10 models have this feature, which is up from a single model that we noted 3 years ago. Models that have this feature start at about $40, compared with $100 in 2009. 

Further, two manufacturers changed the handles on their hedge trimmers, too. The rotating handles that are on Toro’s hedge trimmers allow you to make either vertical or horizontal cuts without reaching uncomfortably or twisting the machine’s body to change cutting positions as you trim hedge tops and sides. Black & Decker’s hedge trimmers now have handles that are placed farther apart. We found that having our hands a bit farther apart made it easier to guide the machine as we cut shrubs.

Your hands will be thankful for another widespread tweak. Compared with 3 years ago, more models of hand-held yard-care tools have curved power triggers instead of flat ones. These triggers conform to the curl of your fingers, which means that your finger is less likely to slip off, so you keep power flowing when, say, you have to reach over a hedge to trim stray branches.

That makes sense to us, because efficient and effective yard care, after all, is a hands-on experience. 

Kristen Hampshire, the feature writer, is former editor of Commercial Dealer, which is a trade publication for power equipment dealers. She is managing editor of A Garden Life, which is an app-delivered magazine that covers gardens, design, food and culture. Steve Trusty, who worked with Consumers Digest on Best Buy recommendations, has reported on lawn care for 46 years. He writes regularly for lawn-care trade magazines and has contributed to several books. 

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