Updated: June 8, 2015
String Trimmer Reviews:We found more information on string trimmers (also known as weed whackers) than any other type of equipment we have reviewed. There are great comparisons and buying guides on sites like Popular Mechanics, HGTV, This Old House and plenty of user reviews in the Gardenweb.com forums. Consumer Reports recently did a review as well with some excellent findings for both gas and electric string trimmers. A string trimmer, or edger, is used to cut greenery that is hard to get to with a traditional lawn mower. You see gardeners or landscaping crews using them as a cleanup method after they have mowed lawns in neighborhoods or industrial parks. They are great at maintaining a nice straight edge along flower beds and walkways where the grass meets dirt, rocks, steps, or trees. They are also great for cleaning up areas of grass and weeds and light brush where a mower won't work Trimmers come in 2 basic styles - gas string trimmers (2 and 4 cycle engines) and electric trimmers (corded or cordless). We'll go into the pluses and minuses of each type below. You can browse the up-to-date list of best-selling string trimmers here.
How to choose a string trimmer - Gas trimmers are great for taking on bigger project in large yards and certainly are better at cutting thick weeds and brush than electric models. Many gas string trimmers have a large cutting radius (16 to 18 inches) and they are very portable meaning you can reach far areas of your yard or property without having to worry about a cord plugged into an outlet. The disadvantages of gas trimmers are that they tend to be heavy (compared to electric models), they are noisy, require regular maintenance, need gas and oil, and the 2-cycle engines are pollutants. A 4-cycle engine has many advantages over the 2-cycle trimmers in that they are quieter, pollute less, more powerful for thicker brush, they run smoother, and don't require the gas-oil mix since they run purely on gasoline. Some of the most powerful 4-cycle gas trimmers are designed specifically for brush cutting and have a special blade to easily cut through saplings or heavy brush. They often are equipped with shoulder straps and handlebars to give you control in tough situations. Corded electric trimmers are the cheapest and the lightest and compete well against the gas trimmers. They are easier to start and a lot quieter than any gas trimmer on the market. Some of the drawbacks to electric trimmers are that they are not as powerful as the gas models, the corded trimmers have limited reach and the battery powered string trimmers have a short battery life (15-20 minutes). The cutting path of electric trimmers is smaller than the gas trimmers and they are not able to cut through thick brush. Most homeowners can get by with a corded electric machine for basic yard edging and cleanup (make sure you have outdoor outlets). The electric battery powered trimmers are cordless which makes them just as portable as the gas trimmers, but certainly less powerful. Most come with a rechargeable 12-volt battery meaning there is no hassle with fueling it up, there are no exhaust fumes or pollutants, and they are pretty quiet. Many owners buy a 2nd battery pack so they can have a spare one ready to go for larger jobs that require more than the 15-20 minutes of time the batteries provide. When shopping for a trimmer, consider the different styles of shafts - curved, straight or split. Curved shaft trimmers are the most popular simply because they are easiest to handle and don't effect your back nearly as much as the others do over a long day of trimming. Straight shafts are versatile and durable than the other types and they accept more attachments for other functions. A straight shafted trimmer works great for getting under bushes or shrubs and fit taller people better. Gas string trimmers, with their engines on top, are easier to manage than the electric models with the motors near the bottom. When you are talking about weight, you want it near your hands for better control, especially if you will be trimming for more than a few minutes. Some of the newer electric models now feature 2 cutting blades or lines (like the gas powered trimmers). The cutting line at the bottom of trimmers is usually feed out with a "bump-feed line advance". This means you bump the trimmer head against the ground which feeds out more line. If you live in a typical suburban neighborhood you probably don't need a gas powered string trimmer for periodic edging and trimming, go with one of the electric models. For those of you with larger yards that tend to grow weeds or heavy brush in the off seasons, a gas trimmer will certainly get the job done and in less time than an electric model. For anyone running a yard cleanup service or landscaping business, gas trimmers are the way to go for power, convenience and versatility. One word on safety no matter which style you choose, always wear eye protection like goggles, wear gloves to protect your hands, and put on a pair of jeans to keep chunks of debris from cutting into your legs. The more popular brands for electric string trimmers are Toro, Weed Eater, Craftsman (Sears), and Black & Decker. Gas powered brands are Homelite, McCulloch, Ryobi, Troy-Bilt, Weedeater and Craftsman. The really expensive gas models are sold by Stihl, Echo, Bolens, John Deere, and Husqvarna. See our top picks in each category below.