In the suburban war against nature, there are a number of weapons to be used against the Great Green Menace. The ever present lawnmower stands ready to obliterate over aggressive blades of grass. Rakes drag away the obstacles scattered on the ground. Leaf blowers swoop down to clear the dead and dying from the field. So how do you tackle those tall bastards outside of the theater of operations for lawn mowers and rakes? Call in the weedwhackers, the precision killers of backyard annoyances.
Weedwhackers can perform a variety of functions based on their cutter design. They can be used to cut grasses flush against a fence or other flat surface. With the proper blade, you can ramp up the potential victim list to include shrubs and small saplings. With a steady hand, you can even trim the edges between grass and walkways or your driveway.
Types of Weedwhacker
The main difference between weedwhackers is the power source. They are typically divided along the lines of gas powered and electric. The choice is up to you, but consider the size of the area you'll be maintaining, as well as the difficulty of supplying power to your whacker. Also, some home associations restrict gas powered tools, so make sure you aren't pissing off all the neighbors when take your new toy out for an inaugural spin.
Gas powered weedwhackers are usually a two stroke affair so make sure you buy the proper oil mix for your application. You may consider handling or housing the gas to be a hazard if little kids are running around your garage, or better yet, earning their allowance by getting some trigger time. Or maybe you're like me and you thoroughly enjoy the aroma of two cycle engine exhuast. However, electric units run cooler and therefore offer less of a chance to burn the operator during accidental contact with the engine. Nowadays you can even get cordless models, but those batteries probably won't last through some of the more demanding jobs.
The next biggest issue to consider is the head or spool of the weedwhacker. If you just want to cut down some overgrown weeds, stick with the standard string trimmer configuration. However, if you need to cut down bigger growth, you'll need nylon blades, a metal chain or metal blade. Some weedwhackers may have heads that readily accept these accessories or you'll have to buy a different head to accommodate them. Factor this into the cost of purchasing the weedwhacker, as well as replacements for whichever accessory you choose. Also check that the weedwhacker you select has enough power for the accessories you want to use.
Some models may even offer a pivoting head which will allow the weedwhacker to be more easily used as a trimmer. Otherwise, you'll have to twist and turn the entire weedwhacker such that the head spins in a vertical direction. Note twisting the weedwhacker around can increase your chance of burning yourself with a gas powered model.
Now we're down to business. Time to consider what you want to cut down and, consequently, how to go about.
If you're just out to cut down some weeds or do a little trimming, then you can get away with using a string trimmer. This setup just uses a nylon string hanging out of the head to cut weeds. The nylon string will probably break over time, so if you lose efficacy all of a sudden, make sure the string is still at the proper length. The heads are designed to hold a good length of string which can be quickly drawn out as needed. Note that string trimmers allow you to cut flush up against objects or around the base of poles or even chain link fences. This won't damage anything and if the string breaks, just pull some more out. This is not recommended for any other cutter.
For heavier or densely packed grasses, nylon cutting blades help speed the process along. Just make sure your weedwhacker head accepts these or you'll need to buy a different head. Even if you don't need the nylon blades' extra power, you may consider using them out of convenience. To install a new blade, all you do is snap it into place. String trimmers can get tangled frequently and refilling the head with string is usually a pain the neck. Nylon blades get the job done faster and with less headache, although you'll have to be much more careful if you try to trim around solid objects than if you used a string trimmer. The nylon blades will be eaten away very rapidly when they hit something sturdy, but they won't fragment, which makes them safer than the metal accessories discussed below.
Think of a bicycle chain. Now imagine that on the end of a weedwhacker. They make heads like that. You can probably cut through a lot of shit in a hurry (like your leg) but innocent bystanders have died when their family members used one of these. Don't fucking do it, ok?
Now think of a circular saw or a table saw. Now imagine that on the end of a weedwhacker. They make heads like that. I have actually used these to great effect. The effect being on the plants and trees, not my toes. You'll definitely know when you knick a rock, but these don't come undone and fly off like the chains do. I haven't yet met the grass this won't handle. Metal blades are also good for cutting down trees or branches. I would say these work on anything an inch and a half or less in diameter, but I think that number is pretty much limited by your patience. Also works well on cats.
Or last, whatever. No matter what type weedwhacker setup you use, you should always wear the right safety gear. Closed toed shoes, long pants and safety glasses are necessities every time. Long sleeve shirts can't hurt, until you consider heat stroke. That's up to you. The same goes for gloves--if you tend to get blisters, use a pair. If you're cutting through extremely dry material or just producing a lot of particulate crap, wear a mask or bandanna. Lastly, don't expect to go Rambo-style through a field of thorn bushes or poison ivy without suffering some splash damage.