Powered hedge trimmers take some of the elbow grease out of keeping shrubs in shape.
The best electric trimmers should be powerful and fast enough for nearly any homeowner. But you may need a gas model if your trimming is beyond the reach of an extension cord (usually 100 feet for the longest).
Using them can still be hard work, since you're holding these machines aloft for extended periods. That makes a trimmer's weight, balance, and vibration as important as its performance. Safety is also important given the number of injuries that occur each year. Fortunately, you'll find several models that blend comfort, capable cutting, and features that help protect you while you work.
Black & Decker and Craftsman (Sears) dominate the corded and cordless-electric market; Craftsman also sells gas-powered models. Other brands include Echo, Homelite, Husqvarna, Little Wonder, Remington, Ryobi, Stihl, and Weed Eater.
Plug-in trimmers account for the most sales, since they're relatively light, quiet, and inexpensive, start with push-button ease, produce no exhaust emissions, and require little maintenance. The best also perform comparably to gasoline-powered models. But you'll have to work within range of a power outlet and be sure not to cut the cord. Price: $30 to $100.
Battery-powered trimmers combine the mobility of gas models with the convenience, clean running, and easy maintenance of plug-ins, courtesy of an onboard battery (14.4 volt to 24 volt). But they offer relatively little power and no more than about 45 minutes' run time per charge. They can also cost as much as gas-powered models. Price: $70 to $120.
Landscapers favor these for their power and mobility. But gas models typically weigh more than electrics, and their two-stroke engines require fuel mixing, pull-starting, maintenance. Gas trimmers can also be expensive. Price: $130 to $450.
Any powered hedge trimmer should handle light-duty trimming. The most powerful can cut branches roughly ? inches in diameter, while dense 1/4-inch-thick branches were enough to stop battery-powered trimmers we tested.
Corded electrics are relatively quiet and inexpensive. They deliver the best combination of cutting power, maneuverability, and ease provided you're within range of a power outlet. Cordless trimmers add convenience, but little cutting power and limited run time make them best for touch-ups and other light-duty work. In either case, look for an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) seal, which means that the trimmers have crucial safety features. Gas-powered models are for heavier-duty trimming beyond the range of a cord.
Most trimmers are for hedges up to about 5 feet high and 5 feet across. Extended-reach trimmers let you cut the top of tall hedges while keeping your feet on the ground. Typically, a tilting blade makes trimming the top easier. But among extended trimmers, only the gas Little Wonder was up to serious work. The extended electrics were also heavy and poorly balanced.
Having two moving blades doesn't guarantee better performance. But it helps a competent hedge trimmer cut more quickly by putting two blades to work instead of just one. Hedge trimmers with dual-reciprocating blades also tend to vibrate less than models with single-action blades.
Sample not only a trimmer's weight but how well it's distributed; too much up front or in back makes it harder to switch from vertical to horizontal trimming. Nearly all trimmers have a lockout to prevent accidentally activating the blades.
Wear protective work gloves, goggles, nonskid shoes, and—with gas models—hearing protection. Trim on firm footing or on a steady ladder, and don't try to work beyond your reach. With electric trimmers, use a GFCI outlet or extension cord that trails away from the blades so you don't slice it. (Tuck a loop of the cord under your belt toward your back.)