String trimmers

The best are easy on your arms and your budget

Last reviewed: May 2010
May issue cover This article appeared in
May 2010 Consumer Reports Magazine.
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Cutting what your mower can't reach is the finishing touch to a well-groomed lawn. You'll find beefier cordless trimmers and propane-powered models as more brands try to clean up their products. But our tests show that it's easy to pay a hefty premium for a mediocre machine.

Black & Decker's 36-volt NST2036 packs twice the voltage of most cordless electric trimmers, which tend to be unimpressive and are not in the Ratings (available to subscribers). That voltage helped it trim and edge almost as well as the best corded electrics. But at $250 and roughly 14 pounds, it costs and weighs more than most gas models without cutting as well.

Lehr's new ST025DC, $210, and the similar Craftsman 79212, $290, use miniature propane canisters instead of gasoline. Fewer emissions and no messy fueling are the benefits. But at 16 to 17 pounds, each weighs about as much as many upright vacuums. Initial starting took three to four pulls instead of one or two for the best gasoline trimmers. And unless you disconnect the fuel canister after each use as recommended, you risk a leak, which happened with one of the Lehrs we tested.

Our Ratings (available to subscribers) of more than 30 trimmers include models that free you from mixing gas and oil, and trimming heads that end the time-honored tangle of loading line. Here's what helps the best trim better, and some features to trim from your list:

Longer-running engines

Gas trimmers must meet federal emissions standards for at least 50 hours of use (about five years at 20 minutes per week). Some, including the Echo SRM-225 and GT-225, are certified by the manufacturer to meet those standards for 300 hours. More hours don't guarantee longer life, but it's a good indication of durability.

Loading gets easier

Echo, Ryobi, and Troy-Bilt are among the brands that let you add line to the spool without removing the head. Even easier: fixed-line heads such as the one on Weed Eater's $95 SST25C, a CR Best Buy, where you push a short, pre-cut length into one hole and out another.

Beware of gimmicks

Craftsman's 79201 gas trimmer, $235, boasts four lines instead of two. It was great at edging but only so-so in tall grass and weeds. The corded electric Craftsman 74547, $60, has a built-in blower for dispersing clippings. But the similar Black & Decker GH700 was among the corded models that trimmed better for less. And although the plug-in starter for Troy-Bilt's gas-powered TB539e saves you some pulling, at 13 pounds and $200, this trimmer is heavy and pricey.

A darker shade of green

We tested Craftsman, Ryobi, and Troy-Bilt models that use a four-stroke engine like the ones on mowers. That usually cuts emissions because oil isn't mixed and burned with the gas. But all four took more pulls to start than the best two-strokes and occasionally belched smoke when they first fired up.