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With many spending so much more time at home since the pandemic started, some turned to home improvement projects late last year, like renovating outdoor living spaces, installing pools and building decks. Even gardening grew in popularity for those hoping for a distraction during the spring.
SKIP AHEAD Best string trimmers
Shopping readers have been increasingly interested in patio furniture sales and expert-recommended gas grills, too. Sprucing up greenery around your home might be on your to-do list ahead of the summer — and one of the tools that might be handy to have on hand is a string trimmer. We consulted experts on what string trimmers are, how they work and what are the best string trimmers to consider right now.
What is a string trimmer?
Designed to complement a lawn mower and target the weeds it can’t catch, a string trimmer is “primarily used to create crisp lawn edges and lawn borders after mowing to give that nice, polished look,” explained Kristin Monji, founder of landscaping firm Birch and Basil Design.
You'll sometimes see string trimmers referred to as weed trimmers, weed whackers and grass trimmers. “These are all the same product with slightly different descriptions based on how a consumer is using them,” said Monji.
There’s also a company called Weed Eaters, which makes its own line of string trimmers — and this causes “some confusion as there are many people who refer to the tool itself as a weed eater, regardless of which brand it is,” explained Joshua Bateman, a landscaper and owner of Prince Gardening in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But string trimmer is the most common name for this tool — that’s how you’ll find it marketed at retailers like The Home Depot and Lowe’s.
How string trimmers are powered
String trimmers are powered by either gas, electricity or a battery. Here’s how Will Hudson, senior merchant of outdoor power equipment for The Home Depot, explained the differences between the three.
- A gas string trimmer “provides power to handle the toughest jobs without the need of an extension cord.” Hudson recommended using non-ethanol gasoline for the best performance.
- An electric string trimmer can carry consistent amounts of power through an electrical outlet with a cord, this is unlike a battery-powered string trimmer, which is cordless.
- A battery powered string trimmer will run with less noise and feature batteries that usually are often compatible with other indoor and outdoor power tools. If you’re wondering how the batteries on string trimmer compare, Hudson suggested looking at total watts on each. The higher the wattage, the more power.
“My pick for homeowners would be a powerful battery model so you don't need to worry about wires or filling with gas,” Monji said. For the average yard, Bateman agreed that battery-powered string trimmer would be best, especially since he has seen battery life improve significantly in recent years. The kinds of weeds in your front or back yard also can help you decide whether you need an electric, gas or battery-powered trimmer. With thick weeds or overgrown lawns, an electric or battery powered trimmer could struggle more than one that uses gas, Bateman said.
But that doesn't mean gas or electric string trimmers shouldn’t be used at home. For larger properties, gas provides the most power —these trimmers do generally require more upkeep and are heavier to carry around, Bateman advised. And electric string trimmers, which tend to be the most affordable of the three, are more suitable for small yards since a cord can only go so far, he added.
Best string trimmers of 2021, according to experts
We’ve compiled expert-recommended string trimmers across gas, electric, and battery-powered options and price ranges.
Bateman’s favorite battery powered trimmer is this foldable model from DEWALT, a purveyor of power tools. He praised the battery of this string trimmer, saying it runs longer than many others on the market — more than 950 reviewers at Home Depot left it a 4.4-star average rating. Besides the battery and the ability to toggle between two speeds, this trimmer features a 14-inch swath surrounding one side of the head and designed to help it cut through wider areas.
Gary McCoy, a Lowe’s store manager in Charlotte, North Carolina, recommended EGO’s line of electric string trimmers. These trimmers “impress with a single battery platform capable of matching or exceeding the performance of conventional gas models, all without the noise or fumes,” he said. This model boasts a 4.8-star rating over more than 200 reviews on Amazon. The trimmer features a 15-inch cutting swath and a motor that’s designed for low vibrations. The battery is compatible with other EGO POWER+ tools and includes LED charging indicators. You can find the tool itself, without the battery included, at Lowe’s and Ace Hardware.
Bateman suggested this model as “a much cheaper option that gets the job done for small yards.” It features an 18-inch cutting path to cover more ground and a molded grip handle to make it easier to use in your hand. The trimmer also includes a lock to keep the cord in place as you move around the lawn. It’s a popular pick with Amazon shoppers, earning a 4.4-star rating over close to 2,000 reviews.
Monji recommended this string trimmer, describing it as “well-priced for the performance and features.” The trimmer includes a two-speed switch and can be adjusted to cut 13 to 15 inches in width. The handle is adjustable as well. The battery and charger on this model are compatible with other tools in the Ryobi One+ line. At Home Depot, this trimmer boasts an average 4.2-star rating over close to 700 reviews.
For professional use, Bateman’s pick is this trimmer from STIHL, which is well-known for its chainsaws and other outdoor equipment. It features a rubberized loop handle to grip at the center of the shaft and baffles, which are tools that help reduce the noise coming from the trimmer. Bateman also said this trimmer could work well for those with larger properties. “This gas-powered trimmer is exceptionally easy to start, has a ton of power for cutting through tall weeds and has reduced vibration which is great for longer use,” Bateman explained. Although sold out on STIHL’s own website, you can find the model at Ace Hardware and receive free in-store or curbside pick up with it.
Where else to find string trimmers
While the experts recommended their favorites, here are a few retailers (in alphabetical order) that carry a range of string trimmers to use outdoors.
How a string trimmer works
Simply put, a string trimmer operates “with a shaft and string line that uses a circular motion to cut grass or weeds,” explained McCoy. The shaft can be either curved or straight. Straight shafts typically offer more customization: You can choose add-ons to switch out of the string trimmer head, McCoy said. Some of these attachments are specially designed for edges, others for trees.
The head of a string trimmer holds the spool. And the “string” in string trimmer does actually refer to a string. Many of the more modern string trimmers will have an easy-load spool to let you load string through two holes without having to remove the spool at all — the spool winds up the string to work, Bateman noted. He recommended beginners find a string trimmer with an easy-load spool feature — some traditional and professional-grade string trimmers require taking the entire spool out to replace the string.
Safety tips to consider before using a string trimmer
Since string trimmers can be powerful, it’s important to be prepared and protected before turning one on, explained Hudson, who offered up some specific tips.
- Wear protective glasses and a mask to thwart any debris that might bounce up from trimming.
- Put on close-toed shoes with substantial support and traction, which can help lessen the chance of slipping. He recommended heavier boots to protect your feet.
- Sport longer pants that aren’t too loose to avoid catching to any other tools or equipment outside.
- For those with longer hairstyles, tie back your locks and you refrain from wearing large or long accessories.