Yard Masters: Best Buys in Hand-Held Outdoor Gear

String Trimmers • Hedge Trimmers • Pole Saws • Combo Tools

Electric hand-held yard equipment is more powerful than ever before. What’s better yet, models that have more-powerful batteries drapped in price.

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As you consider the best type of string trimmer, hedge trimmer, pole saw or combination tool to purchase, you’ll find that today’s models are lighter, more powerful and, among gasoline-powered models, easier to start than ever before.

CHARGED UP. The transition away from nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries is virtually complete. We found only three models among battery-powered string trimmers, hedge trimmers, pole saws and combination tools that use the older technology. For everything else, the go-to battery is lithium-ion. Lithium-ion batteries are smaller, lighter and quicker to recharge than are NiCd batteries.

Consumers can choose from four string trimmers that use a 40-volt lithium-ion battery and weigh about 7.5 pounds. Not long ago, only one model had a 40-volt lithium-ion battery. It weighed 8.5 pounds and cost $200. Today’s versions start at about $150.

The bar for maximum voltage continues to rise, at least among string trimmers and hedge trimmers. Eight manufacturers bumped up their string trimmers’ battery voltage to at least 40 volts from 20 or 30 volts. Ego and Worx now have 56-volt string trimmers, and Worx has a 56-volt hedge trimmer. As of press time, Echo was expected to have a 58-volt string trimmer in stores in April 2015. Finally, two models from GreenWorks, the DigiPro Hedge Trimmer and DigiPro String Trimmer, which the manufacturer says will be available in May 2015, top them all with an 80-volt battery.

However, the battery power play lags among combination tools and pole saws. We found one 40-volt combination tool and a 36-volt pole saw, which represent the top in those categories. In fact, a majority of electric pole saws are corded models.

That doesn’t appear likely to change in the foreseeable future. Black & Decker tells us that it doesn’t see higher powered pole saws and combination tools “as a big opportunity at this time.” Other manufacturers didn’t respond to our queries.

Believe it or not, the top battery-powered string trimmers and hedge trimmers now match or exceed the output in revolutions per minute (rpm) of gasoline-powered models. That means that they reached parity with gasoline-powered equipment when it comes to performance and run time, says Kris Kiser, who is the CEO of trade group Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI).

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Kelly Giard, who is the CEO of the landscaping company Clean Air Lawn Care, agrees with Kiser. He says crews at his company’s 56 franchises now use only battery-powered string trimmers, because they found that the performance of even 40-volt versions of those string trimmers was the same as that of gasoline-powered models.

“I do think that they’re similar now, particularly the lithium-powered ones. The power is comparable,” he says. “You don’t even need all the power you get on a lithium cordless trimmer.”

Hedge trimmers that have a 56-volt battery start at $199 and generate 2,200 rpm; the least expensive gasoline-powered model that has comparable speed (2,059 rpm) costs $190. String trimmers that have a 56-volt battery start at $199 and generate 8,300 rpm. The least expensive gasoline-powered version that we found that tops that figure (9,500 rpm) costs $130.

GASOLINE ALLEY. Most manufacturers of gasoline string trimmers brought their easy-start technology to less expensive models. For example, nine pull-start models that cost less than $100 now have easy-start capability. Previously, only two such models existed.

How manufacturers achieve easy-start capability on a pull-start model falls into one of two methods. One method has a spring that’s attached to the pull cord. This adds tension, so you don’t have to pull as strenuously. For others, you can use a power drill or secondary electric motor through a socket to generate the spin that’s required to start the gasoline engine without the necessity of pulling a cord.

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