How to Choose a String Trimmer for Your Yard

See video

Summary: Learn how to choose a string trimmer. See the evolution and products available on the market. There is a lot to consider when shopping for a string trimmer. Watch this video to make sure you find the right tool for you and your job. For more information on string trimmers or other lawn and garden tools, visit

BARNABY: Look at this. I mean you can put a hedge trimmer on this.

MIKE: Look at that thing.

BARNABY: I mean, that is unheard of in my mind but it's-

MIKE: Yeah. That's cool.

BARNABY: ... obviously available. Depending on what you're going to be cutting ... if you've got just grass, you can get away with a string like this. But then, you can buy thicker string.

Gather round boys and girls. I'm going to tell you the story of from whence the string trimmer has come. Mike Johnson. You want to hear the story?

MIKE: Yes. I do want to hear the story. I love story time.

BARNABY: Okay. Here we go. Way back in the 70's, a dude by the name of George Ballas out of Houston, Texas was sitting there in a very contemplative state ... in a car wash of all places ... just watching the brushes go round and round. Somehow, amazingly, he made the leap to, "Hey. If it can do that to my car and buff it and clean it nicely, why couldn't I use that same action to just wreak havoc and do damage to the weeds and the grass around my fences and trees." And so the string trimmer was born.

MIKE: And there it came.

BARNABY: Also known as the whacker, the whipper snipper. Weedie. It's got a lot of different nicknames. So anyway, let's talk about what you've got to be thinking about when you go to the store to get one of these guys.

MIKE: Yeah, a lot of different options from electric to cordless to gas to beyond.

BARNABY: Propane.

MIKE: Propane.

BARNABY: Oh yeah. Stick around for that one. You won't believe it. All right. So, this guy ... Mr. Basic.

MIKE: Yeah. So it's a bump fed, single line trimmer. Not a real huge diameter, but it's the lower end of the price spectrum too.

BARNABY: Okay. Just for our record keeping purposes, when you do this, you are about 10 inches across because it's a 10 inch cut.

MIKE: Something like that. So I'm at about 5 from the hub here. So, yeah.

BARNABY: It's a thinner string, which depending on what you are going to be cutting, if you've got just grass ... you can get away with a string like this. But then, you can buy thicker string but many times it won't fit a certain string trimmer. So you've got to be aware of that. Right?

MIKE: Yep.

BARNABY: Okay. On into the next one, also electric. And we can expand on our knowledge of the pros and cons of the electric. What's going on here?

MIKE: So you're getting into the- In this case, it's an auto-feed head. I'm not sure exactly what the magic is behind that. But it automatically knows to adjust it. It's probably the same guy that's in your fridge. Turns the light on and off.

BARNABY: Yes! He's so busy.

MIKE: Similar.

BARNABY: He's so busy.

MIKE: So scientifically speaking, that's exactly what's going on here. But again, we're getting in to a little bit wider diameter so this has got a little bit more cut size to it.

BARNABY: Thicker string right here.

MIKE: Thicker string.

BARNABY: Two strings.

MIKE: Two of them. Both of them.

BARNABY: Right. And it's also got, as you look at this, this right here is going to keep you off of the house and your siding. It's going to keep you off of the wife's petunias.

MIKE: Because speaking of wreaking havoc, that can wreak some havoc.

BARNABY: But one thing you do have to think about, mentioning trees. If you do have a tree riddled backyard is ... As you're walking around with a cord out the back, you're going to wind yourself around things.

MIKE: Kind of like the dog does with the leash.

BARNABY: Absolutely.

MIKE: He gets stuck there for hours before someone will notice him.

BARNABY: So I guess that would be a reason to consider electric, right?

MIKE: Yep. Why you're getting into the cordless.

BARNABY: Look at that. Look at that battery. It's a 20 volt. What's the run time on that, do you think?

MIKE: Oh, I don't know. Maybe 15 ... 20 minutes.

BARNABY: A lot of people might say, "That's not enough for me. 15 ... 20 minutes. It takes me a half an hour." What about that?

MIKE: If you're thinking about going cordless, you do want to think about run time, and if, say for instance, this is 20 minutes. You don't want to think about, "It takes me 20 minutes to do the entire job." You want to remember that that's 20 minutes of running this tool. If you're trimming up by the mailbox and then you got to go trim outside of the house, you're not going to be running it for the entire time. The time you spend walking from job area to job area, you're not running it. Maybe 15, 20 minutes might work.

BARNABY: But you know what? It's not just a string trimmer. This one has kind of a twisted licorice sort of configuration at the swing. But it also has an adjustability factor.

MIKE: It's robo-trimmer. You can spin the head around and you can make it into an edger. You'd adjust the boom on it a little bit and you can do some edging with it. I got to be careful because that battery is ready to go.

BARNABY: I'm stepping back.

MIKE: Yeah, and I'd light you right up. But you can … There's lots of different adjustments on it, and that's one of them.

BARNABY: Right. And it's even collapsible, to some degree, for better storage.

MIKE: Yeah. You don't have to have so much room in your garage taken up.

BARNABY: We look at this and we think, "Okay. That's a, you know, a nice unit." But then, if somebody wants maybe a little more adjustability ...

MIKE: More power.

BARNABY: Yes. You got this one. Also electric, but it comes with attachments, right?

MIKE: Yeah. You can put all sorts of different attachments on these guys. You were saying one of these guys had a leaf blower with it?

BARNABY: Yeah. That's what they say.

MIKE: That's incredible. This one is not using string. This one's actually using a different blade configuration down here. You'd spin these guys around, and if one of these broke off, you pop the top of this thing off and you can actually replace these individually.

BARNABY: Sure. And that's going to be specific to the tool, so you got to keep track of where you bought it and make sure you can go back and get the things that you need for it, right?

MIKE: Yep. You got to get those. Get a pack of those or something.

BARNABY: So what we have right here is ease of, well lack of maintenance really.

MIKE: Yeah. There's hardly anything you have to do to them. You don't have to winterize them. You don't have to-

BARNABY: Just put them away, right?

MIKE: Yep.

BARNABY: But now you get into this guy right here, which is a Craftsman. It's a two-stroke. Let's talk about the pros and cons of gas.

MIKE: Gas ... readily available. You don't have to charge it. You're not carrying a cord around with you. It's got good power.

BARNABY: You got to mix it though. Oil and gas.

MIKE: If you're doing the two-stroke, you do have to mix it. You want to think about that.

BARNABY: This is where we are going to start talking about some different attachments. Look at this. You can put a hedge trimmer on this.

MIKE: Look at that thing.

BARNABY: That is unheard of in my mind, but it's-

MIKE: That's cool.

BARNABY: ... but it's obviously available.

MIKE: You can get different attachments like this blade. So for brush-hogging and stuff like that. You can take down small saplings. You're not going to ...

BARNABY: One of the things to think about when you get in to the gas-powered is the engine rating, because they all are supposed to subscribe to some sort of emission standards, right?

MIKE: Yep. Yep.

BARNABY: So you look at the engine hours, and that rating is going to be how many hours you can run it before you're going to need to have it tuned up again to keep within compliance. So you've got to kind of factor, "How long do I think this thing is going to last? How much am I going to use it?" It's going to cost you more if you have a higher engine rating, certainly.

MIKE: Yep.

BARNABY: Let's talk about the Hitachi, because now we are getting in to a different sort of a carb configuration.

MIKE: Yeah. This one's got the compliance on the ... what's that ... carbon ...


MIKE: Yeah. The CARB compliance.

BARNABY: Yeah. California Air Resources Board.

MIKE: So this one's a two-stroker, but it's a cleaner two-stroker. So it's certified in California. Certified in California ... it's got to be certified almost anywhere.

BARNABY: Absolutely. And it is a commercial string trimmer, right?

MIKE: Yep. You are getting in to that straight long body of these things so you can get underneath things real easy.

BARNABY: On to the Honda, which is our first four-stroke, right?

MIKE: Right. Right. You go from two-stroke to four-stroke. A couple of the big differences you're going to see is ... Number one ... You don't have to mix fuel in this. It's got separate oil, so that's a little easier going on you there. It's going to burn cleaner than a two-stroker because you don't have the oil mixed in with the fuel. The next thing you are going to notice is it's going to be a little heavier. So you got a couple pluses and a minus.

BARNABY: And not as loud. It's not going to be [weeeeeeee 06:43]. It's going to be [woooooo 06:44].

MIKE: Yeah. It's going to be quieter. Those are some nice things.

BARNABY: With the Honda, because you have the separation of oil and gas, you can store it in just about any configuration.

MIKE: That's right. If you wanted to hang it up by the head in your garage, you can do that.

BARNABY: But you know, I was talking to a kindly old repairman the other day and I said, "So what about winterizing? Everybody goes, ah just put some stabilizer in it and you are going to be good." But he said with the ethanol in the gas mixture it wreaks havoc with the gaskets. What you should do is run them dry. You put the stabilizer in it if you want to, but run it dry, and then you store it that way.

MIKE: Yep. It takes care of a lot of problems.

BARNABY: Right. Well, you're not going to have to do that with this propane.

MIKE: That's right. You get into this guy here and this is a four-stroke propane power. So even cleaner again than the four-stroke regular. That's interesting. There's a couple things to keep in mind that you're not going to have a five gallon tank of propane in your garage and have this thing go empty and fill it back up. You got to have a few of these around. This is not a refillable option.

BARNABY: Sure. But it is something that you can find at your hardware store.

MIKE: Yeah. You can find them all over the place. And it's a cool little trimmer.

BARNABY: It is. With both of these right here, you have a nice little counterbalance attachment because they're both commercial-grade, probably. You're just balanced, and so it's less arm weariness.

MIKE: A little harness. Yep.

BARNABY: All right. Well I tell you what. There's a whole bunch to consider when it comes time to pick up a string trimmer, right? George Ballas had no idea the can of worms he was opening as he watched those brushes go round and round. But this is what we like to do here at, is just get to the bottom of all of the options that you have so you can kind of get closer to that magical moment when you can figure out which tool is right for you.