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As a rule, brush is bad news near a home.
They are ugly and often harbor pests, like mice and rats. In warm climates, ground cover can shelter snakes and disease-carrying mosquitoes. The blackleg ticks that cause lime disease enjoy the humid conditions of scrub and grasslands.
This is reason enough to keep weeds down, even if you are not planning on planting out an area.
On the other hand, wild, natural ground cover near to vegetables and living spaces can be beneficial as it provides ‘good insects’ like pest-killing spiders and beetles, with shelter. Studies have shown that there are far fewer pests on crops near to natural habitats.
My rule of thumb is, if it looks attractive, leave it alone, if it is a mass of fast-growing weeds, close to your living spaces, it is best to get on top of it, before it gets on top of you!
This page explores ways to choose the best brush cutter for your individual needs.
Handheld Brush Trimmers
For tough work, far from electrical outlets, gas-powered machines with metal blades are always going to be the best option.
Gas string trimmers with thick, tough, cords are safer than bladed devices and can be just as effective when working with soft-stemmed vegetation.
An electric strimmer might be all you need to keep down small areas of vegetation, if you cut at very regular intervals.
Bladed devices can be dangerous. They can deliver limb-severing injuries if you lose concentration. A pair of tough work boots can save your feet and ankles a lot of suffering.
Eye protection is absolutely essential. All kinds of material can be thrown into your face.
It is especially dangerous to use any cutter head not manufactured for use with a particular cutter. Manufacturers calculate the stresses that their machine can handle without failing catastrophically.
I always keep pets well away from anywhere I am working, too. A dog that thinks brush cutting is a game can come to a bad end.
What to Consider When Making a Choice
The important issues:
- The amount of power you need for the intended tasks
- Gas or electric
- A two-cycle or four-cycle engine
- Shaft style
- Blades required
Two-Cycle or Four-Cycle? The Pros and Cons
Two-cycle (or two-stroke) gas engines are twice as powerful as four-cycle (four-stroke) engines, pound for pound.
They are a good choice for handheld machines where weight is an issue. Even a strong, fit person will notice the difference between 10 lbs and 20 lbs, after an hour's work.
Two-cycle machines guzzle more gas, though, and the noise can drive users, pets, and neighbors crazy.
If you have a big, isolated property, a pair of ear protectors will solve the noise problem. If you have near-neighbors they will be grateful if you choose a four-cycle machine.
Expect to pay more for a four-cycle machine but expect a longer life from the engine.
You will also have to mix gas and oil together for a two-cycle machine, which can get messy.
Straight or Curved Shaft?
If you are only going to buy one style and have a small property, a straight shaft is probably the best choice. They will do any kind of job a brush cutter or string trimmer can do.
A curved shaft is ideal for large. flat areas. It can be swung from side to side easily, will put less load on your back (even with a shoulder harness) but is harder to get into hollows, corners or to use on slopes.
Horn-style handles can help keep chips out of your face.
Longer shafts mean quicker work (bigger swing path) but are harder on the shoulders.
What Kind of Blades Do You Need?
Blades need not be expensive and it is worth thinking about a machine with a good variety supplied by the manufacturer. The picture above illustrates some of the most useful kinds.
The simple three blade cutter is the quickest but will struggle in denser and tougher brush. The forty blade model that looks like a circular saw blade will cut woody scrub but is much slower. Often, you are better off taking a machete or bow saw with you if you are clearing an area that has been untouched for years. Hack down the saplings, then pump up the gas!
I usually try a couple of blades to see which is most effective before tackling a large area.
Some blades work better in dry conditions, some are better in damp. Trial and error is the best approach!
How Much Power Do You Need?
The most powerful machine produced by Husqvarna is the 345FR, aimed at landscape pros and farmers. It is a 45 cc, 2.8 horsepower two-cycle machine that will spin the blade at 12500 rpm.
This is a huge amount of power with high torque and very fast acceleration when you hit the gas. That adds up to very fast brush cutting but you can expect to pay over seven hundred dollars for the Husqvarna 345 FR.
For homeowners, anything above a 25 cc engine should get even tough jobs done, at a reasonable kind of speed.
Five of the Best Brushcutters
Below is a representative sample of brush cutters, ranging from the very powerful to slow-but-sure machines for small areas.
The Husqvarna 128DJx is a genuinely powerful machine with a 28 cc, two-cycle engine from one of the most reliable manufacturers around.
It is also one of the popular models available.
The shaft is shorter than some models at 17 inches. This makes it a little slower in use but easier on the shoulders
The "smart start" system makes it less trouble to get the machine running.
Best of all, it is a really tough machine that will last for many years.
Makita EM2650UH: Professional 4-Cycle Brush Cutter
If you are looking for a quiet, fuel efficient, easy-start machine with plenty of power, this Makita model will deliver without breaking the bank.
The 4-cycle engine will use around fifty per cent less gas than a comparable 2 stroke but there is plenty of power.
It is a straight shaft design suitable for all kinds of terrain. Horn handles help reduce back strain.
Makita blades are not always easy to find but many other blades are compatible. With a heavy-duty, sawtooth-style blade you can tackle saplings, vines and shrubs with two inch stems.
Poulan Brush Cutter Attachment
If you have Poulan, Snapper, Weed Eater, Ryobi, John Deere or Craftsman machines with a multi-tool attachment facility, then the cheapest and simplest way to get a brush cutter for light duty work is the cutter from Poulan.
You better check for compatibility first, though.
If you want to cut tough weeds around the backyard, under a deck or maybe round a tennis court—without any kind of tough, woodland plants to worry about—a powerful string trimmer might be all you need.
The TCG24EBSP model is a 25 cc, two-cycle machine with a straight shaft and a lot of power. At under ten pounds, it is light enough for most fit people to use comfortably. It is a favorite among professional landscapers for its build quality and longevity.
A shoulder harness is a worth extra purchase, if you do not see it already included.
Hitachi CG22EASSLP 2 Cycle
This is one of the less powerful machines at 21 cc but it is well-priced and popular with home users. It will efficiently cut weeds and grass and the separate brush-cutter kit allows you to most kinds of brush.
The startup and vibration dampening systems work well but the noise is noticeably harder on the ears than some models. The guard could be more sturdy, too, and there is no shoulder harness included.
As with the Tanaka model, above, the brush-cutter blade kit is a separate purchase.
You can find one of these machines at Home Depot for under two hundred dollars.
Husqvarna 224L: 4-Cycle Professional String Trimmer
This 25 cc machine is a good choice for anyone with a lot of ground to cover. It is light for a four-cycle machine at under ten pounds and while it is less powerful than the Tanaka above it will give longer service.
As with other four cycle devices, it is quieter and uses less gas.
A useful safety feature is the double finger switch to prevent accidentally starting.
Chips and small stones can fly at speed off these machines. Thick pants and a long sleeve shirt will protect your legs and arms. Gloves, eye protection and ear defenders are a something worth investing in if you do not already have them.
Once you have a glass shard from a coke bottle embed itself in your leg, you will never forget that safety gear...
Husky Advice Video
These are real monsters but can rip through huge areas of really tough vegetation at around 5 miles an hour, even on slopes and rough terrain. If you have a lot of land that is rapidly turning into forest, it is worth giving a thought to renting one of these.
Walk Behind Brush Cutters (Brush Mowers)
Rent or Buy?
If you are determined to just have a once-a-year clear up. renting a commercial-grade brush cutter can be a good choice. Most machines seem to come at a price of around sixty dollars a day.
Cost-wise, though, a smaller (but slower) homeowner-grade brush cutter can be the better choice in the long term.
Will Apse (author) on July 13, 2012:
I wouldn't say anything against Stihl except for the price tag!
Rachel Koski Nielsen from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota on July 12, 2012:
Very informative, thanks for the hub! Personally, I love Stihl for my chainsaws and brushcutters, but Husky is great, too. :)
Eugene Brennan from Ireland on July 11, 2012:
Great hub Will, plenty of useful info here!