Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Trees, Shrubs, & Vines
The New Yard Trimmers
by Dan Hickey
For those of us with power tools, it's easy to imagine a garden workshop with three or four small-engine tools hanging from the walls. There's a 2-stroke mini-tiller hanging in the corner along with a 2-stroke grass trimmer. Both are single-function tools, but they have similar engines. Sound familiar? Even if you're just a slightly curious tool-minded gardener, you might wonder why those tools couldn't be combined so you could use one machine for several different yard and garden chores.
Enter the Convertible Trimmers
You may have seen them in the home-supply stores -- multipurpose trimmers that convert to edgers, pruners, hedge trimmers, blowers, vacuums, brush cutters, cultivators, and even snowthrowers. You pay for one engine with a trimmer head, and purchase accessories as needed. The attachments cost less than single-function (dedicated) tools, they take up less storage space, and you have only one engine to maintain.
I tried several of the new convertible trimmers, and they were impressive. They're easy to use, and they perform well. Homelite's Expand-It System and Ryobi's Trimmer Plus line offer the most versatile convertible trimmer products for the home gardener. McCulloch, Black & Decker, Echo, Husqvarna, and other companies offer convertible trimmer/edgers, but with fewer attachable tools. Several other companies specialize in tools for professionals.
How They Work
String trimming is the most basic function of these tools, but attachments allow you to accomplish tasks usually tackled by dedicated tools. The typical trimmer engine turns a flexible driveshaft, which then turns the trimmer head at high speeds. The idea behind convertible trimmers is that the driveshaft can provide the necessary power to other tools as well. Depending on the action of the attachment, some tools link directly to the shaft (as with brush cutters, for example); others (for instance, a tiller) get power via a transfer case that converts power from the driveshaft to the tool. To wrk properly, the attachment must be fully engaged with the trimmer driveshaft.
One of the best features of the multifunction trimmers is their ability to quickly convert from one tool to another. Converting from a pruning tool to a snowthrower requires little more than loosening a wing-nut, replacing the attachment, and tightening the wing-nut. The flexible driveshaft automatically engages with the tool when it's inserted properly. I was able to change attachments on both the Homelite and Ryobi models in 30 seconds.
Some trimmer/edger models, such as McCulloch's Trimmer/Edger series and Black & Decker's CST1000 convert from one tool to another when you rotate the shaft or handle. This process takes even less time.