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String trimmers provide the finishing touch that sets manicured lawns apart. But getting one that edges along walks as capably as it trims around trees has meant spending $100 or more for a gas model. This year, we found several new plug-in electric trimmers that breeze through both tasks for about $60.
Troy-Bilt's latest electric is the first to excel at trimming and edging--a tougher job that involves slicing vertically into the ground. Dual cutting lines instead of the usual single line helped the Troy-Bilt and two electric trimmers from McCulloch and Ryobi equal or beat overall nearly one-third of the gas models we tested.
Manufacturers are also fielding lower-priced gas trimmers, which still lead in sales. A new $70 Homelite out-trimmed some of the priciest models. Other gas trimmers start more easily or run more cleanly, while one new cordless electric can share its battery with other tools.
Weeks of trimming and edging proved that some trimmers didn't cut it, and nearly all are loud. Here are the details:
Less elbow grease. Starting a gas trimmer's two-stroke engine can still involve yanking a stiff starter cord. Some models from Echo, Stihl, and Troy-Bilt use a spring-assist system that makes pulling easier. More gas models also lower the finesse factor with 1-2-3 starting: Push the primer, flip the choke lever, and pull the cord. Models that use it typically started with one or two pulls.
Where cleaner means heavier. Tougher emissions rules have forced the two-stroke engines on most gas trimmers to clean up their act. But even the cleanest burn some oil with the gas. Four-stroke trimmers have a separate oil reservoir, though they weigh up to 16 pounds compared with 7 to 12 pounds for most. A Craftsman and a Troy-Bilt weigh a bit less. But at about 14 pounds, they're still heavy.
When easy means wimpy. Black & Decker's new cordless electric Grass Hog uses the same 18-volt batteries that power its drills and other tools. If you own the drill, you can use its batteries to stretch the trimmer's run time beyond the usual 15 to 20 minutes. The Grass Hog was the only cordless trimmer that edged passably. But like other cordless models, it lacks power for all but light-duty work.
HOW TO CHOOSE
Competent gas and electric string trimmers for less than $100 could make these machines a tempting addition to your shed. See First Things First, below, to determine which type of trimmer works best for your yard. Then keep these shopping points in mind at the store:
Consider your landscape. Straight-shaft trimmers can reach beneath shrubs more easily than curved-shaft models. They're also easier to handle for taller users and are less likely to spatter you with clippings. While most cost $200 or more, one of our four CR Best Buys costs just $100. Curved-shaft trimmers trade a straight shaft's longer reach for easier maneuvering and, often, less weight.
Check its specs. Most gas-powered trimmers run on plain old 87-octane regular. Stihl specifies midgrade, 89-octane fuel for its models with higher engine compression, says the company. Stihl trimmers captured the top two slots in our tests, though several others came close.
Most manufacturers also tell you which size replacement line fits your trimmer. Line that's too thin can compromise cutting power, while line that's too thick can bog down a trimmer's …