Cutting through the brush

For many landscaping jobs, a string trimmer or a lawnmower will be enough to cut weeds and grass down to size.

But when the acreage you're responsible for hasn't been worked since the last Republican administration, and weeds and brush have sprouted higher than Marge Simpson's hairdo, you may need a tool with a little more oomph.

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That's when you need a brush cutter.

They come in a range of styles. Some are merely string trimmers with additional power and a metal blade instead of a nylon string. Some look like souped-up lawnmowers with sturdier blades. There are even manual cutters for those looking to build muscles and save money.

But they all are powerful enough to clear areas that have become overgrown with brush.

"If you've got a vacant lot with 3-foot high grass, a mower is not going to handle it," says Richard Steffens, plant manager for Bachtold Brothers Inc. in Gibson City, Ill. "That's when you use a brush cutter."

Hard-to-reach areas On many jobs, a lawnmower or tractor-pulled equipment will be able to clear most of a field, says Mark Ruhl, national field sales manager for Carswell Import and Marketing Associates in Winston-Salem, N.C., which distributes Robin Products. You can then use a hand-held brush cutter to finish the work.

"It trims up areas along the edges or in areas that bigger mowers can't get to," says Ruhl.

That's similar to what a string trimmer does. In fact, the difference between a string trimmer and a hand-held brush cutter is often in the eye of the beholder-and what accessory is attached at the bottom.

"Just put a blade on the end and the string trimmer becomes a brush cutter," says Ruhl.

Nick Jiannas, product manager for power tools for Stihl Inc., agrees that the key in distinguishing a string trimmer from a brush cutter is the attachment on the end. Replace the nylon string with a metal blade, and you have converted a trimmer to a brush cutter.

But to remove thicker brush and saplings, a more durable and powerful machine dedicated specifically for brush cutting might be a better equipment choice.

The lighter-user brush cutters and trimmers are used most commonly by landscapers and homeowners for finishing and touching up area, says Jiannas. Farmers and forestry and highway workers, who have to clear heavier underbrush more frequently, are more likely to use the heavier-duty brush cutters. Those machines have more powerful engines and heavier-duty blades. For Stihl, that means the FS 450 and FS 550 models.

"The more powerful machines we call clearing saws," says Jiannas. "They are really designed for the most aggressive saw blades we have."

Most hand-held brush cutters come with a straight metal shaft and anti-vibration features to reduce operator fatigue.

The type of blade you need will depend on the kind of work you're doing. A grass blade will clear clumps of long blades, a three-pronged brush knife will remove denser growth, and a circular saw blade will level branches and saplings, especially where using a chain saw is impractical.

Although landscapers can switch between blades and strings on these machines, Ruhl says many choose to dedicate the equipment to one function or the other to save time at a job site.

Robin's BH 2500 Brushcutter has both a nylon cutting head and a star blade as standard accessories. It also comes with a four-stroke engine, which releases less exhaust emissions into the air than a two-stroke engine.

In many cases, landscapers don't have to deal with cutting brush frequently and will use these machines as a string trimmer most of the time. But the flexibility to convert to a more powerful cutter is always there.

"When they need the brush cutter, they have the ability to put the blade on pretty quickly," says Don Kyle, a spokesman for RedMax Power Equipment, which manufactures several models of trimmers and cutters.

Muscle power Those who want to forgo pollution worries and use elbow grease instead of fossil fuels may choose a manual brush cutter.

"They are lightweight, inexpensive, don't need any fuel and can get to rougher terrain and close places that other equipment might not be able to get to," says Jack Mendell, marketing manager for Seymour Manufacturing Co. in Seymour, Ind.

The company has weed cutters, grass whips, scythe hooks and brush cutters, all powered by your own muscles.

"It's an easy tool to use," says Mendell.

Another style is one that at a glance could pass for a push lawnmower. But on closer inspection, it has a thicker blade and bigger wheels to maneuver more easily on difficult terrain. It is small enough to get to areas that a tractor can't.

Of course, if the area you're responsible for is neatly trimmed and maintained regularly, you may not need a brush cutter. But if you're among the many farmers, landscapers and construction workers who encounter overgrown brush frequently, this equipment can simplify your work. Examples of this type of cutter include models from Bachtold Brothers and Billy Goat Industries in Lee's Summit, Mo.

"You don't need this if you get out and trim weeds every few weeks," says Steffen. "Anybody with acreage of any size that has timber on it will find it useful."

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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