Trimmer attachments create versatility

Since the introduction of the first spin trimmer (Weed Eater) in the early 1970s, these machines have become indispensable for turf-care operators by eliminating the need for labor-intensive hand trimming. Obviously, the primary function of spin trimmers is to trim turf along beds, around poles, walls or other objects, or just to knock down weeds and brush in un-landscaped areas. Improved string, string feeds, brush-cutting blades and other improvements make trimmers more efficient at these traditional tasks than ever. However, as most grounds-care professionals are learning,optional attachments let you do a lot more with these units than just trim. In f act, a whole industry has sprung up around these machines, providing users with a variety of accessories and attachments that perform entirely unrelated tasks such as hedge trimming, cultivating, pruning, sweeping and blowing.

Versatility vs. specialization Unlike homeowners, most commercial operators need some dedicated units for maintenance tasks-an edger for edging, spin trimmers for trimming, a hedger for hedging. After all, if you have a crew of several workers simultaneously performing different tasks at a site, one tool that can do several things is not much help. That's why the attachment market is not likely to make dedicated tools obsolete.

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Nevertheless, attachments have their place, even in the professional market. For tasks that you perform infrequently, attachments definitely make sense. Why buy an entire unit when a relatively inexpensive attachment that mounts on one of your existing machines will suffice?

Although many people imagine that the time necessary to swap attachments makes this tactic impractical for time-critical service routes (and in certain cases, that's true), some manufacturers have engineered so-called split-boom designs that let you change attachments literally in just seconds. Thus, it may be more practical to use interchangeable attachments than many people imagine. Other units may require changing the gear head, which may or may not be a serious limitation, depending on available time and how frequently you'll need to change attachments.

Safety Safety is a critical aspect of trimmer operation-regardless of any accessory you're operating with it-but especially so with spinning attachments, saws and hedge trimmers. Always wear eye protection and, when appropriate, gloves, chaps and other necessary gear. In addition, do not disable or remove safety devices such barriers, shields or special handles. They are there for a good reason.

It's important to realize that converting a trimmer to a brush cutter requires more than simply mounting a new blade or head. Reputable manufacturers offer "bull-horn," "bicycle" or similar handles for their brush-cutter conversions and, when appropriate, harnesses as well. These are necessary for added control of the units and for increased operator safety-do not neglect this aspect by attempting to mount a blade on a trimmer without checking into other modifications that may be necessary.

Heads and string feeds Spin-trimmer heads are classified based on how they handle trimming string: * Automatic heads automatically feed string during operation to keep it at the right length. * Semi-automatic heads allow the operator to tap the head on the ground during operation, which causes the head to feed out additional string. These are better known as tap-and-go heads. * Manual heads require the operator to stop the machine and hand-pull additional string that's wound up inside the head. * Fixed-line heads do not house additional string. The operator must periodically replace string with new, pre-cut lengths.

Tap-and-go heads are the most popular variety. They allow the operator to control string length without interrupting work. Still, manual heads and even fixed-line heads continue to be popular in many operations. The reason is that these heads are simpler and, therefore, less prone to mechanical problems. For experienced operators, this usually is not enough reason to forego the convenience of tap-and-go heads. However, inexperienced crews can be relatively hard on equipment and may be unable to solve or avoid even simple problems. In such cases, the simpler heads result in less downtime, even though they are not as efficient to operate.

The inefficiency stems from two factors. Obviously, the need to stop and replace line will slow workers down. However, because this can be inconvenient, workers tend to let the line wear down until it is a mere stub. And because trimmers are designed to work most efficiently with a certain length of string, manual and fixed-line trimmers tend to be operated in a less-than-efficient state much of the time. That is the tradeoff for avoiding downtime due to mechanical problems.

Suppliers market a variety of string types. Some advertise that their material is more durable, while others suggest that a certain shape (such as with sharp edges) cuts more efficiently. Unfortunately, it is difficult to know which line is best-partly due to conflicting advertiser claims and partly because the best choice may depend on the type of work you expect it to do. Lines with certain shapes or sizes (as opposed to appropriately sized round line) may not feed well in tap-and-go heads. Others have aerodynamic properties that can cause them to float erratically while spinning, resulting in an uneven cut. Some string may cut extremely well but also will wear more quickly. In this case, the increase in productivity is offset by an increase in the cost of string and the time you spend to replace it more frequently. Nevertheless, some "premium" lines do perform well, at least in certain conditions.

You must find the string and string head that fit your operation and equipment best, striking a balance between cost, effectiveness and efficiency. The available brands and models are too numerous to discuss here, but both original-manufacturer and after-market brands are available. Just be sure to verify compatibility with your trimmer.

Brush cutters One of the most useful tasks for trimmers is weed and brush clearing. The access you get with hand-held brush trimmers lets you go places where larger machinery cannot. Plus, attachments designed for heavier-duty trimming significantly increase the cutting power of trimmers to highly productive levels.

A multitude of flail-type and fixed-blade attachments are available for this purpose (see figure, page C 12). Brush units consist of flail-type nylon blades or solid, rigid blades. Rigid blades are made from plastic or metal and may have three or four points or many teeth (resembling a circular-saw blade). Some manufacturers even produce brush blades with chainsaw-type teeth mounted on the periphery of the blade. Many metal blades can be sharpened, a definite cost saver when you're performing extensive brush clearing.

Choosing among the available brush blades is a matter of determining your needs. Flail and star blades are suited for weeds. However, if you must deal with saplings, woody vines or other woody material, heavier metal blades will be necessary. Not surprisingly, several manufacturers known best for their chainsaws also are leaders in the field of brush-cutting blades, but most other trimmer manufacturers offer quality brush-cutting accessories as well. Make sure the blade you choose is appropriate for the size and power of the trimmer. Sticking with the same manufacturer helps ensure compatibility, though several reputable after-market manufacturers offer good-quality, compatible products too.

Other attachments The greatest versatility comes from attachments not related to trimming. See the table on page C 14 for manufacturers of the following implements.

* Edgers, either hand-held (stick edgers) or walk-behind, typically are dedicated units in most operations. However, some manufacturers have detachable units that fit onto trimmers, resulting in a stick edger practically identical to the dedicated units (see photo, page C 8).

* Sweepers. This is a relatively new concept for hand-held equipment, with few models available. However, power sweepers have many potential applications-from general cleanup to spreading topdressing to clearing snow-not easily performed by any other tools (see photo, top of page C 14).

* Blowers. Several blower attachments are available to mount onto trimmer units. These can be an effective alternative to backpack blowers for many small-scale applications (see photo, middle of page C 14).

* Pruning saws. Small chainsaws that mount on trimmers are useful attachments for pruning. Such units allow for easy overhead trimming with the extra reach provided by the boom. Though dedicated units are readily available, attachments can be useful to have on hand for unexpected small trimming jobs.

* Hedge trimmers. Like saw attachments, hedge-trimming attachments provide excellent reach. As a result, they are valuable tools in their own right, not merely because they substitute for another tool.

* Cultivators. Though only suitable for small-scale work, cultivator heads do a good job in narrow areas and are especially valuable in spaces where larger, dedicated units cannot reach, such as in bedding work. Thus, while these tools will never replace walk-behind tillers, they can be useful tools for certain operations.

* Other accessories. You'll find several accessories on the market for a variety of functions. Among them are safety accessories, service and maintenance materials, and shields and guards that help you trim safely and with more precision.

For example, one manufacturer offers a metal guard that protects trees from trim line and prevents the line from entangling chain-link fences and other line-eating obstacles. It also maintains a constant vertical distance from the ground for an even cut.

You can also find accessories that turn spin trimmers into edgers. At least one manufacturer offers a device that helps you create a straight edge using string. It consists of a disc-shaped "wheel" that rolls along the turf's edge, directing the string for a clean edge that rivals the quality of metal-blade edgers.

As this list indicates, trimmer manufacturers are creating products that add unprecedented versatility to their machines. You may find it economical to use a whole "stable" of trimmers and interchangeable attachments. Or you may just need an inexpensive alternative to tools you only use occasionally. In either case, trimmer attachments may be the answer for which you've been looking.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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