Trimmer efficiency

No professional grounds manager can provide a quality mowing job without employing the additional use of spin trimmers. These devices have become integral tools for the commercial landscaper, golf-course superintendent and grounds manager.

However, despite their regular use, many turf managers don't use their trimmers efficiently. Often, their operators walk backwards or sideways while trimming. This leads to accidents when operators trip over or walk into obstacles they don't see. It's also awkward and physically exhausting to walk this way while trimming.

In addition, many operators walk all over a property many times to ensure they don't miss anything. This is called backtracking, and it is a cardinal sin against productivity. If an operator covers a property 20, 30, 40 or even 50 times per year and wastes only a few minutes during each mowing session, the loss of productivity can be substantial. Not to mention the trimming that gets missed because operators don't follow a set route.

And yet there is a manicuring route around property that requires fewer steps and at the same time assures that you complete all the trimming. Your problem is determining this route then communicating it to your operators.

Learning the hard way I've learned from personal experience how frustrating and time-wasting trimming can be when you do it incorrectly. One day, I was watching my grounds crew from a vantage point above. Crew members were mowing an apartment building in a complex built on a hillside. They already had completed the mowing and were doing the follow-up trimming and edging.

I watched as one trimmer operator edged the curb of an adjacent building. Below me, I saw him approach the building while edging along the curb with the plane of the trimmer's string turned vertically. Along the way, he stopped, righted the trimmer and trimmed light poles, fire hydrants, electric boxes, etc. He even flipped the trimmer vertically again to edge the bed of a free-standing tree. He then returned to edging the curb.

Upon reaching the building's sidewalk, he edged up the walk, turned at a mulched bed, edged it, then went back to trimming around the side and back of the building. When he appeared on the other side, he switched from trimming the wall to edging the bed again and then edged on down the walk. This building had two walks with an island of turf between them.

Because he had to trim and edge the turf island, he simply circled the island's outer edges. He then edged down the sidewalk whose edge he hadn't completed and continued edging down the curb to the next building. All along this route, he would stop every time he got near something in the lawn that needed trimming or edging, trim it and then immediately return to the route he'd left. Not once had he backtracked (see the figure above).

I had personally followed the same route at this site at least a hundred times in the last 7 or 8 years. I suddenly realized, however, that not all trimmer operators see the obvious "route" when working on a property. Although it seems obvious to "follow the edges" of a property, many trimmer operators don't. And they are less efficient at their task--and tire more easily--as a result.

Most properties have a "yellow brick road"--a continuous, unbroken path that leads the operator around the property. By following such a path, you can avoid missing anything even if you are unfamiliar with a property's layout. You don't backtrack, you walk less and you have more energy for your next job.

Turn your trimming "around" In refining this "following the edge" manicuring system with my crew, one of my workers--literally--stumbled across another aspect I realized we hadn't addressed. While trimming the back of a building at a new job site, this inexperienced operator had fallen into a patio well. He was unhurt, but the incident made me realize just how awkward--and dangerous--"backward" trimming truly is.

Consider that the string rotates counter-clockwise on all commercial trimmers. Because of this rotation, the operator must move along a wall from right to left to trim properly. Practically speaking, this necessitates that a right-handed operator walk sideways, if not backwards, while circling a building in a clockwise rotation (see the figure on page 74).

A left-handed trimmer operator, however, doesn't face this problem. He or she holds the throttle grip in the left hand and holds the handle in the right hand. When this person trims along a wall (from right to left, clockwise around a building) following the same path of a right-handed operator, he or she can hold the trimmer straight across the waist with arms fully extended. Most importantly, this operator walks straight ahead.

Obviously, if a right-handed operator converts to a left-handed hold, productivity should increase substantially. The operator now can see where he or she is walking and is less fatigued at the end of the day. And if you train new operators to trim left-handed from the beginning, they will never know the difference. (Of course, in certain situations, you still may need to edge right-handed because of obstacles. An example would be when cars block your path along a curb. In these cases, you can simply switch hands and step out onto the lawn and continue edging until past the obstacle.)

Once you understand the logic behind the types of simple techniques described here, their underlying simplicity becomes clear. Following such manicuring systems will faithfully lead any trimmer operator around nearly any property in the most productive manner possible--all while doing a better job of trimming.

Steve Byrne is the owner of Edgit Corp. (Union, Ky.).

The following facts should help you understand how your trimmer works so you can trim most efficiently: 1) Trimmer rotation. Most straight-shaft trimmers spin their string counter-clockwise. As a result, when trimming against a wall, they cut through grass blades more cleanly and efficiently when moved from right to left. This is why right-handed operators often walk sideways or backwards when trimming clockwise around a building.

2) Left-handed hold. The only way to trim from right to left efficiently and safely is to trim left-handed. Doing so allows you to walk straight ahead with your right shoulder closest to the wall and holding the trimmer across your waist with your arms fully extended. This method substantially reduces fatigue.

3) Walking forward. When you edge left-handed (with the throttle in the left hand),you edge the right side of the pavement (while standing on the pavement and edging in front of yourself). This is especially true of lawns that don't already have an established groove between the lawn and pavement. This phenomenon also is due to the rotation of the string.

The "edge" constitutes a continuous, basically unbroken path that leads you around a property to each of the obstacles needing to be trimmed. This manicuring technique eliminates the need to be familiar with a property's layout to avoid missing anything.

1) For the purposes of training operators in this method, we consider curbs, sidewalks, driveways, mulched beds (those against buildings) and the building itself as the edge.

2) Generally, it is possible to start manicuring a property anywhere along the edge. However, it's often best to start on a curb on one side of the property's entrance or the property line (see the figures on this page and page 73). Remember to hold the trimmer left-handed, standing on the pavement, and edge the right side, even on a curb.

3) Begin following the edges as shown in the figures.

4) Once you start trimming an edge, follow it with an eye toward also trimming anything along the way and nearby, after which you immediately return to your edge and continue following it.

5) Notice on the figures that you edge up the walkway to the building, then cross over the walk or driveway and circle the building clockwise. Doing so allows you to maintain a more efficient and safer left-handed hold while trimming.

6) When you emerge on the other side of a building, as in the figures, you simply edge down the other side of the walk from which you approached the building, as shown in the figures. Notice also you do no backtracking.

7) The same process applies to large complex buildings such as apartments or condos. You simply continue to follow the edge as shown in the figure below.

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