All you need to know about Petrol strimmers

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Petrol Strimmer

A power tool no budding gardener should be without is the strimmer.

A strimmer uses a nylon line, rotating at speed, to cut and trim grass and weeds in areas that a lawnmower simply cannot reach.

There are three different fuel types available when it comes to choosing a strimmer – petrol, electric and battery-powered, with petrol models being the most powerful. 

Petrol strimmers are powered by two-stroke engines of varying power and these are described in terms of engine displacement or “cc” just like a motor vehicle. The higher the cc, the more powerful the strimmer.

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Petrol strimmers are effective at cutting and trimming areas, which a lawnmower is unable to manoeuver around.

The main reason people choose petrol strimmers over electric models is cutting-power. You have to look very hard and pay a good deal of money in order to find an electric strimmer that even comes close to a petrol model in terms of power. Petrol strimmers are typically fitted with powerful two-stroke engines, ranging from around 25cc to more than 50cc.

Equally as important as the power source is the type of cutting mechanism. Generally, your choice will be between a nylon line trimmer head and a metal brushcutter blade, although some petrol strimmer models come with the option of both. 

Uses for a petrol strimmer

Technique Details
Mowing/edging Used to keep path or garden edges neat, or for trimming small lawn areas
Trimming & Tapering Useful when cutting around garden features – you are able to strim closely around the object without worrying about the blades causing damage
Weeding The strimmer can be used quickly and effectively to weed between paving slabs, patio slabs and stone, keeping them neat and tidy
Scything Scything is a technique used when clearing large areas of overgrown grass and weeds

Petrol Vs Electric

As well as the increased power, petrol strimmers are often favoured over electric models as they don’t need a power lead, meaning you have more range and freedom of movement. Keeping an eye on the cable; having to find a power source, and struggling with cable length can all make strimming far more stressful than it needs to be.

Cordless electric strimmers are available but the battery life on these can be limited. The batteries on these models will require regular charging and, even when fully charged, it is highly unlikely they will last as long as a tank of petrol.

The downsides of using a petrol strimmer are the maintenance and running costs. You will have the price of fuel and oil to factor in, but it’s a small price to pay when you think of all that extra power.

There is also the fact that the majority of petrol strimmers are heavier than electric models, and they can be noisy and vibrate, especially the basic, cheaper models. However, a lot of models now come fitted with an anti-vibration mechanism, which significantly reduces the noise and vibrations.

Engine power & emissions

When looking to understand the power rating of petrol strimmers, look at the cubic centimetres (cc). The higher the cc, the more power you are working with. Petrol motors are typically between 25cc – 60cc.

Anything around 25cc should be sufficient to strim the average-sized garden; larger lawns, or those models which come with a brush cutting option, will need at least around 32cc.

When choosing a model, you are likely to come across 2 and 4-stroke engines. The difference comes in the ratios of mixing oil and petrol. Most strimmer engines are 2-stroke, which means that they take normal unleaded petrol mixed with 2-stroke engine oil. This helps the engine to work without cutting out when it is moved around at almost any angle.

Finally, like any engine that burns fossil fuels, fumes and emissions will be generated, which can be harmful to the environment.  Many models now come fitted with specialist filters which result in significantly fewer exhaust fumes being emitted than that of a conventional two-stroke engine; this means increased fuel efficiency whilst reducing the negative impact on the environment.

Nylon Line v Metal Blades

Equally as important as the power source is the type of cutting mechanism with which your petrol strimmer is fitted. This will determine the level of cutting/strimming you are able to do. Generally, your choice will be between a nylon line trimmer head and a metal brushcutter blade although some petrol strimmer models can be fitted with either.

Nylon line trimmer heads are designed for cutting long grass and other light vegetation, so standard petrol strimmers will come with these as standard.

Brushcutter blades, on the other hand, will cut through dense vegetation with ease, so if you intend on taking on any challenging cutting work, you will need a model capable of accepting a metal blade.

Some petrol strimmer models come with both a nylon line trimmer head and a blade as standard, allowing you to switch between the two to suit the job at hand. Even if you don’t currently have plans to clear any serious overgrowth, it is definitely worth checking for the future whether the model you are considering is compatible.

Ease of use

Over the years, petrol strimmers have, at times, been given a bad press.

Difficulty starting and expense are the two most common gripes. In the past, in some cases, these complaints have been justified, however modern petrol strimmer models, particularly those that are at the top end of the price bracket, now come with easy-start engines that simplify the start-up routine; the pull cords on most models have also been improved – you no longer need muscles like Popeye to apply enough force to the cable for the motor to kick in. Just a sharp, strong pull will more often than not do the trick these days.

Once in use, fingertip controls – usually mounted on the handgrip – means you can switch modes safely and easily.

Many models are now supplied with a safety harness to provide extra control and comfort. The harness helps ensure that you strim without straining your arms or back, and minimises fatigue. These harnesses should ideally be fitted with a ‘quick-release’ mechanism for safety, to ensure the strimmer can be detached quickly.

Main features of a petrol strimmer

Head

The head of a petrol strimmer will contain the cutting mechanism – either a spool with nylon/plastic line or a metal/plastic brush cutting blade. Some models are multi-functional and can be fitted with either.

Handles

The type of handle on your petrol strimmer will impact on its manoeuvrability, so it is vital to pick a model with a handle suited to its intended use

As a general rule, the majority of petrol strimmers come equipped with a D-loop handle – these are designed for comfort and accurate cutting. Some models, generally those with a slightly higher price tag, have D-loop handles which are ergonomic – making them more comfortable to hold and use, providing extra stability and lowering the chance of fatigue and soreness while you work.

Alternatively, you could invest in a machine with a U-handle or ‘cow-horn’ handle, which are better suited to the clearing of long, dense grass. The larger cow-horn handles make scything easier and so you are able to work on larger areas more efficiently.

Shaft

The shaft is the “pole” that connects the motor to the head. The shaft can be straight or bent – lighter, bent shafts are common on less-powerful models as the bend allows the head to be manoeuvred with more precision for finer jobs.

Often the shafts are adjustable to allow for different heights so the handle is in a comfortable position during use.

Some models have a shaft that can be separated into 2 (or possibly more) parts to make storage easier.

Safety

A petrol strimmer is not only heavy-duty but without proper care and attention, it can cause serious injury.

  1. Wear protective clothing: Ear protection; goggles, safety glasses or a visor; long trousers; sturdy footwear (ideally with a steel toe cap); dust mask/respirator; gardening style gloves
  • Be vigilant: Look out for trip hazards.
  • Be aware of wildlife. You should walk the area before you start, to scare any lingering animals away, and keep an eye out when you are strimming.
  • Be aware of what is going on around you. Make sure that family members know that you are working in the garden with a loud and potentially dangerous piece of machinery and be aware of people approaching you whilst you are working.
  • Petrol is highly flammable and produces carbon monoxide, which can be dangerous in small or enclosed spaces. Make sure you are working in a ventilated area when assembling, refuelling and starting your petrol strimmer. Wipe down spillages and don’t start up the strimmer in the same area that you refuelled it in.
  • Keep away from the noisy end! Coming into contact with the trimming line is likely to result in injury. While the strimmer’s turned on, you should be nowhere near the spool.

If you do have to perform any maintenance on the line end or refuel, make sure the strimmer has been switched off and has cooled down before you begin.

  • Ensure your petrol strimmer comes fitted with a safety switch/safety lock lever; this engages the head while the motor is running and if not pressed, then the head will stop turning.
  • Check your petrol strimmer is fitted with a cutting guard; this is designed to protect the user from flying debris that will inevitably be thrown up by the head when it is in use. The guard should face you and act as a shield between you and the strimmer head.
  • Take regular breaks. Using a petrol strimmer requires not only physical effort but also concentration. If you are taking any medications, check with your pharmacist whether you are safe to operate machinery.

What a petrol strimmer can be used for

  • Mowing or Edging

Mowing or edging is a technique used to keep path or garden edges neat, or for trimming small lawn areas. A petrol strimmer is able to cut at extreme angles, which a lawnmower would be unable to even attempt.

  • Trimming and Tapering

This technique is useful when cutting around garden features – it is much more effective than using a mower as, not only is a petrol strimmer easier to manoeuvre, but you are able to strim closely around the object without worrying about the blades causing any damage.

  • Weeding

A strimmer can be used to keep weeds at bay. The strimmer can be used quickly and effectively to weed between paving slabs, patio slabs and stone, keeping them neat and tidy.

  • Scything

Scything is a technique used when clearing large areas of overgrown grass and weeds. A petrol strimmer is powerful enough to cut through large areas of dense vegetation.

Essential maintenance and winter storage

At the end of summer, it is worth giving your petrol strimmer a little TLC before putting it away for the winter.

  • Give your petrol strimmer a good clean, following the manufacturer’s guidelines, and make sure that it is fully dry before storing.
  • Drain the fuel tank and then start and idle the motor until it stops; this will ensure that there is no fuel left in the motor.
  • If you have a metal blade, you should check it and sharpen it before oiling it to protect it from rust over the winter.
  • Nylon lines should be removed and stored in a cup or small bowl of water. This will keep them supple whilst not in use.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do petrol grass trimmers cost? 

Prices for petrol strimmers vary, and so does the equipment that comes with them. You can pick up a basic petrol strimmer for around £100 with this ranging anywhere up to around £700 for a high-end professional model.

How will I know when to refuel my petrol strimmer?

Some models will come with a petrol light, similar to a car, which warns you when the fuel is running low. Some models have a see-through petrol tank which ensures that you know ahead of time when you need to top up.

How heavy is a petrol strimmer?

Petrol strimmers tend to be heavier than electric or battery-powered strimmers however there are lightweight models available, starting at around 3.5kg. 

About Mike Jones 128 Articles
I started doing DIY around the house and it soon developed into a hobby. I look for tools and products that are genuinely useful and get the job done. I enjoy writing product reviews, researching my buyers guides and putting tools through their paces. In my downtime, I like to run and I am a bit of a Netflix documentary geek.

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