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String trimmer: Wikis


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A man using a string trimmer
Bottom of a string trimmer, showing the nylon strings
A string trimmer

While properly called a "String Trimmer", it is also known as a Strimmer, string trimmer, line trimmer, Weedeater (a brandname), Weedwhacker (a brandname) or weed wacker, Weed Whip, weedy, whipper snipper (in most parts of Australia), garden strimmer, grass trimmer, or Trimmer. A string trimmer is a powered handheld device that uses a flexible monofilament line instead of a blade for cutting grass and other plants near objects. It consists of a cutting head at the end of a long shaft with a handle or handles and sometimes a shoulder strap. String trimmers powered by an internal combustion engine have the engine on the opposite end of the shaft from the cutting head while electric string trimmers typically have an electric motor in the cutting head.[1]



The string trimmer was introduced in the early 1970's by George Ballas of Houston, Texas. He got the idea while taking his car through an automatic wash and watching the revolving action of the cleaning brushes. He attached pieces of heavy-duty fishing line to an empty popcorn can bolted to an edger. From this he went on to develop his string trimmer called "Weed Eater" because of the way it chewed up grass and weeds around trees.


A line-trimmer works on the principle that a line that is turned fast enough is held out from its housing (the rotating reel) very stiffly by centripetal force. The faster it turns the stiffer the line. Even round-section nylon line is able to cut grass and slight, woody plants quite well. Some monofilament lines, designed for more powerful cutters, have an extruded shape—like a star—that helps the line slash the material being cut and thus it is able to cut quite large woody plants (small shrubs) or at least ring-bark them very effectively. These lines make disks less necessary for tough jobs.


Electric edge trimmers have the advantage of being very light, easy to maneuver and easy-to-operate devices. However, the length of power cord that can be deployed across the ground limits them and they are usually less powerful and robust than the gasoline-engine ones. Electric machines normally are limited to 2.5 mm (0.100 inch) maximum diameter nylon because of their lower power output (400 to about 1200 watts). There are also battery-powered units available which have the benefit of being free of power cords, but the liability of weighing more due to a large battery and limited life before the battery runs down.

Gasoline-engine powered trimmers usually have a minimum of 21 cc displacement motors. At this size they can easily turn 2 mm (0.080 inch) line and some have nylon blades as accessories to the line-reel. A 32 cc engine can swing a 2.75 mm (0.110) line and often has metal-blade accessories. The head contains a safety shield on the user side and a rotating hub which may also be called a head or spool. While this type of trimmer is heavier, may use a gasoline-oil mix (if it is equipped with a two stroke engine) and vibrates significantly, they are much more mobile (not attached to a power outlet) and are not very limited in maximum power for commercial use. Large trimmers, used for cutting roadside grass in large areas, may be quite heavy—being suspended from the body by a harness — and may be a two-hand-controlled device. These very large trimmers are often referred to as brush cutters.

Trimmers that have nylon or metal blades usually have straight drive shafts because of the higher torque required to turn the disk and because of the shock loads that are passed back from the blade to the drive shaft and its gearbox(es). Smaller line trimmers have curved driveshafts to make holding the cutting-head at ground level much easier and with less strain on the operator.


The line is hand-wound onto a reel before the job is started, leaving both ends extending from the reel housing. The motor turns the reel and the line extends horizontally while the operator swings the trimmer about where the plants are to be trimmed. The operator controls the height at which cutting takes place and can trim down to ground level quite easily. As the line is worn, or breaks off, the operator knocks the reel on the ground so that a release mechanism allows some of the line in the reel to extend and replace the spent portion. The newer models have an 'auto-feed' operation where a small cutter on the line-guard ensures that the line length exposed for cutting does not exceed the length that can be swung efficiently by the motor. Newly extended line operates more efficiently because of its heavier weight and surface effects (the star-shaped edges).

The speed of the spinning hub is usually controlled by a trigger on the handle. A common mistake is to run the trimmer at full speed when near objects. High speed near objects tends to wear or break line and damage objects without working faster. Running at a slower speed can actually shorten the job by requiring fewer passes and fewer stops to reload line or untangle the hub. The speed should be varied depending on the nature of nearby objects. Also, at slower speeds the line will whip around thinner objects without grabbing, eliminating additional passes near objects like sign poles and chain link fences. For vertical cutting the whole machine can be tilted or some trimmers allow the head to be adjusted at different angles. Vertical cutting is not recommended near sidewalks or other concrete and pavement edges, because it leaves open grooves that allow water to collect and cause damage.

Most trimmers use two stroke engines and require gasoline mixed with oil. Due to pollution laws four stroke engines are becoming more popular. For instance, Honda and MTD manufacture a four stroke engine trimmer. Other companies, such as John Deere, now carry Low Emission two stroke engine trimmers. Stihl manufactures a hybrid four stroke engine trimmer with no oil reservoir. This engine is lubricated using pre-mixed gasoline, like a two stroke engine.

Battery powered units are to be recharged after each use. As the recharge time is several hours long, battery powered units are ill-suited for trimming large yards. However, some models offer a quick-change battery pack so the user can have more than one battery ready to swap out when the first one runs down.

Environmental impact

Pollution from gas-powered groundskeeping equipment does not have a significant effect on the environment (citation required). US emission standards specifically limit emissions from small engines. Electric models produce no emissions at the point of use. Battery powered units typically use large sealed lead acid or nickel metal hydride batteries, which will wear out after a few years of use and must be disposed of properly.

The use of string trimmers at culturally or scientifically significant sites (e.g. cemeteries or in areas with rare plants) is often discouraged as a careless operator can inflict considerable damage to the significant items (e.g. headstones and rare specimens). However, for cost reasons, string trimmers are often employed at such sites as other forms of weed control are much more labour-intensive.

String breakage

One type of gross string breakage occurs when a segment, measuring back as little as an inch from the free end of the string, curves around a narrow fixed obstacle during higher speed operation. The term whiplash could be applied here, and as a function of time and stress, the elastic limit is exceeded at a sharp bend in the string, resulting in the initiation of a fracture. Segments that break off this way have a long smooth fracture angled towards parallel with the string. Care in operation can minimize this kind of breakage.


Many string trimmers allow the hub, the head or the lower part of the shaft to be replaced with accessories. Common accessories include:

  • replacing the monofilament line with metal or plastic blades.
  • replacing the lower shaft with a small chain saw to create a powered pole saw.
  • replacing the lower shaft with a hedge trimmer.
  • replacing the lower shaft with a cultivator.

Quick release shafts are offered on many newer models which do not require any tools to switch in accessories. Typically only gasoline powered trimmers offer shaft powered accessories, as electric or battery driven units don't generate enough power.

Notes and references

String Trimmer Guides & Reviews

  1. ^ "". Retrieved 2009-06-23. 

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