How to Choose & Use Brushcutters

By Boness, Kenneth R. | American Forests, May-June 1990 | Go to article overview

How to Choose & Use Brushcutters


Boness, Kenneth R., American Forests


How To Choose & Use

Managing undesirable vegetation may seem a never-ending task if you're a homeowner, grounds-keeper, woodlot owner, or forester. But if you've never enlisted the aid of a brushcutter, or haven't tried one for a while, you may be amazed at how efficient today's long-stemmed buzzsaws have become.

Streamlined and lightened through the use of space-age plastics and alloys, the modern brushcutter offers improved power output because of advances in the design of the engines and carburetors. The new models are being applied to a variety of tasks ranging from selectively thinning timber stands to clipping underwater weeds and cutting concrete. (Brushking makes an adaptor kit with a special blade hard enough to go through concrete.)

Options for controlling vegetation fall into three basic categories: natural, chemical, and mechanical. In many instances natural control - like the creation of a dense overstory to choke out brush - is simply not feasible. And you may wish to rule out chemical control if the treatment area is near a home, a body of water, or even a colony of bees. Cost, liability, and government regulations are other factors to consider in applying pesticides.

As for mechanical control, using hand tools is often unappealing because it is so labor-intensive. And cutting brush is not a chainsaw's forte: kickbacks and broken chains are common, and stooping contributes to back strain.

Brushcutters are - or should be - the first choice for controlling unwanted vegetation. Offering advantages over all the alternatives, the modern brushcutter is rapidly growing in capability, adaptability, and popularity.

For one thing, unlike chemical treatments, brushcutting can be done year-round except in deep-snow country. In my neck of the woods (Wisconsin) in winter, I have experienced problems in getting a clear view of the stem at cutting height and dealing with ice buildup, which can cause a brushcutter's blade to become unbalanced. As a result, I prefer to do most of my work in the fall after leaf drop. Visibility is enhanced, the weather is cooler, and summer chores are coming to an end. To cut brush along fencerows, I wait until the first dusting of snow, which makes foreign objects such as pieces of old barbed wire much easier to see and avoid.

Another factor to consider in timing your brushcutting is the health of the remaining stand. The downed stems, as they decompose, can allow disease organisms and harmful insects to multiply, damaging some tree species. Selecting the optimum season for thinning a stand can help avoid these plagues. Consult your local forester.

To help you select a brushcutter, I've examined their general characteristics and the specifics of 12 models, focusing on machines designed for cutting brush and saplings up to eight inches in diameter, which means those equipped with blades rather than line-trimmer heads.

Models intended to be used solely for clipping grass and weeds are known as trimmers. Practically all brushcutters can be converted into trimmers by substituting a line-trimmer attachment. Another term you may run across is clearing saws, which for all practical purposes can simply be described as the heavyweights of brushcutters.

Brushcutters have five readily recognizable components: handles, housing, guard, cutting attachment, and engine. The general arrangement of these components is, of necessity, standard, but features vary widely. For example, Tanaka and Shindaiwa each offer a model that features a backpack power unit.

Handles vary in design between brands and within product lines. Most, but not all, brushcutters have J or bicycle-type (also known as bullhorn) handlebars. Designed to give maximum control, the handles also act as a barrier, preventing the blade from contacting the operator in the event of a kickback.

Two handle elements you'll want to look for are anti-vibration mounts, especially on the larger machines, and convenient, comfortable grips and controls. …

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