WHEN it comes to doing your bit for the environment, the use of a battery-powered brush cutter may seem like a small contribution in the grand scheme of things, writes PETER BRETT.
But if all users of such tools did it then that would make a huge difference, especially if the new tools were as efficient and powerful as their petrol-powered counterparts. Parity of performance is a key feature in my book and any tools that don’t perform, literally don’t cut it.
But there are lots of other reasons why the use of battery-powered garden tools should be encouraged. Every couple of weeks since the grass on the pavements started growing again this spring, I have had to endure about 45 minutes of the angry buzz of two stroke motors strimming as the council contractors do their jobs up and down my road. The words ‘noisy’ and ‘smelly’ apply here and if I transpose the cutting job to, say, a hospital or school grounds, where fumes and noise are definitely not indicated, then it would seem like a no-brainer to use a battery-powered brush cutter.
The Stihl FSA 130 certainly caused a minor stir amongst the couple of council workers I showed it to. They were keen to try out battery power because they would like to reduce the noise, vibration and fumes that are a regular part of their working lives. Although they had only a few minutes’ trial each on the FSA 130, their verdict was very positive – ‘powerful’ was the word used to describe the performance, and I must agree.
‘Traditional’ construction and layout
The Stihl FSA 130 follows a similar pattern to pretty well all brush trimmers – namely, a long alloy pole with a motor on one end and the cutter head on the other. These are similar in weight so tend to balance each other out. The ‘cowhorn’ or bicycle handle roughly in the middle of the pole is convoluted in that it has a number of curves in it that make it asymmetrical – the left side of the bar is further out than the right. There is some adjustment of the handlebar via the screwed locking knob in the middle. This performs the dual purpose of allowing the user to adjust the angle and length of the bar and it is a very efficient and established way of doing it. Since no tools are needed, the user can adjust the handle ‘on the go’ by simply stopping the cutter and resting it from the shoulder harness while a better angle is set.
I have found that it is important to find the optimum balance of the machine to suit the height of the user. With just the right projection of the cutter head, smooth swinging cuts from left to right can be made that just fly across the surface of the grass and leave an even surface. Too far forward and the cutters or brush dig into the grass and cause a ‘catch’ that leaves the overcut grass with a ‘circle of evidence’ of your slip up. With eight hanging points for the clip on the harness on the pole, and adjustments on the harness too, users will have ample adjustment room to find a comfortable and efficient way of avoiding those ‘dang circles’.
Out of the box
I was lucky in that the test machine was delivered fully assembled – all I had to do was adjustments. I reckon that, had I received a new machine, I would have needed a good 20 minutes to read the instructions and a similar amount of time to assemble the parts correctly. Because it follows a similar pattern to other big trimmers, experienced users will very quickly be able to size the Stihl up.
The instruction book is clear and simple and for safe and efficient use of the cutter it ought not to be skipped. Brush trimmers can fling up stones and other lumps of material, so protective clothing is needed. Believe me, the stones flung up by the FSA 130 can hurt just as much as those flung up by a petrol-powered cutter because there is no effective power difference between the two.
A long lasting and powerful battery mounted on the end of a brush cutter pole would be heavy and imbalanced and Stihl designers have solved the problem by adopting the ‘battery backpack’. This can hold a long-lasting battery (in this case, the AR 1000 Lithium-Ion battery) with ease and the comfort of the user is ensured by its padded back belt and shoulder straps. Once I had a few minutes of wearing it, I honestly didn’t feel the weight of the backpack. There is also a charge indictor on the backpack, which is suitably waterproofed for working in the rain.
I managed to cut all of my test sections of grass, shrubs and woody weeds without running down the battery pack – over an hour’s work. By using the power selector on the main handle, users can choose a power level. If cutting grass, for example, power level 1 will provide ample power for a good cut. Woody shrubs might need power level 3, but the downside is that the battery pack will run out of charge sooner.
The handlebar assembly contains a small, all-weather plug into which a power lead from the battery pack is plugged. It is a simple and no-fiddle function, so connecting and disconnecting the tool is the work of seconds.
A belt-mounted battery pack is also an option.
Switching on the machine by accident is obviated by having override switches on the right-hand side trigger mechanism. Users have to make a conscious choice to press the switches correctly to get the powerfully whirring start needed to cut grass.
There are two options for cutter heads – a more traditional self-feeding brush trimmer head and a head with three PolyCut blades. These are mounted on a single screw so they float easily and will swing out of the way when accidentally brushed up against a fencepost, for example. You will hear the noise and adjust your attack quickly! I was very impressed with the PolyCut blades and they did not baulk at cutting 25mm thick weedy stems right through. The brush trimmer option also works smoothly and may be the better option for users mostly cutting grass. Other options include a couple of metal blades intended for sawing/cutting more brush-like material.
When it comes to power, usability, versatility and a lack of noise and fumes it seems to me that contractors, smallholders and suchlike should really go ahead and invest in this kind of battery technology. It is good to do one’s bit for green initiatives, but with a machine as good as the Stihl FSA 130 on offer, efficiency and functionality are not compromised. It is one of those machines that might make petrol-powered machines obsolete within a few years.