Saturday 29 June 2024

Petrol or cordless hedge trimmer?

 I've not put a lot of time into maintaining the Orchard this year. Other issues keep me away, and to be blunt a bit of "wilding" is good for nature. However I noticed that the street side hedge was becoming overgrown and potentially a risk to pedestrians and motorists. In all there's about 450 Square metres (up to 3 metres high) of hedge to trim back to the fence line which normally takes 3 - 4 hours to trim and then tidy up the clippings. 

It was time to break out my Makita extended reach hedge trimmer (EN4950H) from the cellar. With the blade in the extended position it is about 2.6 metres tall and with the weight of the petrol engine is reasonably well balanced 7kg overall weight. The 25cc 4-stroke engine is relatively quiet at 104 dB when compared to a 2-stroke engine of the same size, though you need to wear ear protection to use it. I'd "winterised" the motor by draining the fuel from the tank/carb in the previous November.  To get it ready, I filled the tank with Aspen High Alkylate fuel. This works out at £22.50 for 5 litres, but doesn't "go-off" quickly like modern car petrol (E5).

However, when I tried to start the engine, nothing happened. Something was jammed and the recoil pull cord would not turnover the engine. I checked the obvious things, but decided it was time to take it to the local mower repair shop to investigate the cause of the problem. Meanwhile I still needed to get that hedge trimmed. The repair shop said they we busy and it might take a few weeks for a fix. I considered rental, at £60 for a couple of days, but that would be wasted money I use a hedge trimmer a few times a year.

Eventually after a lot of research I decided to purchase a professional Stihl extended reach battery powered hedge trimmer and chose the model HLA86 which can extend from 2.6 to 3.3 metres in length. This device uses the Stihl AP series of battery which can also be used in over 20 Stihl devices. At the time of ordering there was a 2 for 1 offer on the batteries, so I purchased the AP200 battery and got one free. According to Stihl each battery should give 144 minutes of run time.  Given my previous experience of trimming the hedge I thought one battery would be sufficient, but it would be handy to have a spare. I also purchased a mid-range Stihl charger for the batteries.

The parcel arrived the next day, and the batteries had about 50% charge already. No real assembly required, just unpack, slot in a battery and I was ready to go. However I charged both batteries to 100% before setting off. to the orchard. The first step was to spend 30 minutes or so checking for any nesting birds in the roadside hedge.  It's a busy road just 1.3 metres from the hedge, and I've never yet seen birds nests in the hedge. The hedge cutting went well, to give my arms a rest I'd cut for 10 minutes or so, then swap to raking up the cuttings and brushing the path clean before getting back to cutting. As I progressed along the hedge I used three traffic warning cones to alert drivers to my presence.

The whole event took about two and a half hours. The Stihl HLA86 seemed to cut faster than the Makita used to last year. To my surprise the Stihl only used about one quarter of one battery capacity to perform the task. The greater reach was handy on some higher parts of the hedge. I found the unit well balanced in use, the battery acting as a counterweight.(4.8 kg for the cutter, and 1.3 kg for the battery).

The Stihl equipment cost £532 + £106 VAT.The Makita hedge trimmer (now discontinued) cost  £464 inc VAT, but the repair bill was £78 so the costs are comparable. Both are built for heavy duty work, but on balance I now prefer the battery powered Stihl hedge trimmer.

About three weeks later the Makita Hedge trimmer was fixed by the repair shop. I asked what the problem had been and was told the motor had been choked up with carbon. He said that the fuel/oil mix probably had too much oil in, and this was a common issue with small 2-stroke engines. I had the grace to not mention it was a 4-stroke engine until after I paid the bill. I did double check they'd used 4-stroke fuel to refill the tank.

Update 2 weeks later

As a consequence of the Stihl Hedge cutter purchase, I discoverd I needed some additional tools to sharpen chainsaw cutter chains. In addition to the kit I've had for years, I now need chainsaw sharpening files with a diameter of 3.2mm (1/8th inch).  I soon found some on Amazon and placed an order.  The research gave me an answer I've had almost since I started the orchard. My old chain saw can be fitted with tungsten carbide tipped chains. They are great and last about four times as long as a standard chain. The only problem is that sharpening a TC chain entails sending the chain back to a dealer equipped with specialist diamond coated sharpening wheeles. That is not cheap, and the TC chains are about three time the price of traditional chains at £70 (GBP).

The potential solution I have is the Granberg Pricision grinder ( This can be fitted with precision diamond  coated sharpening stones suitable for most chain sizes. The diamond stones can also be used to sharpen Tungsten Carbide tipped blades.  I've got one on order as it will allow me to recover my old TC chain pile.  If this works I'll recover the costs with just a few restored TC chains. No more embarassment of wood powder  being produced, rather than chips, when I'm cutting wood on the orchard.


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