Battery tech improves trimmers, chain saws

Backyard cleanup has never been so efficient, quiet

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Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted May. 25, 2012

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Backyard cleanup has never been so efficient, quiet

Paul Bianchina
Inman News®

Battery technology has been steadily improving in recent years, and with the coming of lithium ion, tool manufacturers have been quick to incorporate these ever lighter and more powerful batteries into tools of all types. We've become accustomed to manufacturers replacing the electrical cord with a battery in just about every conceivable shop tool, from drills and saws to lights and test equipment.

But it's only been fairly recently that batteries have become powerful enough to really make a useful dent in another arena: tools powered by gas engines. That's led to a new generation of tools for the weekend warrior and even the professional that really helps with backyard cleanup chores. Battery-powered yard tools eliminate all the starting and maintenance hassles associated with gas motors; they eliminate emissions; and they greatly reduce noise and vibration.

I recently tried out two new entries in this growing market. Both tools could easily find a place in anyone's tool shed, adding a lot of convenience to backyard chores and helping you free up your Saturdays that much quicker. As this technology grows, I'd definitely be looking for manufacturers to add more and more tools to the outdoor lineup.

1. Black & Decker 36V Lithium Trimmer Edger (Model LST136 $170): This isn't the first battery-powered string trimmer to hit the market, but it's definitely one of the best I've tried. The 36-volt lithium ion battery gives this trimmer quite a bit of power and torque, so you can cut through taller grass and weeds with ease. You also get longer run time, which is nice for larger yards.

Black & Decker has incorporated a Power Command dial into the handle, with six settings that adjust the motor speed from 6,500 to 8,500 rpm. You may not use all the settings, but it's nice to have the option of more power for thicker weeds, or less power to conserve the battery. I found that even the lowest setting handled normal grass with no problem.

Despite its higher voltage, the battery isn't all that large, and it's mounted in the handle to balance the weight of the cutting head. The entire unit weighs only 7.8 pounds, with the battery. The length of the handle adjusts and locks easily with a thumb latch, and there's an auxiliary handle that adjusts with a single locking nut, making it easy for multiple users. A single push button rotates the head down for edging, and it did a great job edging along walkways.

The battery has an onboard fuel gauge to let you monitor the charge status, and the charger recharges it in about an hour. It includes one battery, a charger and an auto-feed line spool.

2. Oregon PowerNow 40V Max Chain Saw (Model CS250 $399 with Standard Battery Pack, $499 with Endurance Battery Pack): I've used gas-powered chain saws enough to know they're not my favorite tool, between mixing of the gas and oil, the pull cords, the chain sharpening, and the noise. But a battery-powered chain saw? I'll admit I was skeptical. Not any more!

The Oregon 40V Max is powered by a fairly large 40-volt lithium ion battery pack that snaps into a slot on the top of the chain saw, about where the fuel tank would otherwise be. It locks securely in place so there's no danger of it coming out no matter what position the saw is in, and can't be removed until you trigger the release lever. The battery has a button-activated onboard fuel gauge with four green lights to let you know the status of the remaining charge. The standard battery (1.2 amp hours) charges in about one hour with the included charger; the endurance battery (2.4 amp hours) takes about two hours.

With the battery in place, the saw is well balanced, and feels like any other chain saw I've ever held. The total weight is about 10.5 pounds. The saw has a 14-inch bar, and it's all made by Oregon, one of the industry leaders in professional quality tree-cutting equipment.

The real test came in the field, with some actual cutting. It was great not to have to bring along any gas or fiddle with a start-up ritual. Just put bar oil in the reservoir, snap in a charged battery, and pull the trigger! I expected this to be something of a light-duty pruning saw, so I started with some basic small limbing on a downed tree. It buzzed through that task with no problem, so I graduated to cutting the downed tree into sections. Again, no problem.

From there, it was on to actually felling a tree about 10 inches in diameter. It handled the task easily, with good power and a nice, sharp cutting action. It bogged down a little once when I pushed it too hard, and I remembered the old adage about letting the saw do the work -- from then on I was fine (the saw will cut out if pushed too hard in order to save the motor; simply re-triggering it starts it up again). All in all, the saw really outperformed my expectations.

If you're like me, you probably hate sharpening chains, so you're sure to love the built-in PowerSharp feature. There's a replaceable, curved grinding stone located behind the chain. When your chain starts to get dull, you simply trigger the saw to get the chain spinning, then lift a handle to engage the grinding stone with the chain. Three to five seconds later, your chain is resharpened for you, without ever taking it off the bar or having to break out a file.

No emissions, greatly reduced noise, and a whole lot of convenience make this a great saw for yard work, construction projects, vacation homes, even camping and RV use. It includes the saw, bar and chain, bar cover, one battery, charger, and a very well written set of instructions.

Remember when using a string trimmer, chain saw or other outdoor power tools to always wear eye and hearing protection, and follow all of the manufacturer's safety and operating instructions.

Remodeling and repair questions? Email Paul at paulbianchina@inman.com. All product reviews are based on the author's actual testing of free review samples provided by the manufacturers.

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