How to Choose The Best Brush Cutter
Brush cutters can make it a lot easier to clear patches of unruly vegetation like brambles, weeds and nettles.
Whether you’re approaching a completely overgrown garden, or just trying to neaten up the edges, there are different models to choose from depending on what sort of job you’re tackling.
Some of the best brush cutters can be used for a variety of jobs. For example, if you’re doing more general garden maintenance, you may find it useful to have a brush cutter than can adapt to lighter tasks without being hard to control as well.
Below you will find detailed information about the different types of brush cutter available, and their different accessories, in order to find the right model for your garden.
Different Types of Brush Cutter
There are three main types of brush cutter available: petrol powered, mains powered, and battery powered.
For clearing tough areas of thick vegetation like brambles, you will likely want either a petrol-powered machine or a mains-powered model. Whilst battery-powered brush cutters still have the power to cut through weeds and smaller brambles, they are more likely to get stuck when cutting through thicker stems.
Battery-Powered Brush Cutters
As mentioned, a battery-powered model is better suited to lighter jobs like clearing small weeds and thin-stemmed plants. If you have a lot of dense undergrowth to clear, battery power is likely not the way to go.
The main pros of battery-powered brush cutter are:
- Battery brush cutters are both cordless and lightweight. This makes them easier to use than both mains-powered and petrol-powered brush cutters. Petrol machines are cordless but heavy, and mains-powered models are restricted by a cable.
- They’re very practical for neatening up areas where the mower can’t reach. Battery-powered strimmers are no hassle to get out of the shed, meaning you won’t be put off using one as often as necessary, and they require no preparation (apart from charging the battery when it runs down). If it’s simply a case of cutting down some areas that the mower can’t go, they could be a good choice.
The main cons of battery-powered brush cutters are:
- You won’t be able to get through big patches of brambles. If you’re faced with a large garden-clearing job, you’ll need a more powerful tool than a battery-powered brush cutter.
- You have a finite amount of time before the battery runs out. Tougher tasks will be more of a drain on the battery and recharging can take the best part of an hour. This makes them less appropriate for longer, tougher jobs.
Mains-Powered Brush Cutters
These brush cutters can be used to clear small/medium patches of thicker undergrowth like brambles. However, their strength and reliability can vary from model to model. Whilst some mains-powered models come closer to the power of battery-powered machines, others are a better match for petrol-powered brush cutters. Reading online customer reviews can be a good way to get a feel for the strength and capabilities of a mains-power machine.
The main pros of mains-powered brush cutters are:
- They’re a good compromise between weight and power. They generally weigh less than petrol brush cutters and still offer enough power to get through tougher undergrowth.
- There’s no limit on how long mains-powered brush cutters can be used for– there’s no battery to run down and it won’t need refuelling. Of course, the motor may need a bit of time to cool down during extended use.
- There aren’t the fumes of petrol motors.
The main cons of mains-powered brush cutters are:
- They keep you tethered whilst working in the garden. The cable limits your movement and you will likely have to use an extension cable. Cables can be hazardous so you need to be aware of it at all times so as not to cut through it accidentally.
Petrol-Powered Brush Cutters
These machines are best suited to big garden-clearance jobs. They can make their way through brambles, nettles and thicket, often cutting branches of up to 15 mm in diameter. Whilst powerful, they can sometimes feel unwieldy, and are generally heavier than other brush cutters – especially when full of fuel.
The main pros of petrol-powered brush cutters are:
- They’re very powerful and are a good option for clearing larger patches of dense undergrowth.
- Your movements are not restricted– you can roam around the garden without being held back by a cable. Plus, there’s no danger of cutting through any power lines.
The main cons of petrol-powered brush cutters are:
- They may be too powerful for certain jobs/people. Unless you really need the strength of a petrol model, they may be more difficult to manage than it’s worth.
- They’re heavy– often weighing over 10 kg once filled with fuel. This can be quite difficult to support whilst doing longer jobs, even if a harness is included.
- They require maintenance. It will need fuel and oil before use, a general safety each time, and an occasional MOT. Petrol-powered brush cutters are not machines that you can simply get out the shed and use straight away.
As you can see, finding the best brush cutter depends on how you’re intending to use it. If you’re clearing a large amount of brambles and thick brush, a petrol-powered model will charge through it. However, if you’re after something more manageable, you may wish to consider a mains-powered model.
Cutting Line and Cutting Blades
Many brush cutters will come with both a cutting-line head and a brush-cutter head; however, some may only have brush-cutting heads so it’s worth checking before you buy, depending on what you need.
If you want to use your brush cutter for cutting grass (as well as thicker vegetation like brambles) it can be useful to have a cutting-line head in addition to a brush-cutter attachment. A cutting-line head uses fast-spinning nylon string to cut through grass. These heads are useful for cutting grass, and the occasional weed, but shouldn’t be expected to get through thicker vegetation.
Many gardeners prefer to use cutting-line heads around the base of trees and near roots and rocks – using a blade-head in these areas can cause damage and be dangerous.
Bladed brush-cutter heads are what you’ll need to get through thick undergrowth. These harder blades can chop through thicker stems and are therefore necessary for tougher jobs. They take the form of solid metal discs with blades. The number of blades can differ depending on the function of the particular blade head.
Some brush cutters will come with several blade heads to choose between, each with a varying number of blades. It’s common to come across metal brush-cutter heads with 2 blades, 3 blades, 4 blades, 8 blades, and 40 blades. So, what’s the difference?
As a brief summary – heads with less blades tend to be better at cutting larger stems. A three-blade cutting head is ideal for cutting woody shrubs, brambles and bushes. However, when cutting grass and weeds, the fresh vegetation can wrap around cutting heads that have fewer blades.
Cutting heads with more blades are better at cutting through finer vegetation. Grass is less likely to get wound around a 40-blade head, for example.
It’s also easier to sharpen a blade head with fewer blades. The fine teeth on a 40-blade head may get blunt quickly if used for tougher jobs and can be hard to sharpen.
A Little Note on Accessories…
On top of different blade head attachments, certain brush cutters come with even more accessories. Whilst not strictly necessary, having more accessories can increase the number of uses that your brush cutter will have in the garden.
For example, there are some brush cutters which are viewed more as ‘multi-tools’. As well as having different brush cutter heads, they may also include hedge trimming attachments, small chainsaws, and extension poles. These tools can be helpful all-rounders to have in the shed, useful for hedge trimming and pruning as well.
If your brush cutter does not come with protective equipment like goggles and gloves, you must be sure to use your own.
There are a few additional points to bear in mind when buying a brush cutter.
2-Stroke/4-Stroke Petrol Engine
If you do decide to go for a petrol brush cutter, you’ll need to choose between a 2-stroke and 4-stroke model.
2-stroke engines tend to run at a higher RPM which makes them more powerful than 4-stroke engines; however, this can also cause them to wear out quicker. They’re louder than 4-stroke models, and require fuel to be mixed with oil before being put into the machine. A brush cutter with a 2-stroke engine might be slightly more manageable in terms of weight, because 2-stroke engines are often lighter than 4-stroke engines.
One of the main benefits of a 4-stroke engine, in terms of ease of use, is that oil does not need to be mixed with the fuel before it is put into the machine. This can take the hassle out of refuelling. However, as mentioned, 4-stroke engines can make for a heavier brush cutter than a model with a 2-stroke engine.
It’s worth being aware of the weight of the brush cutter you’re thinking to buy, before making your purchase. For some people this will make the difference between being able to manage the machine effectively, or finding it unwieldy.
Generally speaking, mains-powered brush cutters will be lighter than petrol models. And 2-stroke petrol models will be lighter than 4-stroke. Even a ‘lightweight’ 6 kg brush cutter will start to feel heavy a while, so bear in mind your own upper-body strength.
A comfortable harness can make a difference, but it won’t completely take the weight off a heavy machine.
You may need to make a compromise between the weight of the machine and the size of your garden. If you have a large garden, it may be difficult to use a big, powerful machine for long periods of time. If you definitely need the power of a heavy petrol model, you may need to approach the garden in sections to make it manageable.
If you choose a mains-powered brush cutter, you will have to think about the cable. Whilst you can always use an extension cable, even this can be impractical if the original power cord is very short.
Ideally, you should look for a power cable that is around 10 m long. If you choose anything shorter than this, you will find yourself constantly dragging the extension unit around with you which can make any job a lot less practical.
Brush Cutter FAQs
How do I use a brush cutter?
The first step is to read your manual and ensure that all safety checks have been done before using your brush cutter. Make sure that all attachments are properly connected and fastened securely to avoid them coming loose or moving in the wrong direction.
Before brush cutting, you will want to ensure you have the proper safety equipment. A good pair of eye protectors and ear protectors are important. Brush cutters can be loud and you don’t want to damage your ears. Your eyes must also be protected from debris that can fly around when using the tool. In addition, you will need a good pair of sturdy boots to protect your feet from debris or the brush cutter itself.
If your brush cutter comes with a harness, it is advisable to use it and secure it properly. This can reduce the risk of causing injury to your back and shoulders. The harness does this by properly spreading the weight of the brush cutter. The harness should be tight and the clip should be in the centre of your chest to ensure it is secured correctly and the load is equally distributed.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure that the correct attachment is connected for the task at hand.
When using the brush cutter, make sure to use the full arc of the tool. You want to arc the tool from left to right, allowing it to cut rather than forcing it. If you are faced with particularly tough brambles, it can help to work on them in sections, starting nearer the top and working down. This can be easier on the machine than trying to approach the thickest part straight away.
How do I start my brush cutter?
If you have an electric device, it should be as simple as turning it on. They normally come with a two-button start for safety reasons; this should be detailed in your owner’s manual.
For a petrol model, it is a little more complicated. Firstly, you will need to fill the machine with the required fuel. If it is a 2-stroke machine, you will need to mix fuel and oil together (the oil type and fuel:oil ratio should be detailed in the instructions). If it is a 4-stroke engine, you can generally use standard unleaded fuel.
Most petrol brush cutters have a bulb which has to be primed repeatedly until you see fuel start filling into it. The bulb doesn’t need to be completely full, but more than half full is recommended.
For a cold start you will need to make sure that the choke is turned on. For a warm start, it should be turned off. You should never refuel or start your brush cutter when it is too hot.
Lastly, you need to pull the starter lead ensuring that you use the full length of the lead. This could take a few tries and there is a knack to it that will be learned over time. Do this until the engine fires up.
When you finish using your brush cutter, turn it off and make sure to give it a wipe to remove any residue that has built up. Give the blade a wipe with an oiled rag to keep it from rusting. This will ensure you get longevity from your brush cutter and it will be ready for when you next need it.
How do I sharpen my brush cutter’s blade?
To sharpen the blades of your brush cutter, you will need a steady workbench or table, a medium grit whetstone and, for optimum results, a fine grade whetstone.
The first step is to ensure that the blade is clean. Clean it using soapy water and then dry it afterwards. Next, oil the blade with an oily rag to ensure the blade and whetstone don’t snag whilst you are sharpening.
Hold the blade against the bench ensuring the angled side is facing away from you and the table. For cutting blades, you want a medium grain whetstone. The key is to maintain the same angle for the whetstone as the cutting edge of the blade. Then simply run the stone back and forth maintaining this angle until you are happy with the edge. For an even sharper blade, you can do this process again with a finer-grained whetstone which will refine the edge further. Once you have finished sharpening, wipe your blade again with an oily rag. After this, you’ll be ready to tackle thick brambles once again!