How to Use a String Trimmer Properly, Without Breaking the Line!
What is a String Trimmer?
This garden power tool has many names depending on where you live in the world, but one thing is sure, it certainly beats a hedge shears for trimming and edging! Like most power tools nowadays, they are available in gas, electric corded and rechargeable battery cordless versions.
The machine was invented in the early 1970s by George Ballas of Houston, Texas. He attached fishing line to the head of a lawn edger and was able to cut grass and weeds with his concoction. The tool works on the principle that a line spun at high speed becomes stretched and taut due to centripetal acceleration. The tension in the line makes it stiff and the inertia of the line gives it the energy to cut. So basically it is like a spinning whip.
This guide shows you how to wind the spool, and cut, without breaking the line!
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Alternative Names for a String Trimmer
A string trimmer is also known as:
- Weed Eater (brand name)
- Weed Whacker
- Strimmer (In the UK and Ireland)
- Weed Trimmer
- Lawn Trimmer
- Weed Whip
- Whipper Snipper (Australia and Canada)
- Line Trimmer
Using a String Trimmer Safely
- Wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). The most important thing is to protect your eyes because even a small piece of snapped line, or debris such as a pebble travelling at 200 to 300 mph has the potential to cause a severe eye injury. I usually just wear goggles but have been hit on one occasion by a piece of grit which cut my face. So ideally use a visor which provides total face protection.
Don't wear shorts or sandals for obvious reasons. Heavy trousers will give some protection if you get hit by debris (even though you will still feel it!). Wear safety shoes which have steel caps and soles, as these will protect your feet if you walk on glass, metal, nails or other nasty stuff while working in an overgrown area. When cutting, angle the trimmer so that cut material is thrown away from you. Finally wear ear muffs to protect your ears as long term exposure to loud sounds can cause hearing damage.
- Check the Ground Before Trimming. Bits of glass, metal, pebbles etc can be caught by the line and become missiles
- Take Care of Cables. Take care not to hit the cable while using an electric trimmer. Electric trimmers are less powerful than gas versions and the line probably wouldn't cut the cord, however it could damage the insulation.
- Watch Out for Bystanders. People standing near you are more likely to be hit by debris than yourself. This is because debris may be travelling on an upwards trajectory and eventually reach eye level by the time it reaches the other person. This is especially the case if you are trimming or using a lawn mower on elevated ground. So pause your work until they have moved away. Debris thrown by a trimmer can also ricochet off hard surfaces. Young children should never be in the vicinity when you are using powered garden equipment.
- Avoid Windows and Cars. Pebbles thrown by a trimmer can chip paintwork and glass, and may even crack or break windows in your house or car. Check where debris is flying and direct it safely away from anything which could be damaged
How to Mix Fuel For a Gas Trimmer
Most trimmers have two stroke engines which don't have a sump filled with oil for lubrication (four stroke trimmers however are available). So lubricating oil must be mixed with gas before filling the tank. In general, the oil to gas ratio for a 2-stroke engine should be 1:50. This equates to 20 ml per liter or 2.6 US fluid ounces per US gallon. Some manufacturers recommend a 1:25 ratio for their engines so check your manual. 1:40 or 1:30 is probably a good compromise.
You can buy small bottles of two stroke oil which are sufficient to make up about a gallon or 5 liters (litres) of mix in a gerry can. Alternatively you can buy larger liter or quart bottles of oil. Oil can then be measured out into a graduated measuring cup or any other suitable container which you know the volume of. Add the oil to the gas can and then swirl it around to mix thoroughly. It's probably a good idea to wipe out any remaining oil from the measuring cup with a paper towel, otherwise all sorts of dust and dirt, spiders and insects will have stuck to the oil by the time you use it the next time.
Don't use 4 stroke motor oil in your engine. It contains additives which can contaminate the cylinder over time and also it can tar up the piston. Two stroke oil is designed to burn as cleanly as possible with the fuel.
Gas and Two Stroke Oil Needed for a 50:1 Ratio
Amount of Fuel Mixture Required
Two Stroke Oil
1 US Quart
1 US Quart
0.6 US Fluid Ounces
1 US Gallon
1 US Gallon
2.6 US Fluid Ounces
How to Start a String Trimmer
A general procedure for starting two-stroke engines. There may be some variation as regards setting choke positions, so consult the instructions that came with your machine.
- Mix fuel as outlined above and fill the tank at least half full.
- Turn on the ignition switch.
- Turn on the choke.
- Prime the engine by pushing the primer button about 8 times.
- Pull the starter cord repeatedly until the engine kicks and attempts to start or runs.
- If it runs, allow it to continue running for about 10 seconds and then turn off the choke.
- If it cut out with the choke on, try turning off the choke and re-pulling the cord. If it doesn't start after a few attempts, turn the choke back on and re-starting.
If You Still Can't Start the Engine, Checkout My Fault Finding Guide to String Trimmers
What Type of Line Do I Use With My Trimmer?
Trimmers make use of a monofilament nylon line for cutting. You can buy this line in spools or rolls of varying lengths and cut it to size. Lower powered electric trimmers are normally used with fairly light gage line, about 1.5 mm / 0.06 inch (about 1/16 inch). This is fine for trimming light grass growth around curbs, edges of lawns and flower beds. Higher powered gas trimmers can also be used with light gage line, but for cutting thick vegetation in overgrown areas such as long grass, nettles, docks and other weeds, heavier gage line is pretty much essential to avoid breaking or tangling the line. This is available in sizes up to 4 mm / 0.16 inch (about 3/16 inch ). You can also buy line which has a square profile rather than round, and supposedly the "corners" cut better. I use a 2.4 mm line (about 0.1 inch) with my gas trimmer, which is a low cc model, and it gives good results with light and small amounts of heavy growth. Thicker gage line requires a correspondingly higher powered trimmer so that the head can spin sufficiently fast without the engine struggling and slowing down in thick vegetation. As always, its better to consult your manual to see what the manufacturer recommends.
Trimmer Line Replacement - Winding the Spool
- Make sure the end of the line is fully attached to the spool by feeding it through the thread hole or guide designed for this purpose. The line should then be wound tightly and evenly around the spool in the direction of the arrow (pull the line tight to tension it as you are doing so).
- If the line is wound slackly, excess line will feed out of the spool during an auto feed, or when you bump the cutting head to release line, and just end up getting snapped off by the knife on the guard of the trimmer. Neat winding helps to ensure that line feeds out ok and doesn't bind. You don't have to be overly fussy about this. Just make sure all the line isn't bunched up at one end of the spool or is very loosely wound around it.
Thread the end of the line into the hole and wind it in the direction of the arrow
Evenly wound spool. You can wind on lots more line than this
Replace the spool into the cutting head. Feed the end of the line through the hole in the cutting head of the trimmer and replace the cap
Replace the cap on the cutting head (if fitted)
How to Replace a String Trimmer Line
The Cutting Knife on a Trimmer
With some trimmers, the cutting head must be bumped down onto the ground to release new line. Other models auto-feed as line is used up. In any case, a cutting knife at the perimeter of the guard on the trimmer keeps the line trimmed and prevents it hitting or extending beyond the guard (which will slow or stall the machine and create a hazard). This knife should be sharp, otherwise it won't cut the line. If you notice this problem, you can sharpen it with a file, sharpening stone, or angle grinder.
Long Lasting Square Trimmer Line
This 0.095 inch diameter (2.4mm), 3 pound, 685 foot spool of professional trimming line manufactured by Oregon should last you years and years. It has a high strength inner core and an outer coating to prevent welding. In other words it is less likely to stick as it unwinds from the spool. The square edges also improve cutting efficiency compared to standard round profile type
Check your trimmer to see whether it is compatible with this diameter line.
Cut with the tip of the line and keep it up off the ground so debris and pebbles don't get thrown at you. Try to angle the trimmer so the guard gives you best protection
How to Cut With a Trimmer
- When using an electric trimmer, cut with the bare tip of the line because this is the section which moves at the highest speed
- Don't let the line slap into grass. Ease the line into vegetation, bit by bit from the edge. You shouldn't allow all the line to come in contact with grass as this will tend to slow it down causing it to lose momentum and it won't do a good job of cutting
- When cutting around thick vegetation, it's vital to slowly move the line into the material being cut, otherwise it'll become tangled or break. A gas trimmer has more power, is usually fitted with heavier gage line, and you can allow more of the line into the vegetation without it slowing down. You just need to listen to the sound of the machine and when the line slows down, back off out of the grass
- The line often breaks when trimming around pavements, kerbs, pots etc, This is because it tends to slap against the hard surface instead of soft growth and this can shear or abrade it rapidly. This is why it is important to just cut with the tip of the line. It still wears rapidly, but just a little bit at a time rather than in large pieces
- Thinner gage line will snap more readily. You can use a thicker line but it is less effective when cutting at low speeds. The advantage of a gas trimmer is that you can vary the speed depending on whether you are cutting fine grass or thick vegetation
- When cutting, angle the trimmer so that the cutting head isn't rubbing off the ground. Adjust the distance of the head from the ground so that the full extent of the line isn't rubbing off the ground surface either. Let the tip of the line do the work and ease it into the area being cut
- When cutting around shrubs and trees, take care you don't strip the bark which can kill the plant
- Creepers and climbing plants can sometimes get tangled around the cutting head of a trimmer, although the line usually cuts through these, however if you have young cabbage palms (cordylines) in your garden, keep well away from the leaves! These are long tough and stringy and always seem to get wrapped around the head, stalling the engine
Cut With the Tip of the Line and Angle the Cutting Head
Lighter Gage Line for Gas or Electric Trimmers
This line is lighter gage 0.065 inch (1.65 mm) and more suitable for electric trimmers. You can use it with a gas trimmer, but it will snap and get used up quicker when cutting heavier vegetation. Home-owner grade trimmer line by SuperTrim from Amazon.
Thinner line is more suitable for cutting light growth and trimming around flower beds and curbs.
Check your trimmer documentation to ensure this diameter line is suitable.
How to Avoid Getting Covered by Grass
The line generally turns clockwise (viewed from above), so when it's to right of the cutting head it's heading towards you and when on the left, it heading away from you. If you imagine a circle through which the line turns, try to keep this circle positioned so that you're cutting in the 10 o'clock to 12 o'clock positions and grass is being thrown away from you or perpendicular to you.
Edging a Flower Bed
I maintain a sort of "kerb(curb)" effect at the edges of my flower beds, and the soil is lower than the lawn and slopes upwards and backwards (see photo below). This makes it easy to trim the grass at the edge of the lawn when it gets ragged. In this case, the trimmer is first used in the normal horizontal mode to taper the grass level to the edge of the bed, which looks better. Next switch to vertical mode so that the line is perpendicular to the ground as shown in the video below.
Using Electric and Gas Trimmers
Choosing and Buying a String Trimmer
Trimmers are produced by all the well known tool manufacturers. This includes Black & Decker, Qualcast, Flymo, Stihl, Husqvarna and many more. Although buying a well known brand doesn't necessarily guarantee a reliable or durable product, it does mean that spare parts are more easily sourced.
Your choices are gas, electric or battery (cordless). In general gas powered models are more powerful, but high powered electric models are also available such as the Greenworks 21142.
Recommended Trimmer - Greenworks 21142
. This has a 10 amp motor (equivalent to over 1100 watt or 1 1/2 HP). The reason I like this machine is because the motor is mounted near the handle end of the shaft which helps to lighten the cutting head. Because it's electric there are no fumes and it's ideal if you you don't have the ability to pull start an engine. See also the comment by Dennis below. Greenworks 21142 model
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Head of a Stihl string trimmer stops moving and makes a bad noise. What could be the problem?
It could be a couple of things. Possibly the clutch is worn or the clutch springs have broken. The clutch is located up near the engine. Also, the drive shaft may have broken or the section where the shaft joins with the head could be damaged.Helpful 3
My brand new trimmer becomes very hot in a few minutes and then stops abruptly. When I restart it again functions but if I begin to cut again it stops and doesn't cut. It can only start but cannot cut. Please, what causes this? It is a brand new, and I've used it twice, but the same problem occurred.
Firstly, if it's brand new, bring it back or send it back if you bought it online, because it'll be on warranty for probably a year.
If you're trying to trim long grass, try not to push the trimmer too far into the grass as it can overload the machine and tangle up the head.
Is this a petrol/gas machine? If so you need to use two stroke oil at a ratio of 1 part oil to 50 parts gas to lubricate the machine and stop it overheating and seizing up.
If the trimmer is electric, is it suited to your voltage supply? A 110-volt trimmer used on a 240 volt supply will overheat and burn out or if you're lucky an overcurrent circuit breaker device on the tool will cut off power before this happens.Helpful 16
How to pull the string out when it is cut?
If you mean the cord, checkout this guide whic shows you how to replace the cord:Helpful 12
Why does the nylon line get longer when using a string trimmer?
If the trimmer auto feeds, it's possible that the mechanism is faulty and letting the line out too quickly. The cutter on the trimmer guard should cut the line in any case. Try winding the line a bit tighter and neater on the spool because if it's loose, it will feed out too much.Helpful 9
Can you use a string trimmer for cutting overgrown grass that's 2 feet tall?
Yes, you can cut any height of grass. However, it's important not to overload the trimmer if it's low powered. Long grass may tend to tangle in the head so cut a bit a little at a time by moving the tip of the line slowly into the grass. Don't bury it in growth. Clear the waste out of the way as you work if you find it's tangling up in the cutting head.Helpful 6
© 2013 Eugene Brennan