How to Use a String Trimmer Properly - Without Breaking the Line!

Electric corded trimmer
Electric corded trimmer | Source

String Trimmer - Weed Eater - Weed Whacker - Strimmer - Weed Trimmer - Lawn Trimmer - Weed Whip - Whipper Snipper - Line 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 hub shows you how to wind the spool, and cut, without breaking the line!

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Gas Powered String Trimmer Won't Start

If your trimmer won't work, take a detour to this article:

String trimmer won't start - cleaning and troubleshooting 2-stroke carburetors


Using a String Trimmer Safely

  • Wear protective clothing - 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.
  • 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

Gas and electric corded trimmers
Gas and electric corded trimmers | Source

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 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. Its 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.

Gas and Two Stroke Oil Needed for a 50:1 Ratio

Amount of Fuel Mixture Required
Two Stroke Oil
1 Litre
1 Litre
20 ml
5 Litres
5 Litres
100 ml
1 US Quart
1 US Quart
0.6 US Fluid Ounces
1 US Gallon
1 US Gallon
2.6 US Fluid Ounces

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 (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). 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

String trimmer spool
String trimmer spool | Source

Evenly wound spool. You can wind on lots more line than this

String trimmer line on spool
String trimmer line on spool | Source

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.

Feed the line through the hole in the cutter head
Feed the line through the hole in the cutter head | Source

Replace the Cap on the Cutting Head (if Fitted)

Replace the cap on the cutting head
Replace the cap on the cutting head | Source

How to Replace a String Trimmer Line

The Cutting Knife

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.

Cutting knife on trimmer
Cutting knife on trimmer | Source

Long Lasting Line From Amazon

This 0.095 inch diameter (2.4mm), 3 pound, 685 foot spool of professional trimming line by Oregon should last you years and years. According to Amazon, 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.
Check your trimmer to see whether it is compatible with this diameter line.

How to Cut With a Trimmer

"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"

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 it 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. It can also get wrapped around thick vegetation and become tangled, breaking the line. 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. Also 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

Cutting with the tip of the line to avoid breaking it
Cutting with the tip of the line to avoid breaking it | Source
Angle the trimmer when cutting
Angle the trimmer when cutting | Source

Trimmer Line From Amazon

Home-owner grade trimmer line from Amazon. 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.

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.

Lawn edge maintained with a trimmer
Lawn edge maintained with a trimmer | Source
Edged lawn
Edged lawn | Source

Using Electric and Gas Trimmers

Choosing and Buying a 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 available such as the The Greenworks 21142 model below. This has a 10 amp motor (equivalent to over 1hp ). Also the motor is mounted near the handle end of the shaft which helps to lighten the cutting head. This trimmer has received good reviews on gardening websites.

See YouTube link

© 2013 Eugene Brennan

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Comments 14 comments

John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 3 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

A practical guide to trimming, eugbug. Thank you - you published it at the right time - when I'm looking for my trimmer in an overcrowded shed.

eugbug profile image

eugbug 3 years ago from Ireland Author

Hi John. Thanks for the comment. We don't have to worry about grass cutting or trimming yet here. There's no growth yet because we're getting blasted in northern Europe by cold east winds from Siberia for the last month.

tamron profile image

tamron 3 years ago

Well illustrated hub with easy to follow instructions for weed eating!

eugbug profile image

eugbug 3 years ago from Ireland Author

Hi tamron, thanks for the comments and dropping by!

tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 3 years ago from California

I can't ever get the string to bump properly. Thanks for helping with the angles.

Terry 2 years ago

Fabulous instructions and photos. Best web pages I have seen showing so much detail, of tremendous help to me. Thank You.

ELawn mower profile image

ELawn mower 24 months ago from Orlando

Too great. Your article was so good and sufficient

Neelakantan 17 months ago

The article is well written and easy to understand. It is well illustrated with photographs. The author is very sincere and dedicated. Wish him/her good luck

Jodah profile image

Jodah 12 months ago from Queensland Australia

This was a very useful article eugbug. It drive me around the twist having to continually replace line in my trimmer. I will take your advice and take more care to only use the cutting tip of the line and move into grass slowly a little at a time.

eugbug profile image

eugbug 12 months ago from Ireland Author

Thanks Jodah, it can be frustrating when the line breaks, which is often due to over zealous use of the machine. Watch out for shrubs and trees also, the line can easily strip bark and stunt growth.

Len 2 months ago

The line of my weed eater keeps breaking any ideas

eugbug profile image

eugbug 2 months ago from Ireland Author

Hi Len, as outlined in the article above, try to cut with the tip of the line, don't bury it in vegetation or let it slap off concrete. Don't let it wrap around shrubs and basically just ease it into vegetation when cutting. Thin line will wear and quicker when attempting to cut dense vegetation with an electric trimmer so just take it easy with it or try using a thicker line. I have used 2.4 mm (about 0.1") line with my Black and Decker and it lasts longer when cutting dense growth, however long term the heavier weight of the line probably isn't the best for the bearing of the machine (because it puts more load on it).

John 5 weeks ago

Do you ever oil your trimmer line to prevent binding? Thanks.

eugbug profile image

eugbug 5 weeks ago from Ireland Author

Hi John, I never thought of doing that because I've never had trouble with binding. Nylon is used for trimmer line because of its two desirable characteristics, high resistance to abrasion and low friction coefficient (i.e. it's slippery). If the line binds, it could be because the turns on the spool are wound too closely together. When winding, I try to space the turns widely rather than packing them closely together. However try to pull the line tight as you wind the spool to prevent excessive line feeding out as the head spins.

I don't know whether oiling the line would be effective but you could try using a silicone spray which would be less messy than oil. However it's likely that centrifugal force would just throw lubricant off the coils as the head spins.

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    Eugene Brennan (eugbug)311 Followers
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    Eugene is an avid gardener and has been passionate about growing things for nearly 40 years. He also has a keen interest in DIY.

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