Mary is an organic coconut farmer. In her articles, she shares ideas on land management and how to increase the profit from a small farm.
Our Stihl FS85
Here on our 8-acre farm in Brazil, we use the Stihl F85 brush cutter.
This was bought 11 years ago when we quickly realized the string trimmer we brought with us to the tropics, was completely ineffective. We needed a more powerful machine, one which could cut through small shrubs, large clumps of grass and still be lightweight enough for my husband to use.
The Stihl range is classed into 3 sections,
- Homeowner grass trimmers
- Landowner brush cutters
- Professional brush cutters
Our FS85 falls into the second group and is designed for people who need to clear their land of grasses, weeds, and small areas of scrub.
The terrain on our farm is varied. We have lakes and the banks on some of these are steep. We also have areas which are undulating. Our farm is planted with coconuts and cutting around the bases of the trees is made easy using a brush cutter.
Using on Slopes
We have a variety of slopes on our farm. We are near sand dunes, so many of the plants which are growing on them, are there to keep the sand from shifting. We have some small gentle slopes which are grassed over, as in the picture, and then we also have some which are at a 45º angle. These are problematic for my husband, who is a below-knee amputee. If he can get a solid foothold, he'll cut along the slope. If the grass is damp or choked with creeping plants, he'll cut from the bottom. This is less efficient than a lateral cut, but sometimes it's necessary. Even though he tries to keep the areas short, in the tropics, it's a continual battle as the climate is perfect for growing.
The ergonomic handlebar on the Stihl brush cutter makes cutting easier as it is a lateral swinging motion.
Comfort Using a String Trimmer or Brush Cutter
Once you are accustomed to using a brush cutter, they are comfortable, because they are balanced. With a crossbody strap for support, the weight of the motor is offset by the handlebars, shaft and the cutting head.
Although ours has handlebars and is supported with a crossbody strap, the more robust professional range offers a backpack style with the weight supported equally across both shoulders and the upper back.
What may feel uncomfortable at first is the use of muscles that come into play while using the machine. Because it is a side to side swinging motion, it's likely you'll feel some discomfort in the Latissimus Dorsi and Trapezius. These are the two major muscle groups in the back which will be doing most of the work. Unless you've done this type of work before, it will be common to feel some muscular aches in your back the following day.
If you're cutting on a steep slope, you may experience some discomfort on the thigh and calf muscles. Your body will soon become used to the extra workload, and you will be able to work longer without feeling sore.
Spare Parts for Stihl Brush Cutters
Spare parts are readily available online for Stihl brush cutters. Places such as Amazon always have a good selection.
Over the course of the 10 years we've had the machine, we have replaced the carburetor, the starter cord, the cutting head, the solenoid, and a gasket set. Unlike many people who use their brush cutter maybe once a year, ours is in constant use. Here in the tropics, because of the warm weather, there is no down season.
Replacing Brush Cutter Line
Because our brush cutter is used frequently, we buy our line on large rolls. We have used various types, including a triangular shaped cutting cord. There are Stihl and other less expensive generic brands available.
Below you'll see how easy it is to refill the line yourself.
Ease of Repair
We're 40 miles from the nearest repair center so it's a long haul for us to go there and then have to return to pick it up. My husband has become quite adept at fixing the machine, swapping worn out parts for new ones and becoming a problem solver if the machine doesn't work. With the help of YouTube videos, he is able to do virtually all the maintenance and any troubleshooting necessary to keep the machine working at its best.
Necessary Safety Equipment
Some safety equipment was provided in the box when we bought it but I would like to stress a few other things. He always wears boots, long pants, a long-sleeved jacket, safety glasses, gloves and a hat. There are also full masks which can be worn, although this is not something we have invested in.
Don't think it is only the operator who needs to wear safety equipment when near someone using a brush cutter. When I am working with my husband assisting him to pull the plant away so he can cut underneath, then I too wear protective equipment. As the blade or line of the brush cutter rotates, it is kicking up things the operator may not notice. These will then be hurled out towards the person helping. It isn't just pieces of bushes or other bits of plant material, there could also be bees and wasps which are easily disturbed and annoyed by being hit with the cutter!
Muscle Strain and Overexertion
Because the work isn't physical to the point of a cardio workout, you are working several muscle groups and unless you are accustomed to it, you need to begin slowly and work up to it. I know, with my husband he will go out and really hit an area and stay out far longer than he intended, this results in sore muscles the next day.
White finger or vibration white finger (VWF) is caused by using vibrating equipment for extended periods of time. This can cause nerve damage to occur resulting in numbness and in some cases white fingers (hence the name). If you know your cutting is going to be lengthy and consistent, there are protective gloves made to counteract this problem. Even if your job isn't going to take you a long time, gloves should always be worn to protect the hands from anything that could fly up and hit you.
After using for a period of time, you may experience tingling or numbness in your fingers.
Line or Blade?
The majority of the grasses and weeds my husband cuts pose no problem and he will just use the nylon cutting cord. We have several types of clumping grass which are thick with the bases being 18” across. These take some going through but the cord does go through it.
Using the Blade
Because my husband keeps on top of the cutting here, he doesn't use the blade attachment often. When he does, it is because there is an area which he hadn't been able to get to for some time. In that time shrubs have taken over. It is on these where the blade attachment comes into its own. Although it uses more gas, and the pace is slow, the blade makes it easy.
How to Cut Vine and Creeping Plants With a Brush Cutter
We have several types of creeping plants and they can pose problems for the brush cutter. One, in particular, is a fine waxy web of a plant that blankets an entire area. This covers trees, banks and also flat areas. This attaches itself to other plants and is a parasitic plant. In that sense, for removal purposes, we have found the easiest way is with two people. We have a heavy duty rake which I use to roll this plant like a carpet while my husband cuts it underneath with the brush cutter. With each swipe of the cutter, I can roll this invasive plant more. Once it is removed, we burn it.
We have other spreading plants which root in the ground and for this, my husband uses a different technique. Some of these plants have runners which can be as thick as your little finger. He has found that by cutting most of the top growth off first and then slicing down, it keeps this nightmare of a plant at bay. This plant will send out long runners which intertwine under itself. The plant has an elastic quality to it which makes it difficult to pull out. What he can't cut in an efficient way with the brush cutter, we pull out, roll it up and burn this as well.
Our Stihl cutter is an essential part of keeping our farm maintained. Although we have other equipment, such as mowers, a chainsaw, and gardening tools, the brush cutter is by far, the most used piece of machinery we have on our small farm.
Women Using Brush Cutters
The majority of this article relates how my husband has used our Stihl brush cutter . In September 2018, my husband was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. Even before this point I began using the brush cutter to maintain our farm.
Both the strap length and the handlebars had to be adjusted to make it more comfortable and more efficient for me to use.
If you share the brush cutter with another person, it's a good idea to check that both the strap and the handlebars are in the correct position. It takes very little time and makes the cutting less tiring and more efficient.
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
Question: How did you determine what model Stihl brushcutter to buy?
Answer: My husband first determined what type of grasses and weeds it would be required to cut. He also took into consideration the amount of land he would be cutting with it.
We have since cleared land that was once scrubland.
He now wishes he had bought two models up. Although these are heavier, the weight is distributed more evenly because it is on a body harness.
By buying a larger model, the strain on the machine would be less.
Question: What is the smallest size Sthil for brush cutting?
Answer: The FS85. This is the model we have and bought 9 years ago. It is still going well but my husband feels it is underpowered for the work we now have to do here.
© 2017 Mary Wickison
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on August 10, 2020:
You have a good amount of acreage and I think there is no one option but a combination of things to consider.
Definitely get at least one brush cutter. Get a type that is good quality and the largest model you can manage. The stones are a concern as they will surely snap your line and could over time damage the cutting head, so care must be taken near those.
Locally, I know of a farmer who has 10 acres with just coconut trees. He has one young man and two brush cutters. He is able to main the grounds adequately.
You don't say how many people (family members) would be helping you. Anytime you have to hire in help, it makes your profit less, so the more family members you can rely on lightens the load.
I would also consider goats and either tie them up or fence them in an uncultivated area. Goats are extremely creative at escaping though so measures will need to be taken. Here in Brazil, they put a wooden frame around their neck which keeps them from passing between the barb wire fences.
If it is financially viable, look in to hiring a digger (backhoe) and start leveling and clearing.
Burn the debris and invasive plants. Because overgrown vegetation can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes burn where you don't intend to cultivate in the near future.
Malyada Goverdhan on August 10, 2020:
I am from India and evaluating various options to win the fight over grass, scrubs and other parasitic plants. Our farm is about 50 acres. The ground in the farm is quite uneven with many kinds of flowering plants planted as rows in between or in the borders. The ground also has a lot of stones and other debris in it. How effective will be this machine under these conditions? Do let me know your thoughts. It would really be helpful to know your opinion on what things to keep in mind before selecting on which brush trimmer to buy. Thanks for your article, it was extrenely helpful.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 22, 2017:
We don't have workers, it is just the two of us. When we planted our coconuts we brought someone in to help with that. There was irrigation pipe which had to be buried for 430 trees. Plus the holes for planting.
It is tiring work and the humidity doesn't help. Today, for example, I was in the lake chest deep in water cutting cattails with a long handled sickle.
We bought a ride on mower and it helps my husband manage the cutting. Everything grows so fast here.
I'm glad you find it interesting. Thanks for reading.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 22, 2017:
Mary, I don't have eight acres, but I love reading about your land and how you care for it. I would think maintaining your acreage with a brush cutter could be tedious and very time consuming. I'm sure you and your husband are out there daily. Do you have any hired hands helping you on your coconut farm?
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 03, 2017:
We have 8 acres and it is a non-stop job. String trimmers are an effective tool for maintaining both a backyard and a farm. Glad you enjoyed the article, thanks for your comment.
flashmakeit from usa on May 03, 2017:
You really have a lot of grass and I am glad your husband tries to keep your area, in control. I bought me a Worx last year and I need to use it to trim the grass around my fence. This article was inspiring.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 18, 2017:
My husband tries to keep our area, in control, but you know how difficult it can be in a tropical climate, things grow fast.
The house in the image is my neighbor's house. We try and keep that area short as well because we use it as a shortcut to visit them.
They have lowered the fence and wrapped fabric around the wire to keep us from snagging our clothes when we climb over. It keeps the animals from crossing but makes it easier for us and them.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 18, 2017:
Mary, you make me appreciate the Stihl Brush Cutter and the effort put into maintaining the beautiful view of your property. Thanks for the review.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 15, 2017:
My husband feels the same as though he is taming nature. I think it is 'the Daniel Boone syndrome'.
Thanks for reading.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 15, 2017:
Yes, a strimmer is probably a tad OTT for potted plants on a balcony. LOL
Glad you enjoyed it, nonetheless. Thanks for your visit.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 15, 2017:
There is something very cool about a brush cutter. LOL I don't know how to explain it, but I love using one and cutting back the wilderness. Thanks for the review and happy cutting to you.
Nell Rose from England on April 15, 2017:
Great advice Mary, not that I need to buy one as I only have a balcony, but I do know people who do.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 14, 2017:
Sometimes gardening can seem more like jungle management! A brush cutter or a robust string trimmer may be just what you need.
Thanks for reading.
Audrey Howitt from California on April 14, 2017:
So good to know--we have a jungle of ivy and blackberries that I need to get to--to make way for spring planting--