Stihl Brush Cutter Review
Our Stihl FS85
Here on our 8-acre farm in Brazil, we use the Stihl F85 brush cutter.
This was bought 8 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 divided 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 as a way of keeping 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 more problematic for my husband who is a below knee amputee. If he can get a solid foothold he can cut along the slope, if the grass is damp, or too choked with vine-type plants he will cut from the bottom. This is less efficient than a lateral cut but sometimes it's necessary.
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 are 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 which come into play whilst 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.
If you are cutting on a steep slope, expect some discomfort on the thigh and calf of the supporting leg. 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 8 years, we have had the machine we have replaced the carburetor, the starter cord, the cutting head, 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.
Because our brush cutter, or strimmer as my husband calls it, is always in use, we buy our line on a roll, not in small packets. We have also used a triangular shaped line which worked equally as well, but not worth the extra money, to our way of thinking.
As for buying Stihl line, we don't, because the price is higher. We want good quality but don't want to pay for a brand name. This Maxpower line is good quality and doesn't snap off like some brands we've tried.
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 him 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 which could fly up and hit you.
After using for a period of time, you may experience tingling or numbness in your fingers.
Types of Cutting
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
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.
Do You Use a Brush Cutter or String Trimmer?
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.