Gas vs Electric vs Cordless Weed Eaters
Trimming is an essential part of your lawn maintenance; however it can be confusing to find the best weed eater for your particular application.
Today there are a wide range of string trimmers on the market - devices that are often referred to as weed eaters, after the popular brand of trimmer that swept the nation a few decades ago.
And while the Weed Eater was at one time the only option available to consumers, today they can choose from many different brands and types of trimmers, including a comprehensive collection of gas, electric and cordless models, sporting a range of different designs, styles and useful functions. We also have a page on the best battery powered weed eaters here.
Check out the top cordless models below
To help you make the most informed buying decision for your particular needs and workload, here we will talk about the string trimmer as a whole - its function, history and design - and discuss some of the benefits and drawbacks associated with gas, electric and cordless weed eaters, weed wacker, weed whip, call them what you will!
We have reviewed a few Black and Decker String Trimmers;
Here is the Black & Decker 20 Volt Cordless LSTE 525
Here is the LST 136W Cordless 40 V Trimmer
Here is the ST8600 corded model review
Here is the GH900 Electric trimmer
What Is a String Trimmer?
With names that include “weed eater” and “weedwhacker,” among others, the string trimmer is a very commonly used yard tool that relies on a durable, yet flexible plastic line or wire instead of a blade to cut weeds and grasses in hard to reach places - areas that may not be accessible to a mower or standard edger.
The string trimmer’s basic design includes a cutting head at the lower end of the tool, a long shaft roughly equal in size to a garden rake or shovel, and a handle near the top that enables the user to control the device and maneuver in tight places. Some models may also come with a shoulder strap, particularly some of the larger gas-powered trimmers which tend to be heavier than other types.
Brief History of the String Trimmer
The string trimmer has been around since 1971, and was invented by a man named George Ballas of Houston, Texas. Ballas came up with the idea for his “Weed Eater,” named for the way it “chews’ up weeds and grasses, while watching the revolving motion of cleaning brushes in an automatic car wash. His initial design, which was obviously perfected before the “Weed Eater” debuted in the mid 1970s, involved high-test fishing line, attached to a tin can and bolted to a standard edger.
Design and Features of All String Trimmers
There are certain properties that every grass trimmer has in common. The action of the cutting head/tool, for example, is fairly standard across all types, meaning that gas, electric and cordless trimmers all rely on the same basic process in terms of whacking away unwelcome weeds and grasses.
The plastic line or wire on all string trimmers is what actually does the cutting. This line is wound around a rotating wheel and typically fed through a small hole on the same spinning wheel. Once the wheel is activated, through the power of a gas, electric or battery-powered engine, it begins to spin rapidly. This rotating motion creates centrifugal force, and that force actually stiffens the line and creates the action necessary for cutting.
The line in string trimmers comes in different sizes and strengths, with thinner line designed to cut wispy grasses and weeds, and line on the heavier side of the spectrum designed to whack away more woody plants and stubborn weeds.
Check out the top Gas models below
When working with a string trimmer, occasionally the line outside of the enclosed wheel housing will snap off from the force of contact. To feed out additional line, users can merely tap the bottom of the trimmer on the ground, which activates a release mechanism that feeds out additional line to replace the spent portion. To find our review of the best string trimmer line, check our page here.
All string trimmers - gas, electric and cordless - have a shaft that extends from the cutting head to the handle. Some shafts are completely straight, while others are designed with a slight curve in the shaft that enables the tool to fit into hard-to-reach places.
All string trimmers also have a power lever, known as a clutch or accelerator, near the handle of the unit. After the string trimmer is started, this lever, when depressed, will speed up the rotating wheel of the cutting head, and when released, the engine simply idles - much like a car idles when the gas pedal is not engaged.
Check out the top corded models below
In terms of the engines that power string trimmers or weed eaters (which we will discuss in more detail in the following sections), some are powered by gas, while others are engaged through electric power, either AC or DC electrical power.
Moreover, the position of the engine can vary from one type of string trimmer to the next. For example, with gas trimmers, the engine is usually at the top of the tool, while electric trimmers have an engine located in the lower cutting tool itself.
Below we will take a closer look at gas, electric and cordless trimmers.
About Gas Weed Eaters
Gas-powered weed eaters are powered by fuel. Some top-of-the-line, industrial-strength gas trimmers have four-stroke engines, which means the only fuel they need is gasoline. However, the fuel for the more common two-stroke, gas-powered weed eaters consists of a mixture of gasoline and oil.
The oil, which is made specifically for two-stroke gas engines, usually comes in a small plastic bottle that is equal to 2.6 ounces in volume. This packaging strategy is no accident, as the ratio of gas to oil in (most) gas trimmers is one 2.6 ounce bottle of oil for every gallon of gasoline.
You can find our review of the very popular gas powered model from Husqvarna, the Husqvarna 128 LD here.
The fuel for gasoline-powered weed eaters is typically mixed in a separate gas can, and added to the trimmer’s fuel reservoir after the ratio is thoroughly mixed in that can. Once the weed eater is fueled, it is ready to use. Some models have a small bubble-like feature that, when pressed, can send a small amount of gas to the carburetor, while others have a choke, which essentially does the same thing: helps the trimmer start more easily.
We have reviewed the Echo GT-225 Trimmer here
Gas-powered weed eaters are started using a pull-string or rip-cord (much like a lawn mower). It may take a couple of pulls for the engine to finally engage, but once it does you should hear it roar to life and the engine should idle on its own.
The engine’s crankshaft is connected to the clutch or accelerator of the gas trimmer, which is attached to a drive shaft that extends the length of the tool to the flywheel/cutting head via a long cable. Once the clutch or accelerator is depressed you will notice the rotating wheel - and the plastic line or wire - begin to spin.
Now you are ready to tackle your toughest weeding, edging and yard-cleanup chores.
About Electric Weed Eaters
As you can see, gas trimmers have a lot of moving parts, and the process for starting these types of trimmers, from mixing the fuel to the moment it is engaged, is quite complex. Not so with electric trimmers,
Electric trimmers or weed eaters normally have the motor in the cutting head. Unlike the gas-powered trimmer, there is no need to pull a rip cord to start the engine. Electric-powered string trimmers start as soon as they have power.
String trimmers that run on electrical power have a (male) electrical connection near the top or handle of the unit, into which the (female) part of an extension cord is connected. The male end of that extension cord is then inserted into a wall outlet. Once that process has been completed, the trimmer has power, which is activated through a switch (much like a wall switch turns on a light).
Depending on the model, you may use up to a 200-foot extension cord. Keep in mind that light duty extensions may not be able to safely carry the electric load. Thus, make sure that you only use one with a heavy-gauge. There are a wide range of suitable cords available for garden use, you can find a selection here.
Except for the manner in which gas and electric trimmers are powered, there is very little difference in the two types of units. Like the gas trimmer, the electric trimmer has a clutch or accelerator, which when depressed rotates the flywheel or cutting head - and the string protruding from it.
Electric trimmers can typically only produce a maximum of 1200 watts of power, which is much less than the larger, gas-powered models. As such, electric trimmers are rarely used for industrial-sized jobs, but rather for basic household yard cleanup only.
About Cordless Weed Eaters
There is very little difference between electric and cordless weed eaters or string trimmers. Both run on “electric” power. Electric trimmers run on AC (alternating current) power and include a cord, while cordless string trimmers run on DC (direct current) power, which is supplied by a lithium-ion battery that emits a varying amount of voltage.
Once the battery is attached to the cordless trimmer, the user would again need to push a button or “flip a switch” to start the unit, and like all other type of string trimmers, it has a clutch or accelerator that, when depressed, activates the cutting head.
Cordless rechargeable weedeaters can run continuously for about 30 minutes to 60 minutes, depending on the size of the battery. Once the battery life is expired, it normally takes 3 hours or more to fully recharge. These cordless tools are much easier to use than a corded model, you also need to consider the extra cost of possibly having to use multiple extension cords. Manufacturers are now increasingly using brushless motors in these tools to make them far more powerful.
Now that we understand how all three types of string trimmers are powered and how they operate, let’s look at the pros and cons associated with gas, electric and cordless weed eaters.
Here are some of the pros and cons of gas-powered-weed eaters:
Pros of Gas Powered Weed Eaters
- More Power. Generally speaking, gas-powered weed eaters have more power than their electrical or cordless counterparts. This means they can tackle woodier and heartier plants and weeds than the others. So in a gas vs battery weed wacker power competition, gas would win.
- No Limitations. Because the gas-powered string trimmer has no cord, it is not limited by the length of that cord as to where it can go. This allows users to attack weeds wherever they occur, instead of relying on any proximity to a wall outlet.
- More Durable. The majority of gas trimmers have two-stroke engines, which are still more powerful than electric and cordless models. However, some of the larger models, which are typically used by professional landscapers, have powerful four-stroke engines that are very durable and long-lasting.
We have reviewed the Husqvarna 128 LD Weed Eater here
Cons of Gas Powered Weed Eaters
- Noisy. If you have ever been awoken by a gas-powered string trimmer you know how loud they can be. Some models are so loud, in fact, that users elect to wear ear protection.
- Fuel Costs. Given the cost of both gas and oil, gasoline-powered weed eaters can be very costly to fuel.
- Emissions. The emissions related to gas-powered trimmers can be potentially harmful to the user and detrimental to the environment.
- High Maintenance Costs. Given all the moving parts of a gas-powered trimmer, these particular types of weed eaters can be somewhat expensive to maintain.
Now let’s take a look at the advantages and drawbacks of electric-powered weed eaters:
Pros of Electric Weed Eaters
- Quiet to Operate. Electric trimmers are MUCH quieter to operate than gas-powered models, as they do not rely on a combustion engine. In a noise competition, electric vs gas weed eater, electric would win.
- Environmentally Friendly. Because there are no emissions associated with electric weedwhackers, they are friendly to the environment.
- Lightweight. There is no engine (or battery) on a corded weed eater, so they tend to be very lightweight, allowing people with less physical strength, including seniors, to conveniently operate them.
Get the best price for electric weed eaters on amazon
Cons of Electric Weed Eaters
- Limited Distance. Electric weed eaters are only as good as their cord is long. Moreover, they can only be operated in places where an electrical outlet is in close proximity.
- Less Power. Even the higher-end electric weed eaters only have a maximum output of 1200 watts of power - significantly less power than gas trimmers.
And finally, let’s take a look at the pros and cons associated with cordless or battery-powered weed eaters.
Pros of Cordless Weed Eaters
- No Power Cord. While both electric and cordless string trimmers rely on “electrical” power, the cordless units are not dependent on a cord.
- Can Reach Where Electrical Models Cannot. The lack of a cord means that battery-powered weed eaters can reach weeds and grasses that are outside the distance an electric-powered model could reach.
- Quiet to Operate. Battery-powered or cordless weed eaters are much, much quieter than gas weed eaters, and slightly quieter than electric models.
- Less Maintenance. The lack of a combustible engine means that battery-powered weed eaters are less expensive to maintain.
- Although batteries can be expensive, there is generally an option to buy other tools in the same range that can use the same batteries, so you only need to buy tools without batteries or charger once you have enough batteries for your needs.
Find the current price of cordless weed eaters on amazon
Cons of Cordless Weed Eaters
- Time Limitations. Because the battery on a cordless trimmer only lasts for 30-60 minutes at a time, they often tend to “die” before the job is completed.
- Battery is Expensive. The lithium-ion batteries that cordless trimmers rely on can be very expensive.
- Heavier than Electric Trimmers. The battery pack on the cordless trimmer adds weight, making them slightly heavier than electric trimmers.
Picking the best weed wacker depends on your specific needs and how you plan to use the tool. Naturally, if you’re looking for great power and convenience, the gas-powered trimmer is the correct choice, but if you’re looking for a lightweight, environmentally-friendly trimmer, with less mess and overall cost, you may want to choose an electric or cordless unit instead.
We have some useful tips regarding the type of leaf blower that may suit you best here.
Personally, out of the 2 electric-powered choices, I prefer by far, the cordless variety, as I always find the extension cord to not only get in the way, it also limits the range of operation of the tool.
Last update on 2020-02-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API