How to Choose a Hedge Trimmer
Back in the 1970s, your choice of hedge trimmer was pretty simple.
If you were a home user and you wanted to keep control of your privet hedge, you bought a
Black & Decker electric trimmer with a long lead.
On the other hand if you were a professional groundsman doing heavier work and often
operating in a park well away from any shore power, you selected one of the early 2-stroke
petrol-engined machines from the likes of McCulloch.
Nowadays, your choice is far greater. How do you determine which type of machine to buy,
and what are the differences between brands?
In terms of types, you have three choices.
Cordless Hedge Trimmers
This is the newest segment of the market and probably the fastest-growing. The revolution in
battery technology, spurred on by automotive research, has brought us new types like Nickel
Cadmium and especially Lithium Ion, which have lower weight, quicker charging, longer life
and greater power than ever before, so that a whole new range of machines can now be
effectively powered by these means.
Most cordless trimmer motors run on 18 volt batteries, but at the top end brands like Bosch
and Makita offer really powerful 36V models. The cordless trimmers offer a range of usable
time from 30 to 55 minutes. Charging typically takes 3 hours but some models using the
latest fast chargers and Li-ion batteries are achieving sub-1 hour times: a premium Bosch
model claims just 45 minutes.
Although battery hedge trimmers are generally used for light duties, some do offer wider
cutter gaps (of some 15mm rather than 10mm) which are normally more associated with
powerful machines. In association with a strong motor, this allows mature hedges and shrubs
with medium diameter stalks to be cut without jamming the machine.
The specialist short-cutter shrub cutting trimmers / garden shears are generally cordless
devices and battery power is perfect for this application.
Corded (Electric Hedge Trimmers)
Machines with cables attached obviously have an Achilles heel when compared with their
battery brothers, but if the work that you intend to do is likely to be within reach of a heavy duty cable extension then you may elect for the traditional mains-powered hedge trimmer.
With 240 volts and much greater torque, these trimmers can cope with rougher treatment.
They are also lighter to hold, not having to carry a battery: an average sub-18” cutter-length
machine is between 2 and 3 kg compared to 4 kg or more for an equivalent cordless.
This allows greater tooth spacing – from 16mm on smaller machines to as great as 34mm on
the biggest Bosch machines, which permits small trees to be pruned. Hand in hand with this
is the greater cutter bar length that can be offered: there is a range of sizes right up to 750mm
Check the length of cord supplied with a machine – many have 10 metres but some supply 12
metres. If using an extension, make sure it is a 13 amp one with a thermal cutout. And always
purchase an RCD breaker to protect yourself against any accidental cable cutting.
Petrol Hedge Trimmers
Petrol power (or gas power for US readers) is still popular because it offers the same go anywhere capability as cordless electric, plus the ability to keep on working so long as you have brought along a relatively small amount of spare 2-stroke mix (of petrol and oil).
All the same features are on offer from manufacturers as in the electric sector of the market.
The potential downsides are the pollution of the engine (despite recent improvements from
most manufacturers) and sometimes, the difficulty of starting the engine with the pull-cord.
Extremes of temperature, rain or snow, and high altitude can all adversely affect the
willingness of the engine to start.
This makes the models that offer easy starting attractive. This includes those from Hitachi
with its ‘S-Start’ or McCulloch who offer a fuel pump that reduces the starting effort.
Petrol machines with their self-contained power plant and tank are a bit heavier than any
other kind, ranging from a lightweight McCullough model at 5.1kg to up to 7kg in some
One aspect to remember is that petrol-engined machines are noisy: they can be over 100dB
beside the machine and operators must wear ear defenders. Those with nearby neighbours
should also think about the noise nuisance factor.
Whereas most big-selling electric models are typically 400W in power, rising to around
700W for the most powerful Makita, petrol machines are all relatively powerful: the excellent
21.1cc Hitachi engine has 740W. And petrol machines top the size league, with bar lengths of
up to 31”/780mm in the case of an extra-long Hitachi 23.9cc/ 810W model.
When buying a machine, look at the fuel tank size: the domestic-use McCullough model has
0.2 litres but professional units have 0.6 litre tanks that allow long uninterrupted periods of
On all types of trimmer, a very useful feature is a swivelling rear handle that allows vertical
or angled trimming to be carried out much more easily and accurately. There are various
types of arrangement: Draper hedge trimmers have a patented 5-position rotating handle.
Long-reach models can be bought in electric or petrol types: they are specialist machines but
very useful for tall or awkward hedges and shrubs.
So in the modern market there is something for everyone: some makers like Bosch, who offer
home user and professional models, seem to cover every little niche. Get professional advice
and you will find a machine that suits you and your hedge right down to the ground.
Types of blades
Hedge trimmer blades range greatly in length, and again the one which is suitable for you
will be dependant upon the work you will be carrying out. The smallest blade is six inches
and is usually used for detail work on small hedges or topiaries. It is advised that in the
normal family setting a gardener would not need a blade larger than eighteen inches. At the
other end of the scale you have the 28 inch blade. These are obviously used in tandem with
the heavier trimmer (and by default the petrol trimmer) and are largely found in commercial
You should be aware that the longer the blade the heavier it will be and so the harder it will
be to control. If you are considering working with the larger blades (and trimmers) ensure
you feel safe with it before use