4.3.1 – Types of Brush Cutters

Over the years I have built up an extensive knowledge about brush cutters and blades and have visited many web sites and forums. Unfortunately one of the biggest problems I have found in my online searching, is how accurate is this information. Generally what I have found is, it is the blind leading the blind. This is especially the case with forums, someone asks a reasonable intelligent question because they want to further their knowledge on that subject and all this crap gets thrown back at them from people who often have limited knowledge on the subject themselves. The logic to this is simple really, why would someone who has extensive knowledge in that search field, waste their time visiting such a forum to answer what is to them a silly questions. Now a lot of people might disagree with me here, but this is exactly what happens with the type of brush cutter handle and for some reason, the loop handle brush cutter has ended up with a bum wrap which I would like to correct.

The bicycle handle Brushcutters;

Seems to be the choice of brush cutters that most people choose and which come in the largest range of sizes. I think people just like the looks of them, I know when I saw the first one that came out, I thought wow I had to have it. Unfortunately as I found out with experience, it is really only good for one thing, which it does do that very well. If your property is fairly flat and you have to deal with large areas of grass and low level weeds with few hidden objects, then the bicycle handle model is for you. This model allows you to do sweeping arcs from side to side without winding up your lower back. What you are supposed to do is keep your body straight and you sweep by pushing and pulling on the handlebars as the brush cutter pivots around the hitch point. Unfortunately this is not how must people us it, going by videos on YouTube. Looking closely you will see that most people using one of these brush cutters, tend to hold their hands fixed and wind up their backs to swing from side to side.

When it comes to steeper ground or areas with lots of hidden obstacles than I would not recommend one of these models. The reason being, that you do not have the same fine and quick reaction control as you do with the loop hand brush cutter. This is because the three point control is in the shape of a triangle, your two hands are on the front two points that are used to control your machine from side to side and up and down and the back and load carrying point of the triangle is at the back. Unfortunately this point is not a fixed point, but a hanging point off your harness that is able to move around. It is this floating point that results in the lack of fine control and the ability to quickly change directions if you spot a hidden rock at the last minute.

Vertical control with one of these machines is even more difficult, below is a photos of a customer trying to clear head high lantana on a steep bank. Using a bicycle handle brush cutters in these conditions, makes for very hard and dangerous work.

Difficulty of using a Bicyle handle brushcutter 1

Most major brands have a top end commercial brush cutter with spring or rubber vibration isolation systems to reduce vibration to the operators hands and harness as shown below. This top end brush cutter, designed to reduce vibration to the operator was originally designed by either Stihl or Husqvarna, as a clearing saw for commercial operators that spend all day cutting down unwanted regrowth in man made pine forests. They are designed to use a saw blade, the operator would not be cutting that close to the ground and so large horizontal movement of the cutting head would not be to much of an issue.

Anti vibration handle bars on brush cutter (600x339)

Unfortunately the benefits that this type of brush cutter stop at regrowth or large flat grassland clearing, as the large travel spring mounts allow a lot of horizontal movement and delay. If you see a stone hidden in the grass and quickly try and reverse your direction to miss it, the cutting head will continue to travel another 100mm or so before it reverses direction, making it very hard to avoid hitting objects and blunting the teeth on metal blades.

I have had a few commercial customers come back to me, complaining of excessive wear of my blades and when I have questioned them, they all have these large commercial machines. Up until getting and using one of these machines myself, I had thought that it was the shear power that these machine have that was causing excessive wear. But now after having used one, I know that it is the lack of fine and quick control of the cutting head that was causing the problem. Because try as I would when I used my machine, I could not avoid hitting obstacle or burying the blade into the ground. 

Horizontal movement of brush cutter head

These brush cutters are the most expensive of all brush cutters and most of the small country shops do not have them in stock or have much knowledge of them. So I suggest that you do not buy one, unless the shop is prepared to get one in and let you try it first to see if you are happy with its lack of fine control and whether or not having a metal blade that requires sharp teeth is important to you.

Unfortunately, I suspect that you will be very lucky to find a shop that will agree to this. I know, because I asked if I could try the brush cutter and they said no, I would have to buy it first, as it would then be considered as second hand. In fact they we not even that keen to put any petrol in it so that I could see how easy it was to start and how noisy it was, that would also mean that it was now second hand. I then asked if all the new mowers sitting out on the from lawn were being sold as second hand, as they were driven in and out every night. Oh no, that was different, new mowers, like new cars need to be driven around. Anyway, that at least persuaded him to put some petrol in it, to see how it started and sounded.

Another problem with cutting on sloping ground, is the difficulty of keeping the blade parallel to the ground. This is how Husqvarna shows how to cut on sloping ground, if it gets any steeper, something has to give, either your back or the blade, normally it is the blade.

The laws of physics dictate that the best cutting area of a metal blade or nylon line for that matter, is the 8 o’clock to 12 o’clock edge of the blade as you are looking down on it when using your machine. Basically, this means you should do all of your cutting with a right to left motion. (I think this should be the subject of a future article) This means that as the bank gets steeper, (like the one shown in the photos below that a customer sent me) you can only end up walking and cutting along the bank with the high side on your left side.

Blade after 3 hours 1

However the steeper the bank, the harder it is for a bicycle handle brush cutter to follow the sloping ground. If you have a floating cutting head as with the brush cutter shown above, you will find it impossible to not keep burying the blade into the ground.

Below are some photos of the largest engine brush cutter that I know of, it is a 92cc Chinese monster that I have nick named Brutus Maximus. The engine is so heavy on this brush cutter, just look at where I have locked in the hitch point, even with my heavy BrushDestructor blade hanging on the other end.

Brush Cutter Brutus Maximus 1 (600x222)

This brush cutter, comes as a multiple attachments brush cutters. Now I am 6’4″ tall and strong, but swing this machine around wears me out. So if you are lured into thinking bigger is better, than you are sadly mistaken.

Br4ush Cutter - Brutus Maximus 2

This monster is so heavy to throw around, that the bicycle handle bars kept rotation on the shaft, I kept trying to do the bolts up tighter until I stripped the threads on two of the bolts trying and lock it in place. The fuel tank on this machine is also massive and it drinks all of that in way less time than mid size brush cutters so you will also need to have shares in a petrol station to own one of these monsters.

Brush Cutter Brutus Maximus 3 (600x462)

Another major problem, is that he engine is so heavy to pull over, that you have to put you foot on the engine to hold it down as you pull the cord. Obviously to keep costs down, this engine shares many common parts with much smaller engines, the recoil starter broke on the second time I tried to use it. I have fitted another slightly more heavy duty one, but I am still very careful how I pull it over, because I know that this one could break just as easily.

Brush Cutter Brutus Maximus 4(600x338)

So unless you are buying one just to feed in massive amounts of power into a blade to see how long it will last, or looking for an impressive coat hanger for your top of the range Husqvarna harness, do yourself a favour, DON’T BUY ONE.

Chepa Chinese Brush Cutter Expensive Coat hanger for the best Harness (600x522)

While I am mentioning problems with cheap Chinese brush cutters, another thing to watch out for is the bicycle handles. Europeans have two arms of equal length, obviously Chinese people have unequal length arms. Try using one of these brush cutters for any length of time and you will end up with knotted up muscles in your back and shoulder that will require a massage to fix. Actually it might be worth getting one of these brush cutter, just for the excuse to get a massage.

What brush cutter do I recomend- Bicycle handle brush cutters

One other thing to watch out for with cheap Chinese multi- tool brush cutters, is the very poor quality of the shaft connection and what sort of handles they have. If you noticed in the photos above, Brutus Maximum is a multi tool brush cutter that has bicycle handles. Now I am at a complete loss as to how you are going to hold this beast up to cut a limb off a tree with a chainsaw pole attachment using the bicycles handles. Obviously the Chinese manufacturers and the importers who sell these machines here on eBay, are much smarter than I am. You might want to put that question to them before you buy one of these machines.

The loop handle Brushcutters;

Is best for everything else. If your property has steep slopes, tall woody weeds higher then waist high or trees that need pruning, lots of rocks or other obstacles to work around, then this is the model you need.

Pictures below show how much easier it is to use a loop handle brushcutter above waist height.

The loop handle model gives you much easier and finer control of the brush cutter. This is because of the three point in-line mounting system, where the load bearing hitch point is in the centre and the two hand control points are at the front and back. this allows for very precise control of the brush cutter in all directions even though the the centre hitch point is still a floating point. You can easily hold the brush cutter on its side to very quickly trim large, long and high hedges in a fraction of the time it would take to use a hedge trimmer. You can work in much tighter and steeper areas, prune trees above head height and trim up to valuable trees with less chance of damaging them.

However there is one major disadvantage to this type of brush cutter and that is vibration to your hands as there seems to have been less consideration at the design stage to control or eliminate vibration. Looking at a lot of manufacturers brochures, it seems manufactures look on this type of brush cutter as a second rate machine compared to a bicycle handle models, which could not be further from the truth. Some manufactures have address vibration isolation of the loop handle, but to my knowledge, only Husqvarna have addressed vibration at the throttle control handle. They are using rubber isolators, at each end of the control handle to absorb vibration from the shaft. I will give more details of this and photos of this first vibration reducing handle when I get a chance, since Husqvarna have not promoted it themselves, which is a shame. Hopefully more manufacturers will address this issue in the near future.

The Back Pack Brushcutters;

Like everything, they have their good and bad points;

They can cover grass areas very quickly, as the light handle is very quick to throw around especially with a nylon line head. Put a metal blade or a heavier BrushDestructor blade on it and with that extra weight at the end of the shaft, it becomes much slower to throw around. The extra weight also puts a lot of strain on your left arm, elbow and shoulder if used for any length of time and it is for this reason that I do not recommend fitting one of my blades to back pack brush cutters.

With this type of brush cutter, it is the quality of the mounting harness and vibration isolation that makes the biggest difference between one that will work well for you long term. The older and cheaper models only have a shoulder harness, that put a lot of backward pressure on your shoulders. The new models from the main brands like Stihl and Husqvarna have a wide waist strap, that transfers a lot of weight to you hips.

Personally, I have only ever used the older shoulder strap models and with these versions you fell like you are going to fall backwards. So you have to always lean forward, to counter balance the weight of the engine hanging so far out behind your back. The newer versions that has a good quality wide wast strap that should transfer a lot of the weight to your hips. Spreading about half the weight to your hips and in theory reducing the feeling of instability, especial on steep slopes. Another disadvantage is that they are not as easy to lift up and put on as you would think.

I would say, that like the bicycle hand brush cutters, they are great for use on large flat areas. However I would not recommend their use on steep and slippery ground. The weight of the engine unit raises the total centre of gravity of your body and shifts it further back as well, making balancing more difficult as you throw the shaft around.

If you should happen to loose your balance it is much more difficult to prevent yourself from falling over and rolling down the hill and because of the flexible shaft you are potentially more likely to come into contact with the metal blade than you are with a straight shaft brush cutter. Coming into contact with a spinning metal blade (especially a BrushDestructor Blade) is not something I would want to happen to anyone.

Also, having the engine so close to the body with the vibration and electromagnetic fields from the engines spark ignition system is not good for you. So unless you are only cutting grass on flat ground for short lengths of time, I would not recommend getting a backpack brush cutter.

If you do like the idea of a backpack brush cutter, see if you can get one to try for a few hours to see if  you like using one. Or at the very least, see if you can wear one in the shop for half an hour to see if you can get use to the weight on your back and the load on you arms. As I have said before, these are my personal opinions.

Also if you are buying one of the cheaper Chinese brands, see if you can get the dealer to give you a longer warranty on the rubber isolators as the Chinese made isolators just do not last or choose a model with spring isolators.

Back Pack brush cutter

Below is the rubber isolator after 13 months and only three uses. After having to fit a new recoil starter and on the fourth use, the engine fell off the frame and that was the end of it. It was assigned to the back of the shed, never to be seen again. I will also add that this brush cutter was stored in a dry shed out of the sun, so UV exposure was not the cause of the rubber disintegrating.

Back Pack brush cutter rubber isolator failing

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