Complete Brush Cutter Guide & FAQs
If you have landed on this article on brush cutters, you have probably already heard about it and thinking of buying one. By now you might be aware of what a brush cutter is – basically the big brother of a string trimmer. Also known as a clearing saw, brush saw or weed destroyer, a brush cutter targets thick and hearty vegetations that are otherwise quite impossible to cleared out by a string trimmer or a weed whacker. In this article, we tried to address some rudimentary aspects and questions regarding the tool and thus prepare a complete brush cutter guide.
Brush cutter 101
A brush cutter is yet another type of trimming tool and used in works where a lawn mower or string trimmer falls short. A thick brush comprising woody grasses, brambles, saplings, etc. cannot be dealt with trimmers or mowers usually and calls for brush cutters. Moreover, brush cutters are also handy for usage in areas that are difficult to reach because of being located on a hill or grade.
In terms of appearance, a brush cutter looks very similar to a string trimmer but is much more powerful and heavier. It comes in various sizes and specifications, with blades or strings equipped as the cutting component. Depending on the intensity of your chore, you should settle for a cutter that is easy to use as well as efficient. We will discuss further on the deciding factors in the later sections.
Types of brush cutters
Brush cutters can be classified according to multiple criteria. In this section, we talk about the various types based on the power source, structure / design, and functionality.
According to the power source, there are 2 types of brush cutters: Gas and Electric.
How these two types differ is needless to mention. Although majority of brush cutters are gas powered, the electric units are worth considering as well. Gas powered cutters are further subcategorized into 2-stroke and 4-stroke engine types, while the electric counterparts have a range of 20 to 80 volts available.
Gas powered brush cutters are rather bulky, along with being noisy. But its pros include the ability to tackle intense cleaning, that too over large areas without being tethered to a point. The 4-stroke engine cutters have bigger engines with higher power output, thus weighs and costs more. The 2-stroke engine cutters have smaller engines comparatively and hence are easier to maneuver.
Electric brush cutters are much lighter and less noisy than the previous type. However, they are either battery powered or corded, which limits their runtime or the range they can cover. 20V units are suitable for your average yard maintenance, but for thick vegetations you should opt for 40V and above.
In terms of structure / design, there are 2 types of brush cutters: Bicycle handle and Loop handle.
Bicycle handle brush cutters tend to be quite pricey and are best for large, flat areas. Uneven surfaces with slopes or hidden obstacles would be a nightmare with this type of handled cutter. The design of the handles and the significant distance between them and the cutting component makes it impossible to instantly move the machine away from a sudden, unseen hurdle. The delay in time between seeing and reacting to any change in a terrain rules out this type of cutter from being used in rough and tight areas.
Loop handle brush cutters is the more versatile option. They are much easier to use and provide better control compared to the previous type. But, one big disadvantage which cannot be ignored with this type is the lack of vibration elimination. Only a few manufactures have addressed this issue, while majority of such loop handled cutters need the respective attention.
There are further variations in structure, like straight or curved shafts and backpack versions. These modifications have their own benefits and drawbacks, that can only be decided upon by personal requirements and preference.
Lastly, according to functionality, there are 3 types of brush cutters: Handheld, Walk-behind and Tow-behind.
Handheld brush cutters are the smallest type and have thicker lines and larger engines. These are appropriate for residential use with overgrown weeds, saplings, and grass.
Walk-behind brush cutters are very similar to lawn mowers, in the sense of the user ‘walking behind’ them. These are best suited for clearing off thick foliate over large areas under limited time.
Tow-behind brush cutters are the biggest type which you tow behind a vehicle, like a tractor for instance. These are mainly for extensive use to tackle high volumes of thick brush over very large areas.
Types of brush cutter blades
It is important to know about the different types of brush cutter blades and the distinctions between them. It would not only help you decide on buying one, but also educate you on what is best for your tool or requirement. There are mainly 4 different types of brush cutter blades – knife, chisel, smasher, and mulching.
These are the most common type and the standard piece to come with maximum brush cutters. They are usually stamped or lasered from thin steel sheets and come in various shapes or designs. The blades comprise several teeth as the cutting component that have sharp, front edges and slice through vegetations.
The cutting ability of such blades increase with the number of teeth they have. They are mainly intended for cutting through softer materials and are usually very durable. Moreover, they are easy to manufacture which makes them very affordable. However, knife blade teeth tend to dull out quickly and prone to breaking off when hit by a rock or pebble.
Like knife blades, have multiple teeth but significantly higher in number. However, there are further variations in the structure of this type. First, the teeth can be a continuous part of the disc, making it a one-piece blade, but bent offset. Second, the teeth can be chainsaw type, riveted to the main disc. And third, actual chainsaw chains fitted between two discs. These blades function mainly by shaving off or chiseling vegetations, not by slicing them. They cut best horizontally and are particularly good for woody substance (up to 60 mm thick).
Unlike knife blades, the cutting ability for chisel blades does not necessarily increase with the teeth number. A higher teeth number is not an issue in case of cutting soft, thin saplings. But for cutting thicker saplings or twigs, a higher teeth number means an increased loss of power. So for chisel blades, less teeth number is more efficient. Being more complex in structure, such blades usually cost more than knife blades. Previously, steel was a common choice of metal for manufacturing these blades. But over the years, tungsten carbide tips have taken over the design, which brought the cost down substantially.
These are not blades really; they have pivoting metal parts that smash through the foliate. They lack sharp edges and depend primarily on the weight of the blades that remove brush or weeds using centripetal force. Since slicing is not the forte of such blades, smasher blades are good for soft material like grass or water weeds only.
Multiple metal parts mean that these blades cost more and consume a lot of power to maintain the rotational speed. But one advantage they have is the nonessential maintenance, i.e. no sharpening of teeth or edges. Plus, this blade is good for mulching, which takes us to the next and last type.
Also known as 3-in-1 blades, mulching blades are used for mulching, bagging, and discharging. They have higher cutting edge comparatively and include curves, along with two cutting planes along their edges. This enables the blades sweep the grass into the deck and cut them several times into tiny pieces, that fall back onto your lawn. They work best with large brush cutters, as they require more power, and are fit for regularly mowed lawn. This is because overgrown grass tend to clog under the deck, making mulching blades not suitable for tall grass or woody weeds.
How to use a brush cutter
Brush cutters are rather heavy duty tools, so it is very important to wear protective gear before starting. Protective boots, full pants, gloves, hearing protection, googles or face shield are all necessary to avoid any sort of injury.
Next, make sure you use the tool in a well ventilated area and at least 10 feet away from your refueling spot. Hold the cutter parallel to the ground and ensure that your footing is secure. Always hold the brush cutter with both hands and keep your wrists straight with the arms bent slightly.
Generally, cutting attachments rotate counter-clockwise and so it is better to use the cutter in the corresponding direction, i.e. right to left. For long grass or tough weeds, you should start at the top and make two passes, the second pass being from left to right. The first pass clears the top grass and tends to comb them down towards the left. The second pass from the left direction ensures to get those remaining lowered blades, cleaning efficiently. But be wary not to raise a brush cutter above your waist height.
For large and flat areas, assign smaller squares all along and deal with one square at a time. Start with the outside and work towards the center. Assign parallel strips for slopes instead of squares. If you have several obstacles, clear the adjacent area around each obstacle first.
brush cutter FAQs
We came across several inquiries regarding brush cutters and compiled the most basic and commonly asked ones. Hope it helps!
1) What type of brush cutter should I buy?
It depends on the amount and type of upkeep your yard calls for. You can refer to the types of brush cutters section of this article for the answer. In short, for light chores, electric / handheld brush cutters would be fine. For moderate to heavy-duty chores in a large area, you can opt for gas / walk-behind brush cutters. And for commercial level projects, you might require the tow-behind options.
2) How much power does my brush cutter need?
The denser the foliage the more power you need. For light to moderate brush, you would need gas brush cutters with at least 25cc and 1.2 HP or electric brush cutters with 20-40V. Heavy vegetations would require gas units with at least 35cc and 2.0 HP or electric units over 40V.
3) Which brush cutter blade should I use?
There are mainly 4 types of brush cutter blades: knife, chisel, smasher, and mulching. There is one additional type that we'd like to mention, but it's not that common as the others; the brush destructor. You can refer to the 'type of brush cutter blades' section above to know more. Or, TLDR: knife blades are for slicing thorugh soft vegetaion while chisel blades are for shaving off hard materials. Smasher blades smash thorugh vegetaion and so work best with soggy, watery growths, while mulching blades are for mulching. Lastly, brush destructors are sort of an all-in-one type blade which can substitute the other four types.
4) How much does a brush cutter cost?
Good quality brush cutters can range from $150 to over $500, depending on various models and specifics.
5) How thick can a brush cutter cut?
Brush cutters can cut dense vegetation up to 4 inches thick with appropriate blade attachments.
6) Are gas brush cutters better than electric brush cutters?
Depends on your requirement and budget. Gas brush cutters offer more options and are not limited to a certain area. They can cut through anything and everything, including thick weeds, saplings, brambles, and are pricier. Electric brush cutters can only cover limited regions due to their power source and have relatively lesser power output. Consequently, their cost is lower too. Both types offer decent to admirable quality product for the price. Gas brush cutters would be better suited for heavy-duty tasks while electric brush cutters would suffice for moderate to light cutting.
7) What is the difference between a brush cutter and a string trimmer?
Simply put, brush cutters work through heavily overgrown areas while string trimmers merely trim away light brush and weeds. And as brush cutters are designed to chop off woody stalks or dried brush, they are equipped with more powerful motors than string trimmers. You could take a look at our detailed article on brush cutters vs. string trimmers to learn more about their pros and cons.
8) What is the difference between a brush cutter and a whipper snipper?
Whipper snipper is another name for string trimmer, which is also known as a line trimmer, strimmer, weed whacker, etc. The difference lies in the intensity of growth that the tools can clear. Whipper snippers are mainly used to trim grass and weeds while brush cutters are used to clear thicker and denser vegetation.
9) What is the best handheld brush cutter?
This is a subjective matter and the answer varies from person to person. However, brands like Husqvarna and Makita are leading the race as usual. Check out our review article on some of the top brush cutters of the year to learn more.
10) What is the best walk-behind brush cutter?
Did you find this article useful? Let us know in the comments!