I’ve never been a huge fan of power tools in the garden. Noisy, smelly, heavy things. Give me the clack-clack of a well oiled set of shears and the pleasing snick of sharpened blades transforming wafty hedges into neat green forms. Which is all very well, but in the real world, we don’t always have as much time as we would wish, and a powered hedge trimmer can mean the difference between getting a job done in the allotted time, and not even beginning it for fear of leaving it half finished. Until recently, for me as a jobbing gardener, this has meant a reliance on petrol driven machines, as electricity outlets aren’t always available and, when they are, the possibility of chopping through a cable is ever-present. But recent advances in battery technology are promising to elevate electric cordless option to the status of true contender, and I’ve been keen to see for myself whether this might prove a viable alternative for me, both at home and at work.
My standard hedgecutter is a petrol powered Stihl HS81R with a 30 inch blade, a great piece of equipment, although I’d love it to be lighter. And to give off fewer fumes. Over the last few weeks, instead of this tried and trusted machine, I threw myself in at the deep end and took a cordless battery powered alternative along with me to work.
The kit I was sent consisted of the EGO Power+ HT5100E hedge trimmer, together with the smallest 2.0AH battery and the CH5500 Rapid Charger, all items from their ARC Lithium 56V series of battery operated cordless tools.
The first thing to notice about the cordless hedgecutter in its smart black, grey and green livery is how little of it there is. Aside from the obvious difference in blade length from my usual kit (there is a comparable model with a 65cm blade but I also wanted to see if the loss in reach was compensated for by the increased agility), there’s just not much of it – if the petrol machine is a two-handed broadsword, this is much more of a samurai’s weapon of choice.
Sleek, but not flimsy was my impression. I was pleased to discover on picking the machine up that there was a reassuring heft, in spite of which it has proved much more comfortable to work with than my petrol model, either on the ground or perched atop a ladder. Because of the battery it’s not as light as an electric corded model, but for those used to petrol, that’s probably reassuring. Without the battery the weight is 3.6kg, and this size battery adds 1.3kg, rising to 2.9kg additional weight for the battery with the greatest capacity and run time.
Ergonomics & build quality
The tool is well designed, feels comfortable in the hands and is well balanced. It’s easy to operate the controls with gloves on, and both the battery and the handle position lever lock into place with a satisfying click. The rotating handle is something I’ve come to rely on with my regular machine, and it’s great to see it here, with an extra position at 45 degrees, which allows you to stand slightly off from the hedge when you’re cutting along the line – something I’m used to in a long reach cutter but not in the standard reach machines.
There’s a toggle switch for speed selection, and the standard safety implementation for the power where both the switches on the front and back handles need to be engaged before the blades will move. These are chunky, with a good positive action.
Blade and gearing
The 51cm blade works well for hedges up to six foot when working from the ground, though really you need to be using a sturdy ladder for anything above head height. With ladder in place I was happily cutting hedges up to 3m – for the kind of work I do, which rarely involves vast hedges, it suited quite well, and the slightly shorter length meant I found myself taking the cutter out more frequently when otherwise I might have relied on hand shears, so there was an overall speed advantage to my workflow. Of course the reach is limited for the tops of wide hedges, which is often a limiting factor for those without access either to both sides of a hedge, or to a long-reach trimmer. In which case, the 65cm model is worthy of consideration.
The two-speed selector allows you to be kinder to the gearbox when chomping through thicker stems, and I was pleased to see the deep teeth and the available torque made light work of the more unruly sections of some mixed native hedging. The faster speed, which I used most often, is ideal for fresh young growth, and although in spite of the name, strictly a hedge cutter rather than a trimmer, it coped well with box and other small-leaved hedging plants.
One apparent omission – I can’t seem to see a greasing point for the gears, nor did I see any reference to this in the manual. Something that might make the cost of the annual service/blade sharpening a little more costly.
One of the best points about the machine for me is that it’s so quiet. Rather like a knitting machine puttering away in your hands, which is deceptive when you see it guillotining its way through thick growth. A real plus.
Run and charging time
This battery, the smallest in the range, lasts for 40 minutes of continuous cutting. Which equates to a good hour of actual cutting by the time you’ve turned it on and off, moved your ladder, climbed into a hedge etc. This was all I needed for several jobs within my gardens, and when I needed more, the fantastic charger (which sounds like a jet plane taking off due to the internal cooling fan) had the battery back to full capacity within 20 minutes, by which time I’d raked up and barrowed away the clippings from the first session, and got the kettle on.
There is of course always an option of a second battery of the same size so you can alternate with the charger, or a higher capacity battery, if you don’t mind the additional weight.
This is a great hedgecutter which, in combination with the battery and charger, is more than capable of freeing the domestic gardener from the tyranny of the power cord, and comes with a domestic guarantee of 5 years for the tool and 3 years on the battery. With a 33mm cutting capacity, a decent run time, and the rotating handle, many pro gardeners might well be tempted to trade in their current kit. I think I may well have bought my last petrol hedgecutter.
This is a non-biased review based on a machine supplied on a review and return basis. Unless I decided to buy it. Which I might.
What are your experiences of cordless gardening tools? Do let me know on twitter, or in the comments below.