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** Finding Maureen **
Just how many lawn mower varieties does a universe need? I came across at least ten different manufacturers, each with a bewilderingly 'not quite the same' range. Mcculloch themselves have a staggering twelve variations of petrol mower (that I could discover on the Internet). If that is representative of all manufacturers then there must be around 120 subtly different machines to choose from.
In making my choice I identified two important issues. The price needed to be under £200. I have a largish garden so I decided on an 18 inch or 46 cm cut width (they seem to range from 40 up to 53 cm)
Things that didn't seem so relevant turned out to be:
~ mulching - I already have a big moss and thatch problem
~ roller - not really fussed about making pretty stripes and adds £70 to the cost
~ grass collector size - this is generally matched to the cut size and I guess bigger also means heavier
~ self-propelled - another thing to go wrong and, anyway, this is all part of my fitness regime!
Given that my current mower, Old Smoky, is too thirsty/noisy/smelly I was keen to compare useful things like:
~ fuel consumption
~ noise level
But this type of information is not generally made available by the manufacturers so I could not make a judgement on these issues. To their credit Mcculloch do publish a figure of 96 dB(A) LWA for noise. Just what does that mean? A little research suggested that this is a measure of the sound power level adjusted for human sensitivity (this is not the same as a straight dB(A) figure). Some comparisons I found were:
~ a jet engine - 160
~ a rock concert - 140
~ a chain saw - 110
~ normal speech - 70
Buried inside the engine manual it suggests the noise level 'at the ear' is a modest 84 dB.
I spent hours looking through web sites and visiting the likes of B&Q and Homebase. Having decided on the Mcculloch I found it was available at the same price (£159 on 26/9/8) at a number of Internet shops. More by chance than anything else I purchased from www.gardenlines.co.uk and got free next day delivery and a free bottle of engine oil in the deal.
** The Box **
Due to the size and weight this is really only safe as a two man lift. Even the courier asked me to help him get it off the van. The box measures 44x57x74cm and is labelled as weighing 31.2 Kg.
Inside the box is a worrying limited amount of packing. One piece of stiff cardboard and a sheet of bubble wrap was clearly not enough to get my precious new possession from the factory in Italy to my door. There were quite bad abrasion marks on the tubes that make the upright handle assembly and a smaller scratch on the mower body.
Another surprise "right out of the box" was the branding. Just what exactly did I buy? The motor is labelled Briggs & Stratton Sprint XC40, the mower has a Mculloch M46-500C logo on the front and a Husqvarna product plate at the back. No mention of Titanium anywhere. When I queried this I was told the black version I had opted for was badged as the M46-500C - the same specification in silver is badged as a Titanium 46S. I suspect that this is really a substitute as the M46-500C can be found as a separate product described as the "new 2008" model at £10 more. Too confusing!
Inside the box was an envelope with a manual for the mower and another for the motor, a bag of fixings (nuts bolts, washers, cable ties, a spring and a squiggly metal thing), two moulded plastic parts for the grass catcher, a plastic guard for the rear opening (for when the grass catcher is not in use) with an associated metal rod, the metal tubing handle assembly in three parts and the mower base (with wheels, cutter and motor all pre-assembled).
** The Manuals **
Horrific! Written for multiple models and in multiple languages with the most confusing combination of pictures and words that I have ever come across. It took me about 45 minutes from opening the box to cutting the first blades of grass and I have a university degree, 25 years work experience in a technical field, I've rebuilt motor bike and car engines and am regarded as generally competent by my wife when it comes to jobs around the house. The mower assembly manual is as useful as Granny when it comes to joining the bits ("perhaps its not supposed to go there dear"). Fortunately there are a limited number of parts so a little trial and error and repeated squinting at the pictures eventually won the day.
** Build Quality **
The grass box, made of two moulded plastic parts, snaps together and then seems reasonably sturdy if not a little bit heavy. More expensive products use a plastic and mesh combination to reduce the weight. When trying to match the two parts together I spent about five minutes convinced they had sent me the top from one model and the bottom from another. Eventually I found that by judicious use of force I could bend the plastic to meet and snap into the slots intended.
The grass box fits by lifting up the rear cover (yellow plastic flap on a hinge) and hooking it onto a couple of pegs. This seems to work well although the box rides low and can be unhooked when going over bumps or tilting the machine to help with cornering.
The on-off handle bar, handle tubes, cutter, mower base and engine assembly all appear sturdy and likely to survive the rough and tumble of garden life.
The wheels are a disappointment. Black, solid plastic wheels. With yellow plastic wheel trims! These are a push fit and look a bit tacky, its tempting to add some yellow racing stripes and furry dice to complete the ensemble. I would have liked to have soft, squishy rubber wheels that spread the weight more effectively when running over soft ground. The main problem I have with the wheels is the height adjustment. Each wheel must be adjusted individually by moving a lever into one of five different positions. The lever locks into position thanks to a bit of bent metal poking into one of five holes punched in the side of the mower base at each corner. Two things worry me with this. Firstly the adjustment is a bit too course - I already want to set the height between two of the provided holes but I can't. Secondly those little bent bits of metal poking through their holes are bound to go rusty over time and if they break off then the cutting surface will crash to the ground and be unusable. This design seems to be standard at this price point.
Overall I am reasonably happy with the look and feel. I had a choice of silver or black finish (the yellow bits are mandatory) and chose black. It looks sleek, modern and powerful - every boy-racers dream.
** The technical details **
Obviously the details might vary a little if they keep updating the model. Here are the details for the M46-500C:
~ length 142cm, width 53cm, height 108cm
~ Weight 31.2kgs
~ 46cm/18inch cut width
~ Hand propelled
~ Steel cutting deck
~ Ball bearing wheels
~ 5 position (25-70mm) cut adjustment height
~ 50 litre grass bag
~ Adjustable handle angle/height (but only slightly)
~ Folding handles for storage (making it 60cm high)
~ Briggs and Stratton Sprint XC40 four-stroke petrol engine
~ Pull start
~ Pre-set engine speed
~ 1 Year manufacturer's warranty, 2 years for the engine
The manual says you should change the oil after the first five hours of use and then every 25 hours or at the end of the season. There's also some advice about cleaning the spark plug, air filter and some waffle about longer term storage.
** Cutting the grass **
Once assembled you:
~ Fill up the oil (0.6L SAE30)
~ Fill up the petrol tank (0.9L unleaded)
~ Squeeze and hold the on/off bar at the top of the handle
~ Pull the starter handle situated half way up the handle
and it starts! Just purrs really. No fuss, no bother. It just runs. Push it along and it cuts the grass.
I found the pull start quite easy although my wife can't seem to generate enough speed and force to make it work. This is a significant problem as starting is a regular activity. The on/off bar must be continuously squeezed to keep the machine running. As soon as you let go, for example to move a toad out of the way or empty the grass box, the machine stops dead. Perhaps I should have paid more and got an electric start model.
Due to the weight of this machine I found the 4.5cm wide hard plastic wheels sunk into my soft and mossy lawn leaving two small furrows that were useful as a guide when lining up the next run. This also means that the mower is a bit harder to push if the ground is soft and, of course, it affects the height adjustment. On my lawn these furrows disappeared after a day or two leaving a smoothly manicured swath of green. Very pleasing.
During operation the motor noise and smell are not a problem. Just a slight whiff of exhaust if you get immediately downwind and its possible to hold a normal conversation when friends gather around the running machine to admire your new purchase.
As its wider than Old Smoky (an extra three inches of cut per run) I guess it is taking me a little less time to get around the property. It is certainly a lot less noisy and smelly.
I found that the 0.9L of unleaded petrol (a full tank) allowed the mower to run for over two hours when engaged in average grass cutting (the grass is not too long or too wet at the moment). I worked out, roughly, that I cover 60 metres a minute which gives me a fuel consumption of 8 kilometres per litre (your results will vary). A friend suggested that his Honda mower did much better but then it did cost him three times as much to buy.
** Conclusion **
If you are looking for a cheap mower capable of handling a large lawn then this is a good choice.
If you want ultra quite, self driven, variable speed cut, built in DVD player, etc then you need to pay a lot, lot more.
Maureen - she's cheap but I like her.
Having just moved into a new home and started to notice patches of Mildew I decided I needed a dehumidifier. Checking out the prices on the Internet quickly brought me to Wickes. I paid £89 (September 2008) which is considerably lower than anything else I've seen with similar capability. I decided to pop down to my local store so I could eye-ball the item before parting with my cash, although the Wickes on-line shop was offering free delivery.
The box it comes in is smaller than I expected (about 2 feet tall, 1 foot 3 inches wide and 1 foot deep), yet is still large enough to be reused as a hiding place for a small child. It was no problem to lift and carry out to the car although it weighs about the same as a three year old boy (15Kg). Once home I discovered there was very little else in the box but the unit itself.
Apart from removing a few bits of sticky tape (the nice stuff that doesn't leave goo behind) it was ready to be plugged in. It has a couple of hand holds at either side to help lift it out of the box and four good sized castors so you can roll it close to a plug.
The manual is clear enough but doesn't really have a lot that it needs to say. Apparently you are supposed to use a vacuum cleaner on the snap out filter every two weeks. You are not supposed to poke things into the grills or do other silly stuff (so keep toddlers away from it). The eight page A4 booklet includes a short troubleshooting section - Problem=not working, Cause=no power, Solution=switch on.
I am impressed with the build quality. All the bits fit together well and it has a resilient feel to it. Although it won't get mistaken for a piece of artwork it looks functional and is not unattractive. It comes in a beige sort of off-white sort of creamy sort of colour. The mains cable is a modest five feet which is not nearly long enough for me. I'm afraid I quickly disregarded the manual's safety note on the issue of using extension leads.
It really is simple to use. The control panel on the top has four buttons and an LCD display. One button switches it on and off. Another button lets you set time delays for starting and finishing (so perhaps you could run it during cheap electricity times). There is an up/down button that lets you set the desired humidity level (the machine will then only do its thing when the humidity is above your set level). Finally there is a button to flip the fan speed between low and high.
During operation the LCD display tells you the temperature and the humidity (% relative humidity) and confirms the fan and desired humidity settings. I found the display a bit disappointing. It is set down well below a plastic cover and has no back light. The desired humidity setting numbers are too small to comfortably read although the other information is a reasonable size. The most annoying part is that the unit pumps out air through a vent at the top - so as you squint to see the information you have a blast of dehumidified air drying your eyes.
The unit sucks air in through a filter about half way up its back. It pumps out slightly warmer air vertically from a vent on the top. This makes it useful for drying things positioned above it: damp clothes, freshly washed hair and small children. I would have liked to have an adjustable vent to allow the air flow to be directed horizontally as well. This small design change would help with things like: drying damp walls, cupboards and larger children. But it doesn't have one.
Wickes supply about ten feet of PVC tube (13mm diameter) for continuous draining. So far I have only used the integral water collection tank. It holds about 4 litres and includes a float/sensor that stops the machine when it gets full. It is easy enough to remove, empty and refit the tank. Another little annoyance however is that, on a couple of occasions, when removing the tank a tablespoon of water has dribbled out onto the floor - it is supposed to be helping me dry the place out.
In order to help compare these units they publish the litre per day moisture removal capability. This unit is rated at 20 litres but this is only achieved at 30 degrees C in a constant 80% relative humidity. It seldom gets to 30 degrees C in Norfolk and my damp problem is not quite at 80%. I left the unit running in my damp kitchen overnight. I got about one and a half litres of water and the humidity reading went from 65% down to 50%. A little Internet research suggested that a comfortable/desirable level is 45% and that you need to drop below 60% to stop the spread of Mildew.
The manual says it has a power input of 350 Watts although I guess this is when running at high speed with the compressor doing its temperature thing (the compressor works like in a refrigerator and switches on and off as needed to maintain the temperature differential that allows condensation to form inside the machine). My current electricity provider gives me a KW/h for about £0.15 so running this flat-out for a whole day might cost as much as £1.26. Using a plug in power monitor I discovered that, for my installation, it used 33 Watts with just the fan running on high and 260 Watts when doing its best to suck up moisture. After one hour I had used less than a third of a Kilowatt suggesting my daily bill will be about £1.
Operation could not be described as whisper quiet. I suppose I was hoping for better but, with a big fan and a mini refrigerator built inside, perhaps I was not being realistic. I wouldn't want to try sleeping with it running in the same room. Today I had the thing running at high speed at one end of my sitting room while I sat and watched TV at the other end. I guess there was about 20 feet between us and soft furnishings to soak up the noise. It was unobtrusive enough that I forgot that it was switched on. I think the sound levels vary depending on the surface, how hard its working and how full the water tank is (it got much rattlier when the tank was three quarters full). I suspect that its in this area that the double-the-price models will win out.
In conclusion? Well, it successfully removes water from the environment. It is still a little early to say how much this will affect my life but the rooms I've used it in do seem to smell nicer. Overall I am pleased with my latest toy!
[This review first published on Wickes web site]
The theory goes that the best beer you'll ever drink is the one you get when you are most thirsty, the best meal when you are most hungry, and the best hotel when you are most desperate to be home. I found myself on the weary end of a five hour, 270 mile drive. The objective being to attend a short but stressful meeting with a client. Alas it wasn't short. Alas it was stressful. With darkness falling I found myself on the edge of Plymouth wishing I was 270 miles away. So with a heavy heart and a light overnight case I started to follow the directions to the pre-booked hotel that the company had so thoughtfully arranged for me. Always an optimist I visualised the comfy room and the cool beer waiting for me. Just fifteen minutes later I was walking into the plush, four star lobby to claim what was rightfully mine. Sinking feeling. "I'm sorry sir I can't seem to find your reservation". ?Well look again? (grumpy business man starting to show through otherwise professional veneer). A few moments more and the hotel manager turned up to inform me that the company credit card used to reserve my room had ?been declined?. Funny in a twisted sort of way. "No problem", I announce, "because I have one made of plastic and not rubber!? "Sorry sir", they reply, "but we are now fully booked". I am advised to try a little further down the road where there are plenty of lesser hotels. The staff busy themselves with legitimate, fee paying customers. It's now got to the point in the evening when my stomach starts rumbling. Tired, hungry, completely lost up a one-way street, I pull up outside a lesser hotel a little further down the road. My company won?t book hotels like this one because they?re not part of a big chain. Still, it looked nice and friendly, probably my biggest need was for ?friendly? right then. The Riviera Hotel in Plymouth. I gingerly e
nter the front door and, with a note of pleading in my voice, enquire after a room for the night. Relief! A room, a restaurant, and a bar. I felt the tears welling up but managed the check in process without embarrassment. In short I found this a really friendly, comfortable hotel which is well placed for seeing historic Plymouth. In long? The Riviera Hotel is a husband and wife run venture. Both are charming and friendly and have the knack of being there when needed without making you feel like you are under observation. The hotel itself has eleven rooms with the usual accoutrements (teas maid, TV, hairdryer, beds, cupboards - you get the idea) and has that recently redecorated feel to it. All rooms are non-smoking ? hurrah ? although the bar did have ash trays ? boo! There is a bar, a cosy restaurant, a bar, a lounge area, a bar, a staircase to go up and down with, and of course a nice bar. The architecture is Victorian and I?m sure Her Majesty would have been amused by the comfortable furnishings, especially in the bar. I had a wonderful meal there, freshly prepared and negotiated to be slightly off-menu (me a fussy eater ? you don?t know the half of it). Did I mention there was a bar. That was good too. After a pleasant evening chatting at the bar with my host and a deep, rejuvenating sleep I decided over breakfast to use MY TIME and spend some of Saturday morning doing the tourist bit before heading home. Plymouth is a great spot for a holiday visit. The Riviera is walk-able to lots of tourist sites. Take a look at the City Info Directory at www.plymouth.gov.uk which, although trying and failing to be all things to all people, provides lots of local information. The town is steeped in history. Something about the Pilgrim Fathers playing bowls with Sir Francis Drake before sailing off to Spain - or somewhere like that. Here are some useful bits of information? The Riviera Hotel
8 Elliot Street The Hoe Plymouth PL1 2PP Its off Citadel Road - watch out as this is a one way street. Phone +44 (0) 1752 667379 Fax +44 (0) 1752 667379 E-Mail email@example.com Web www.rivieraplymouth.co.uk/ You may have guessed by now that I would go back there ? perhaps for a long weekend break and no nasty business meetings. You can?t make a hotel into a home but The Riviera does a good job trying.
+++ NEWSFLASH 3 Oct 2008 +++
This attraction changed hands sometime around 2007 and the current owners have decided to close until further notice.
Check the following website for updates:
+++ NEWSFLASH END +++
The last two years have seen our holiday schedule include Sutton Windmill and Broads Museum. We all agree that we will be returning for another visit in 2003.
The site is fairly compact but contains a windmill, without sails, and a selection of other museum buildings, each with a different theme. You will find:
~ 1800's Pharmacy - a real one, not a reconstruction
~ Two engine houses - steam and diesel monsters
~ A Broads Life museum - including domestic, trades and veterinary
~ A world famous tobacco museum - all things smoky
I've always favoured the sort of museum that lets you feel like you have really stepped back into the past: the smells, the touch, the jumbles of the workplace, the neat order of the shop display, even the lighting all contribute to the aura. Not the sterile rows of display cases for me, with a 'guard' at every corner to make sure you are paying attention. But don't think that this place is without security, it was just unobtrusive. When we did bump into the proprietor it was more like meeting an old friend who wanted to tell us about his latest news. What an interesting, friendly and relaxed place.
I'd recommend planning a good half a day there. The museum buildings are quite extensive and broad enough to include something for everyone. The windmill is a real delight, provided you can cope with the stairs. My teenage children loved exploring and clambering all the way to the top. You will need to keep a close eye on smaller children as this is not a sterile environment. Even with my fear of heights I couldn't resist the breath-taking climb and the inspiring view from the 'cap'. I've explored a few windmills in my time and can honestly say that this is the biggest and the best.
This past year (2002) saw the addition of a nice picnic area which, like the rest of the site was well kept and litter free. I also see they now have their own web site which gives a good feel for what is on offer. Check out www.broadsmuseum.com for pictures and opening times.