“ Brand: Stihl / Type: Grass Trimmer or Brush Cutter „
~~~ Note to the reader ~~~
I am doing the following review on our Stihl FE 55 electric brush cutter, which was manufactured by Stihl Ltd. in the USA from domestic and foreign components, exported to South Africa and was also purchased in this country. This, particular, model is, however, not listed under the product range of the company's UK website at www.stihl.co.uk There can be several explanations for the latter, but the one that makes the most sense to me is that the Stihl company manufactures slightly different versions of the same kind of machine in the different countries where it has manufacturing facilities. If I am right in this assumption, there can, literally, be tens of reasons why the company does this, like different consumer preferences, climactic considerations, electricity output levels etc., etc. in these different countries.
In order to review the FE 55 machine, I first searched for the closest equivalent of the former (specification wise) on the Stihl company's UK website (see above). The machine I identified there as the one which resembles the FE 55 the closest, is the FSE 60 electric brush cutter (I incorrectly called this machine a "grass trimmer" in my review application, but it should really be a "brush cutter". So sorry . . . ). You can see a comparison of the basic specifications of these 2 machines under the heading "Basic Machine Specifications", below. If you, like me, are satisfied with the assumption (which, I believe, is reasonable) that whatever the FE 55 machine is in the USA and those countries it is exported to (like South Africa, where our machine was purchased), the FSE 60 machine, pretty much, is in the UK, I will, immediately, get on with reviewing our FE 55 machine.
~~~ Introduction ~~~
Shalom to you, dear dooyoo friends! Today I would like to review an electric, heavy duty brush cutter (We call these machines "Weed Eaters", in my country), i.e. the Stihl FE 55.
My wife and I are living in a small, one bedroom house, in Gordon's Bay, on the south coast of South Africa, approximately 60 km's from Cape Town. The property does not belong to us; we are only renting it from the owner. The latter used to live in a much bigger property next to us, but when her husband passed away, she decided that it was all too much for her and she, subsequently, moved to an old age home.
The above mentioned weed eater really belongs to her, but she kind of "gave" it to me, as a gift (This is how I take it, anyway, since I did not pay her anything for it), when she left, maybe because she knew I only had a lawn mower and nothing, at all, to really deal, effectively, with those nasty, long, thick and unwanted grass etc. growing up against permanent fixtures like walls, fences, hedges etc. You see, our home might be small, but there is a lot of grass around here as well as not a little bit of that other unpleasant reality which is part and parcel of any lawn, i.e. weeds.
Since I hate mowing lawns with a passion (just like Clint Eastwood, apparently, who said as much to his female co star in a movie he, himself, directed . . . When I heard this, I told my wife . . . "Here is just another reason why this guy is my favourite actor of all time."), I often leave it until it really gets out of control, by which time it is no small challenge for our lawnmower, even on a fairly high setting, to cut through it, never mind exhausting me who has to push said lawnmower around.
This is where the Stihl FE 55 Electric Weed Eater shows its true potential, and boy oh boy, this highly efficient grass "Packman", certainly, does not disappoint! I will expand on the latter under the heading, "Performance", below, but let us, first, consider the less exciting, but much more pressing matters such as basic operation, safety precautions, machine specifications and the like.
~~~ Before Operation ~~~
With electric machines such as the FE 55 there is, really, only one activity (besides the safety precautions, mentioned below) to perform before use, which is to check that there is sufficient cutting cord rolled up inside the plastic cutting cord casing wheel and that the two edges of set cord protrude far enough through the two little holes in the outer casing, into which the former nicely fits, to do the desired cutting, when the outer casing is furiously rotating during operation.
If the cutting cord needs to be replaced, the latter's wheel casing will have to be removed from within the, above mentioned, outer casing. In order to do the above the hard plastic cap, at the very bottom part of the machine, which holds the outer cutting cord casing and the spring within this casing, in place, needs to be unscrewed. By unscrewing this cap the outer cord casing can easily be pulled off the latter part of the rod which is a solid steel pin, approximately 70 mm in length and 12 mm thick. A strong cable connects this steel pin, at the machine's bottom end with the electric motor at the top, the latter which causes said cable to rotate during operation.
The cutting cord which is best suited for use in the FE 55 is a 2 mm hard plastic gut. Just by handling this, quite, thick cord it is not difficult, at all, to imagine what damage it can do to any kind of grass, weed or undergrowth when it knocks against the latter at the extreme speed the machine's electrically driven motor causes its casing to rotate. It is not difficult to replace the cutting cord. Most men will, instinctively, know how to do it, but for those who are clueless, it should all be explained in the machine's operating manual. After the cord is replaced and its casing securely fitted back into place, (The holes in the centre of the actual cutting cord casing wheel as well as the outer casing into which the latter fits, allows these moving parts to easily slide through the rod, into place), care must be taken to screw the cap, which holds the outer casing fast, all the way back. Failure to do so will hamper the machine's performance during operation and if said cap should come all the way off during operation (May Almighty Elohim forbid!), the moving parts which, as a result, will shoot off the rotating rod, in a split second, at the speed of light, can cause not a bit of injury, grief etc.
~~~ Basic Operation ~~~
This machine is so easy to operate that even an 8 year old child can do it. With your purchase you should also receive a rather long extension lead. One has to connect the socket on the one end of this extension lead to the little two pronged plug, which usually protrudes from the back of the hard plastic casing surrounding the electrical motor, on the machine's upper end. On the FE 55 machine this connection is exceptionally good in that the latter little plug fits securely into the above mentioned socket, provided for it, in such a way that these two fittings will never just disconnect on its own, but is also not difficult, at all, to sever, manually. The extension lead's other end, containing either a two or three pronged plug, need to be connected to mains, nearby. Once this is done, the operator can, immediately, begin to use the machine by just pulling the trigger switch, which is located on the underside of the FE 55 machine's motor casing, upwards.
From the time I first began to use this machine, to date (which is a period of no less than 6 - 7 years, by now), I have never found its trigger mechanism to be either over or under sensitive, something which I feel is extremely important with regard to these machines. I will quickly explain . . . If the trigger is too sensitive the operator may find that the machine will switch on with only the slightest touch, brush or knock against the trigger, and, in certain cases, without the latter being touched, at all. This is, clearly, an intolerable, never mind a downright dangerous, situation. If, on the other hand, the trigger is not sensitive enough, the machine's operator may, at times, pull it without the machine jumping to life, which can lead to endless frustration.
This is it, really. Make the necessary connections, squeeze the trigger and off you go . . .
~~~ Safety Precautions ~~~
It is quite vital that the operator of this kind of heavy duty, electric brush cutter (weed eater) should strictly and consistently implement the safety precautions which are, specifically, applicable to these machines. Failure to do so will, simply, even sooner than later, lead to serious and/or permanent injuries and in certain cases, even death.
I have decided to only mention, here, what I consider to be the four most crucial safety precautions with regard to these machines. Here goes . . .
1. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS wear protective goggles (glasses) over your eyes when operating any weed eater, never mind a heavy duty one like the Stihl FE 55. I cannot emphasize this enough. You know, human nature is a funny thing. How utterly careful a good 9 out of 10 people are not when they first start driving, but if they are not involved in any memorable, negative road incidents, over an extended period of time, it seems to, definitely, reduce their sense of, shall we call it . . . road vigilance.
The above scenario plays itself out in every sphere of life and it is no different in the "lawn moving business". Perhaps you have been operating these machines "goggleless" for some time, already, without any misfortune, but I will tell you, straight . . . You are walking on dangerously thin ice with regard to functional eyesight in the near future. On the more "challenged" sections of your lawn (if you get my drift), the cutting cord protruding from its, electrically driven, furiously rotating outer casing, at the bottom cutting end of these machines, will pick up pieces of dirt and even much bigger particles and project it in every direction, at the speed of light. If one or more of these particles should enter your unprotected eyes at the right angle, it can cause blindness, in a moment of time.
Most of the new weed eaters are manufactured with a protective shell of hard plastic built around the outer cutting cord casing (at least a third of the way around) for the express purpose of preventing most dirt particles from freely shooting out in all directions when the cutting cord bangs against it at that furious speed. The emphasis, here, is, of course, on the word "most". These protective shells are by no means full proof, simply because none of them are manufactured to go all the way around the outer cutting cord casing. At the very most the former will enclose the outer casing approximately two thirds of the way. It is, moreover, only logical that the further said protective shells are built around the outer cutting cord casings of these machines, the less effective the latter will be in doing the work which they are designed to do.
Another problem with these protective shells is that they, actually, eat up a lot more of the cutting cord than would otherwise (if there is no protective shell) be the case, because sometimes, during operation, the spinning cutting cord casing will release more cord than is necessary to do the job at hand, the ends of which would then, at that tremendous speed, bang against the side of the protective shell and, immediately, break off. In order, therefore, to utilize these machines at optimum capacity, so that the job at hand can be completed as quickly, efficiently, effortlessly and, not least of all, as economically as possible, not a few of its regular operators, like myself, actually prefer to remove the outer protective shells completely, which, if this is done, makes the wearing of protective goggles over one's eyes all the more critical.
2. Sometimes it will be necessary to adjust the cutting cord manually, if, for some or other reason, it is not properly released through the two little holes in the outer cutting cord casing, when the latter is spinning while the machine is being used. If this is the case, the operator must, at all times, remember to sever the electrical connection between the machine and the extension cord, the other end of the latter which will still be plugged into electrical mains, nearby. Failure to do so can activate the machine while its operator performs the above manual operation, which can lead to all manner of disasters, small and big.
3. Don't use the electrical versions of these machines, like the Stihl FE 55 on wet grass. It is a bad idea, for the simple reason that some of the, quite, significant amounts of water, which this machine will kick up during use, may well penetrate the open air vents in the casing housing the electrical motor at the top, back end of the machine. This can not only cause said motor to burn out, but give its operator a very unwelcome electron boost in the process (if you know what I mean), which can even prove to be fatal.
Covering the air vents in the casing surrounding the motor, in order to prevent the above from happening, is also no good, because the former are there for a very good reason, i.e. to allow air to circulate through said casing while the motor is running. This continual air circulation through the motor casing prevents the motor from overheating, and as a consequence of the latter, eventually, giving up the ghost.
4. This machine should not have too much of a problem to cut through dense, Amazon type grass jungles, given that the machine's operator does not try to perform this ultimate of challenges all in one go. This will be too much, even for a heavy weight like the Stihl FE 55. When the plastic casing surrounding the motor feels hot to the touch, the machine's operator should realize that the machine needs a breather. Ignoring the above can not only cause the motor to burn out, but also cause injuries to its operator.
~~~ Basic Machine Specifications ~~~
Since the FE 55 weed eater was, kind of, given to me, I have never had its operating instructions manual, in which one will find all this kind of information. I have, however, learned some of its specifications, like its 600 W motor driven by 220 -240 V's of electric current. Without having, physically, measured and weighed the FE 55 machine, I cannot imagine that these figures differ too much from that of the FSE 60's 1.53 m's and 3.9 kg's, respectively. The latter machine has a 540 W electric motor (which, closely, resembles the FE 55's 600 W motor), which is powered by 230 V of electric power.
~~~ Why I believe bigger is better with regard to these machines ~~~
Look, the truth of the matter is simply . . . . The bigger the machine (measured in size of motor), the easier it will handle just about any "grass" challenge you may choose to give it. Unless it is an out and out question of not being able to afford a heavy duty machine like the FE 55 or its FSE 60 English equivalent, I will, personally, not even consider purchasing the smaller type edge trimmer. With the latter you will ever, only, be able to trim your lawn's edges, nil else. Rather sooner than later the owners of these little edge trimmers, in my country, anyway, try to employ them in what the English seem to call "brush cutting". This is a big mistake, which will burn their little motors out, for sure. I have, personally, seen the evidence of the latter on more than a couple of rubbish heaps in my country.
Almighty Elohim (G-d) of Set-apart Scripture (The Bible) has ordered it so that the crown of His creation (human beings) cannot know what will happen tomorrow. Perhaps you have a beautiful little lawn today which hardly needs the attentions of a tiny edge trimmer, never mind an aggressive brush cutter, but sometime in the future you may just move to a place where the grass etc. is so long and/or unmanageable that nothing but a powerful brush cutter, such as the FE 55 will, at all, do to bring it under control.
The moral of the story is this . . . Rather invest in a decent brush cutter than in a small edge trimmer. A brush cutter can always do the work of an edge trimmer, but the latter can, under no circumstances, do the former's job.
~~~ Which is better, petrol or electric? ~~~
I will, just about, always prefer the electric rather than the petrol versions of most machines, never mind this specific one. In my personal experience I have, at times, found petrol machines to have a lot of "hang-ups", with regard to break-downs and maintenance, alone, whereas, with their electrical counterparts these kinds of problems seems to be non-existent.
Most petrol versions of machines like these also require a very specific fuel: oil ratio, as fuel, the latter, which, for the likes of me (who will be upset, already, that the d . . . lawns need mowing, again, after I had done it only yesterday!), is a downright nuisance to go and purchase, in the first place, never mind then having to carefully mix it in the exact ratio required for use in the machine and thereafter to find a secure spot in the garage, store room or the like where I can store it.
I have heard that some people find the extension leads on electrical gardening machines like lawn mowers and machines like the one under review a real nuisance to deal with, during use, but this, compared to the above, is a complete non-issue as far as I am concerned. It is a small matter for me to ensure that the extension lead is behind me, wherever I am busy working, or otherwise to be conscious of, exactly, where it is. Even if it should, somehow, get entangled with the working parts of these machines, it is not nearly as dangerous as in the case of an electric lawnmower, in full flight, for example, being pushed over its extension cord.
If the above should happen while you are working with your brush cutter, just take your finger off the trigger, sever the connection between the machine and the extension lead and then proceed to untangle that section of the latter which has become entangled with the machine. It will take you all of 3-5 seconds.
For the reasons above the electric, rather than the petrol brush cutter, " works for me", as Clint Eastwood would say.
~~~ Performance ~~~
If I say that this, specific, weed eater absolutely destroys any unwanted grass, I am by no means exaggerating. For me it is sheer pleasure to see the latter "dissolve" before my very eyes, at double quick speed, because it only means that I won't have to do this hated job for another, approx. 3 weeks, in my estimation, and, probably much closer to, about, 13 days in the eyes of my English wife.
Our front, inner lawn is sufficiently small that I now, often, mow it, in its entirety, with the FE 55 brush cutter. It is quicker and less trouble than to employ both it and the lawnmower for the job. On the big lawns I, obviously, still use both. On the odd occasion, while working with the FE 55, I have caught myself even forgetting, for short periods of time, what I am busy doing (i.e. the job I loathe to do more than any other), which tells me everything I really care to remember about this machine's overall ability to delight its operator.
The motor's healthy zzzzzzz - zzzzzzzz - zzzzzzzzz - zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz sound as it does its work, is music in my ears. It is almost as if the machine speaks to me, saying . . . "Is this all you've got for me? Come on, I dare you to give me something more challenging to do, please." The FE 55, as is the case with its English equivalent, I am sure, is a classy machine that will always perform exceptionally well, no matter what job one gives it to do.
~~~ Ease of use ~~~
The machine's operator will, very quickly, learn the most effective and comfortable way to hold and handle the machine for the specific job at hand. Just below the machine's long, thin aluminium shaft (cable) casing is a strong and convenient handle which the operator will usually grip with his/her weakest hand (Because I am right handed, I take hold of this handle with my left hand) so that the latter can easily manoeuvre the machine in any direction and at any angle he/she may choose.
Most of these machines also come with a strong strap, one end of which is clipped onto the shaft casing and the other which the operator can fasten around his/her shoulder so that the machine's weight is carried by the upper body and not merely the arms of the former. I am not really conscious of the approx. 4 kg's of machine weight on my arms when using our machine (which does not have this strap) for 10 - 15 minute bursts at a time, but for someone much lighter than I the shoulder strap might be a very useful tool, in that it will help its user to preserve his/her energy levels better and thus not become overly tired.
All in all the Stihl FE 55 brush cutter is nothing less than a pleasure to use.
~~~ Price and Availability ~~~
The retail price of the FSE 60 electric brush cutter, as from February 2010, as it is listed on the Stihl company's UK website (see website address under the heading "Note", above), is £ 129 which, for me, is a steal. The potential purchaser of this machine will have to obtain the information about its availability, in the UK, from the above mentioned website, as well.
~~~ Overall Impression ~~~
The FE 55 brush cutter is a beautiful machine which does its work efficiently and in double quick time. It is extremely well made by a big, respected company who has been a major player in the international garden machinery business for much longer than a couple of years. If the machine is handled correctly it can last a lifetime, without breaking once or needing any kind of maintenance. It is complex German engineering at its very best, yet, at the same time, ridiculously easy to operate. If, as a woman, you either have to, (May Elohim forbid!) or, hopefully, would like to operate this kind of machine, yourself, I cannot think of even one reason why you shouldn't, and even enjoy the experience, all at the same time.
One must, however, always keep in mind that this is a serious piece of machinery and not a toy. It should, at all times, be handled with respect by its operator. Failure to do so can lead to tragedy, very quickly. I have not the slightest hesitation in recommending this machine to a potential purchaser. The FE 55 or its FSE 60 English equivalent will make good on its initial, monetary investment many times over, in every possible respect, not least of all in sheer handling pleasure.
~~~ Rating ~~~
This, specific, machine deserves nothing less than a 5/5 rating, in my opinion, for . . . excellent, in every respect.
Thank you so much for having taken the time to read this review through. I trust that you have benefitted, somewhat, from it.