Historically, cordless electric trimmers have given up some power to their corded electric- and gas-powered cousins -- but they've now developed to the point that even professionals say top cordless models can measure up to the power of a gas trimmer.
With less noise than gas trimmers, no exhaust emissions and no extension cord to hold them back, lithium-ion (Li-ion) powered cordless hedge trimmers are starting to look like a very attractive option indeed -- as long as you don't mind toting a few pounds of battery around and you remember to recharge the batteries when you're done.
The undisputed Cadillac of cordless hedge trimmers is the 36-volt Stihl HSA 66 (Est. $220). That's the price of the bare tool, minus battery and charger. If you already own other Stihl Li-ion gardening tools, they can use the same battery and charger. Otherwise, you'll also need to budget for the cost of the basic AP 80 battery (Est. $130), which provides about 60 minutes of run time, and the Stihl AP 300 rapid charger (Est. $80), which can charge that battery to 100 percent capacity in 50 minutes.
The Stihl HSA 66 is marketed as a commercial model, but homeowners with lots of hedges or a large yard to cover say it meets their needs perfectly. Meanwhile, the experts say it does just as well at heavy-duty commercial work as the gas models do. "This machine is a brute," says Roy Berendsohn at Popular Mechanics. "It comes as close to gas-engine performance as any cordless tool can."
The 20-inch blade provides a nice balance of cutting speed and maneuverability, and its 3,000 cutting strokes per minute are enough to power through branches easily. The Stihl HSA 66 leads the pack for safety features too, including an integrated tip protector, dual triggers to ensure you keep both hands on the trimmer at all times, and a variable-speed control on the rear trigger. Extended-run batteries are also available -- the AP 180 (Est. $170) offers more than two hours of run time, and the backpack-carried AR 900 (Est. $850) suits a contractor's needs, providing up to 11 hours of continuous use. If you opt for one of those upgraded batteries, the Stihl AL 500 high speed charger (Est. $120) can cut charge times considerably, taking just 25 minutes to bring the AP 180 to a full charge.
We do have two small reservations with the Stihl HSA 66. One is that that, while user feedback is generally glowing, there's also very little of it. The hedge trimmer is sold primarily through authorized local dealers rather than large retailers such as Amazon.com and HomeDepot.com. You can find a list of dealers in your area at the Stihl site.
The second reservation is its price. If your hedge trimming needs are more modest, we spotted a few models that can do a more than credible job while leaving a few -- or many -- extra dollars in your wallet.
Up first is the 24-volt Toro 51496 (Est. $130). That price includes a Li-ion battery that provides about 45 minutes of continuous use and a charger that tops off the battery in just a little over an hour. If you already have Toro Li-ion landscaping tools, the hedge trimmer can be purchased as a bare tool as well (Est. $70). Spare batteries, the Toro 88506 (Est. $70), are also available.
Although the Toro can't match the Stihl's brute force and cutting speed, it's still powerful enough to cut through branches up to 11/16 inches and it has a couple of user-friendly features that make it particularly convenient for homeowners doing occasional work. Its handle rotates 90 degrees in either direction; this, combined with the 24-inch blade, makes it easy for both right- and left-handed users to maneuver the power trimmer into tight places. It also has a charge indicator, so you can see at a glance how much juice the battery has left. At 6.8 pounds with a battery, it also notably lighter than the Stihl, which weighs in at 9.5 pounds with the base AP 80 battery, and 10.7 pound with the extended run-time AP 180 battery.
Feedback comes primarily from users, and is largely very positive. For example, though it includes a handful of reviews from Toro's site as well, the Toro 51496 earns a rating 4.8 stars at HomeDepot.com, with 96 percent of the nearly 100 owners that comment saying that they would recommend this hedge trimmer to a friend. Feedback is strong at Amazon.com, though teasing that out of the listing is a challenge since reviews are mixed with those of other Toro cordless garden tools that use the same rechargeable batteries.
If budget is a major consideration and you don't have a lot of large hedges or bushes to trim, the 20-volt Black & Decker LHT2220 (Est. $80) is a terrific low-cost choice. Powered by a Li-ion battery, it's rated to cut up to 3,000 square feet on a single charge, which users say translates to about 30 minutes of run time. The battery is included, but if you have other compatible Black & Decker garden power tools, it can be bought without the battery for around $55. Spare Black & Decker LBXR20 batteries (Est. $50) are also available.
At 22 inches, the blade's reach is more than suitable for most homeowner needs. The trimmer is rated for branches of up to 3/4 inches in diameter, though user feedback indicates that you'll be happiest if you expect good performance on those that are a half inch or less. As with the Toro, user feedback is strong -- a 4.5-star rating at HomeDepot.com based on more than 150 total reviews. Around 95 percent of owners offer this Black & Decker cordless hedge trimmer a recommendation. Amazon.com customers are happier still. We see a 4.7 star rating (including trimmers sold with and without the battery), based on over 1,135 reviews.
As noted in our write ups, all three of these cordless trimmers are part of an interchangeable battery program; you can swap the batteries between tools of the same voltage from the same manufacturer, essentially giving you an extra spare battery every time you buy a new tool (or letting you save money by buying more tools in the same line without a battery).
Elsewhere in this report: