Historically, cordless electric trimmers have given up some power to their 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, 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. $430). Our estimated price includes the cost of the basic AP 80 battery (Est. $130), which provides about 60 minutes of run time. The Stihl HSA 66 is labeled 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. 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 3/8-inch 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. $200) offers more than two hours of run time, and the backpack-carried AR 900 (Est. $900) suits a contractor's needs, providing up to 11 hours of continuous use.
The next-best cordless model in terms of battery life is the affordable 24-volt Toro 51496 (Est. $140). Its default battery charges quickly -- about two hours -- and provides up to 90 minutes of continuous use. The battery costs about $80 on its own, or an extended-life version is available for about $100. The Toro 51496 is also lighter than the Stihl model -- an easy-to-manage 6.8 pounds with a battery, compared to the Stihl's 7 pounds without. If your budget permits, you can keep the Stihl light by purchasing an optional belt (Est. $170) to carry the battery.
Although the Toro can't match the Stihl's brute force and cutting speed, it has a couple of other 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.
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. $100) is another alternative. Our estimated price includes a battery, although you'll frequently find it priced even lower. Owners say it does well with branches of 1/2 inch or less, and cuts through small growth like a hot knife through butter.
The LHT2220 is pretty basic, and the short battery life and long charge time -- 15 to 20 minutes of work after eight hours -- will be a turnoff to those with a lot of trimming work. You can get an extended-run battery that provides up to two hours of run time (Est. $68 for battery only, Est. $120 for trimmer and battery), but the long charge time still requires some forethought on your part. On the upside, the LHT2220 is fairly light and easy to handle -- about 7.5 pounds with a battery -- and most owners with small yards or light work to do are over the moon about its value.
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).