String trimmers leave a crisp edge along the driveway, cut grass growing beyond your lawn mower's reach and tidy up fence lines. Also called grass trimmers, weed whackers, lawn trimmers and weed eaters -- a brand name that has become a generic term -- the setup is the same: A power source rapidly turns a cutting head, using tough, nylon line to shear grass and weeds.
Grass trimmers may look simple, but they aren't benign, says Roy Berendsohn of Popular Mechanics. He says "the speed measured at the string's tip can run about 28,000 feet per minute," or strong enough to strip bark, mar a wood deck and fling debris up to 50 feet away. This makes safety equipment a must. Always wear safety goggles to protect your eyes, ear protection if the noise of the trimmer is above 85 decibels, and keep the head of the tool angled away from your body. Long pants, sturdy shoes and a good pair of gloves are also recommended to protect against flying debris.
Finding the best string trimmer is a balance between power and handling. A smaller weed whacker is enough to manage trimming around flowerbeds and a walkway. Berendsohn recommends heavy-duty trimmers for the "rural homeowner with a long driveway, orchards, fence rows and outbuildings to keep neat." Durable machines like this are typically heavier and more expensive.
The best string trimmers are effortless to start and have well-located controls. A balanced trimmer will hang at the right angle for easy maneuvering, whether you're trimming flat or turning it to edge. Most trimmers automatically advance the trim line, although some require you to tap the trim head on the ground to do so; reviewers say either one is acceptable as long as it works smoothly. Reloading new trim line into the spool should also be uncomplicated.
ConsumerSearch.com analyzes expert tests and customer reviews to evaluate a number of string trimmers for safety, performance, ease of use and durability. The result is our picks for the best string trimmers for the casual gardener to the serious landscaper.