Last year I was ill. A problem began in mid April causing a few days in hospital. After my release the problem continued albeit somewhat less severely. Wave after wave of antibiotics cured the symptoms, only to have them reappear a few days after I had finished the prescribed dose. Between the pills and the chills, I was weak and easily tired. Gardening, which is normally relaxing and fun, became a never ending chore.
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By late summer, most of my yard was clearly out of control. The area around the vegetable gardens was barely acceptable, while the hedgerows and the bush areas between were running rampant. Normally, I simply clipped these areas with a pair of garden shears or hacked them with a weed whacker. Now, I could hardly lift the shears. It was clear I needed help. To make matters worse, the clean up needed to be completed on a tight deadline, because the only alternative to the pills was a serious operation, and I was scheduled for it in the fall.
Well around our household there is an old saying, "When the going gets tuff, the tuff buy power tools." And so, in mid September, armed with a credit card and a $50 coupon, Wulfette and I piled into the car and headed for Lowes. Soon, we emerged with two new additions to my toolkit. The Black & Decker NST2018 18-Volt Cordless Electric 12-Inch Grass Hog String Trimmer was one of them.
Just in case you have spent most of the last century on a trip to visit your Aunt on one of the moons of Saturn, this trimmer is like a long plastic pole. At one end, there is a battery and a switch. At the other end, there is an electric motor and a reel full of nylon "fishing" line. You push the button the motor spins, and anything soft hit by the spinning line gets cut off. It is mostly used to trim long grass near fences, trees, buildings and so on: places where the lawnmower won't go. The line trims long grass without harming the solid object nearby, leastways, that's the theory. You should be wary of using it near soft barked trees. Gas powered trimmers have more cutting power, but they are heavy, noisy and polluting. Electric trimmers usually have more oomph too, but you have to lug a long extension cord around.
Out of the box some assembly is required. The upper shaft/handle has to be slipped through the lower, adjustable handle and then attached to the lower shaft/cutter. Standing upright, you must move the central handle to a comfortable position for parallel cutting and then tighten. The cutting head guard has to be attached around the base with Philips screws provided. Some packing has to be removed from around the cutting cord so it will feed properly. That's about it. It only requires a #2 Philips head screwdriver, and it will take less than 30 minutes even if you stop to read the enclosed manual. The manual, by the way, is complete, accurate, and otherwise unremarkable.
Charging the batteries takes a while. The unit comes with two 18 volt Ni-Cad batteries and a charger. The charger is a small plastic shoe with a long cord ending in a two prong transformer/plug. In an odd bit of counter-intuitiveness, the shoe is a lot smaller than the battery. To use it you sit the battery connector-side-up on a flat surface. The shoe slides on to the battery. A red light on top indicates when the unit is plugged in. Since these are Ni-Cad batteries, they have a memory, so you always want to make sure they get a good charge. Unfortunately, the red light only indicates that the charger has power, not that the charger is charging. I gave them 6-8 hours each for their first charge.
Once you are ready to use the unit, you simply slide the battery into the slot near the handle. It clicks in place. BE CAREFUL HERE! There is a kind of double click. It slides in and clicks without being fully engaged. You have to push a bit further for the louder locking click. Always be sure you pull back on the battery to make sure it is locked. I managed to bounce my brand new, as yet unused, battery down four concrete stairs because it was not properly locked in place. Luckily, these battery units are pretty sturdy so no harm done. When you actually want to remove that battery, a big convenient red release trigger does the job.
Once it is together and ready to go, the unit is comparatively light, with the battery accounting for about half the weight. The construction is primarily plastic, which seems sturdy enough. The central handle is held by the free hand to give a nice parallel to the ground position. It is easy to adjust. The upper assembly slides into the lower assembly and is held in place by a large hand-tightened locking nut. There is plenty of adjustment here so that a comfortable cutting position is available for people both much taller and much shorter than I am. (I am about 6 feet tall.)
The trigger mechanism is in the upper handle. It has a double lock to prevent accidental starting. You have to squeeze the trigger and push down on the top button with your thumb. I do not have particularly large hands, but I found the button placement comfortable and easy to operate. When the trigger is pressed the unit reacts immediately. It is very quiet in use. No need for my usual warning about ear protection. However, protective glasses or goggles are a must. While we are talking safety, you should also wear boots, or at least long socks and sturdy shoes. While the spinning cord will probably not cause you any serious damage, it can be quite painful. In houses with young children, you should remove the battery and store it in a safe place when the unit is not being used.
The cutting string is only 12", which is shorter than many gas or electric models. You need to get a bit closer than you expect to get a good cut. The string auto-feeds so you do not need to bump. In fact, the string holder is a snap fit, so a vigorous bump may dislodge it, which is sure to provide an amusing tale later... much later, after you finish rewinding the spool.
In use, it cuts grass and soft weeds easily, but woody stemmed shoots, like those from a baby sapling or a hedge, are beyond its capability. A fully charged battery only lasts about 30 minutes of heavy use. Assuming you are walking about and cleaning up as you go, your clean up session will be 45-60 minutes per battery. Once you have flattened both batteries, plan on starting again tomorrow.
This unit will easily convert into an edger. Simply grab the shaft just below the locking nut and slide it upward. The whole head will lift an inch or two, which allows you to twist the head into a vertical position for edging. A fold down metal bracket can be used to act as a guide for accuracy and depth of cut. The same sliding motion will lift the head again, allowing you to return it to its normal mode.
I found this unit light, easy to handle and easy to use. Its portability allows me to flit around the garden to problem areas without dragging around a long cord, or fighting with a gas engine.
For the job I initially bought it for, it was entirely inadequate. My heavily overgrown brush was too twiggy for it to cut in many places, and the job was way more than two battery charges could handle. I ended up using a corded heavy-duty hedge cutter for all the tuff jobs, and using the trimmer just for clean up. Still, that was a major contribution, because the overgrown grassy areas were much too high to attempt with my mower. I still required many charges to get the job done, but since I had so many other tasks to do, the work-for-90-minutes-and-wait-till-tomorrow cycle, did not get annoying.
Now that my garden is in shape again, this tool is a delight to use. After I mow the lawns, I head out with the trimmer to cut all the long grass near my planters, my raised bed, my fences, my house, my shed, and near my hedges. I get about two trims on a fully charged battery. It still won't cut thick stuff, but now it does not have to try. It is so light and so portable that I am finished in no time flat, and the bad grass never gets a chance to get out of control. (Spank the bad grass!) I have forgotten where I left the weed whacker and shears... Well ok. It was a metaphor; they are in the shed, but you get the idea.
I have not had to replace or reload the initial cutting string yet, but it was easy to unwrap it when putting the tool together, and so I doubt that replacing or reloading it will be a big deal.
The Black & Decker NST2018 18-Volt Cordless Electric 12-Inch Grass Hog String Trimmer is a fine light-duty tool. It is light and easy to use, even for a small person. It is quick and it is quiet. If you have a fairly small yard and light trimming/edging needs, you will love it. While it cannot handle big, tough jobs, its convenience for small jobs more than compensates. However, it loses points for not telling you when a battery has a full charge, and for not making battery insertion more idiot proof. Black & Decker includes a 30-day no-risk satisfaction guarantee and full two-year warranty is provided.
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The 18 volt Ni-Cad batteries used by this unit are the same ones used by many of the B&D 18 Volt collection, such as the leaf blower and the Firestorm Drill Driver. That's a big plus. However, being Ni-Cad batteries they are vulnerable to the memory problems that curse Ni-Cads in general. In fact, I had a browse through the Web looking for others reviews of this unit, and the vast majority of bad reviews complain about the length of time the unit will run on a single charge. Sadly, these reviews can all be accounted for by poor charging practices, and with a little know how the offending batteries were probably recoverable.
Ni-cads batteries have a tendency to remember. So, if you charge a Ni-Cad half way, the next time you charge it, it will probably stop charging at the same point, i.e. it remembers how much charge it had last time. For this reason, it is incredibly important to always make sure you give the battery a full charge. Provided the battery is fully charged every time you charge it, it is okay to top off a partially charged battery.
However, every six months or so, or if you know the battery charger was accidentally switched off before the battery was fully charged, or if you notice that your cutting time is not what it should be, then you need to wipe the battery's memory. This is fairly simple. First you fully use the charge. Keep spinning the cutter until it literally will not spin any more. Hold the button for another minute or so to be sure. Now, give the battery a full long charge, just as you did when it was new. This usually wipes the memory of the partial charge, and restores the performance to near-new levels.
Ni-Cad batteries are not the only common batteries that have this problem. NiMH batteries do not have it as badly, but they too still need a periodic total drain and recharge. The newer Lithium Ion batteries do not have the memory effect at all. Hopefully, the B&D 18 Volt line will have better batteries available some day.
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