Pros: Optional Trashcan Leaf Collection System, lightweight, easy to switch modes. It works.
Cons: Occasionally clogs, plastic impeller might not be durable enough. Motor durability
My 3/4 acre yard is surrounded by huge trees. We have lots of lawn, punctuated by several mulched planting areas. All of that adds up to leaf nightmares every fall.
The Black & Decker Leaf Hog is my third leaf blower. The first one, a Toro, was not very user friendly. It clogged often, was difficult to handle, and changing from blowing to vacuuming was a pain. I also have a Homelite Backpacker gas-powered blower, which is a decent blower, but has no vacuum capability.
Last year, in my never-ending quest to make the leaf job easier, I purchased the Black and Decker Leaf Hog. It weighs only 8.1 pounds, it mulches leaves to 1/10th their original volume, and sucks them into a 2 bushel bag. Converting from blower to vacuum is quick and easy.
In the blower mode, the Leaf Hog feels light and well balanced. The flared shape of the nozzle does a good job of focusing the blower's airflow to your target. Unlike my old Toro, neither the nozzle nor other parts go flying off when you don't want them to (always a plus, in my book). Output-wise, it seems to have about the same power as my old Toro and my Homelite gas-powered blower. It is quieter than either of my two previous blowers.
Switching to vacuuming mode takes about 10 seconds. Pressing a trigger-like button on top of the motor releases the tool you are using quickly. To install the vacuum tool, just engage the bottom of the tool in a groove in the bottom of the motor section, it will swing up and snap solidly into place. No danger of the tool accidentally falling off. The 2-bushel bag attaches to the vacuum's output with a twist-lock. So far, there is no problem with it falling off, but it seems like there is potential for its fit to become looser with age. The bag has an adjustable strap that lets you hang it from your shoulder as you vacuum. Fits OK for my 5'9" body, but could be an issue for taller or left-handed users.
Vacuuming works very well. My back yard has a lot of pathways made of 1/4" gravel, and if I'm careful, I can do a pretty good job of sucking up leaves without sucking up the gravel... most of the time. There have been a few occasions where I have collected some gravel into the machine. While it made some pretty loud, horrible sounds, there was no apparent damage to the impeller or any other part of the Leaf Hog. The Hog does a good job of collecting wet leaves, but it does tend to clog more often under those conditions.
The impeller, which is the part that makes the air move, and is also responsible for chopping the leaves into little 1/10th sized bits, is made out of plastic. I can't imagine that it is going to last very long.
Emptying the bag is simple... it disconnects from the Leaf Hog easily, and the zipper opens enough to quickly dump its contents
The worst part about using the Leaf Hog (or any other hand-held leaf vac) is how quickly the bag fills. If you've got a lot of leaves, even with the 10-1 mulching, the bag will fill in just a few minutes. That really slows down the job.
That's where the Leaf Hog's best and most well-guarded secret feature comes in... The Trash Can Leaf Collection System (Black and Decker model #BV006). For an additional 30 bucks, you can buy an accessory that replaces the bag with an eight foot flexible hose connected to a cloth trashcan cover. You put the cover over the top of a trash can (I use a 32-gallon Rubbermaid with wheels), pull the drawstring tight, attach the hose to the twist lock connector on the vacuum... and voila!.. you've got serious leaf collecting capacity. Instead of three uninterrupted minutes of serious vacuuming using the bag, you can spend 45 minutes filling a trash can! This is awesome! The best 30 bucks I ever spent (at least on collecting leaves).
But, good luck finding this bit of leaf-sucking nirvana. Home Depot had them buried un-displayed in a hard-to-find box, with no price marked on it. Lowes didn't have it at all. I recommend making the effort to find this thing, though. It definitely makes big leaf sucking jobs suck less.
Overall, I'd say the Black and Deck Leaf Hog is a decent quality machine for the average homeowner. Its easy to use, seems rugged (except for the impeller, which will probably need replacing every couple of years). But the best feature, the optional trash can collecting system, is what puts the Leaf Hog in a class by itself.
UPDATE: August, 2004
After two seasons, the Leaf Hog rolled over and died. I was blowing some leaves, and suddenly I heard the motor slowing down, accompanied by a loud clattering inside the housing. I took the housing apart to see what happened. A small brass bushing fell out. It was the bushing for the motor armature shaft. It turns out that the BV2500, like many inexpensive blowers, uses brass bushings instead of ball bearings for the motor. Reading reviews on Amazon.com revealed that there have been many users that have experienced failures of these bushings.
I have replaced my dead hog with the newly released Leaf Hog BV4000. It has a more powerful motor (with ball bearings). Check out my review.