Pros: Light weight, incredible CFM
Cons: Irregular power
Stihl's most powerful blower (according to the specifications). A sleek, turtle-shell package with a 4-cycle engine and a hefty price tag. This joker retails for just under $500.
65cc 4hp 4-cycle engine
21 pound dry weight
47 ounce fuel tank
712 CFM, 201 MPH
75 dBA sound rating
Why I Bought It
It should be pretty obvious from the specs why I went with this machine--RAW POWER! And it weighs in at least 4 pounds lighter than any other blower in its class.
I have to get rid of a ton of leaves in Fall. In the past I would spend several full days blowing leaves, loading them onto a 6x12 high-side trailer, and hauling them off for dumping (weather and burn bans prevent easier disposal). After the 2008 season, I'd had enough. It was time to invest in some serious equipment to reduce my workload.
I had been using the smallest Echo backpack blower while my wife helped out with a Toro electric. Both are good products and I love the Echo for its 14 pound weight. But spending entire days blowing leaves is not a good investment of my time. So, as usual, I spend forever studying my options and locating the best price. Then I merrily waltz home with the Stihl BR600.
Online reviews are mixed on the BR600, but mostly lean toward the positive. I have a friend who uses them in his full-time landscape business, and he highly recommended it, indicating that he'd never had any trouble. Talking with dealers and looking closely at reviews, it seems most of the problems reported are with models a year or more older. The dealer assured me all problems with the BR600 have been addressed and that it's the best blower on the market, period.
Happy as a lark, I went right to work on some of the "leftovers" that had piled up since my last all-day leave-blowing session. The BR600 incredibly easy to start--all you do is: Twist the choke to the closed position and pull the starter rope twice. It fires right up and within a few seconds you blip the throttle to turn off the choke. Nice!
Then it gets interesting... I lift the blower and swing it onto one shoulder. The little beast is throwing out so much wind--at an idle!!!--that it's twisting away from me every time I reach to strap in my other arm. It took three or four tries to grab hold of it. Holy Smoke! I'm getting anxious to twist this thing's tail and blow leaves into piles the size of Montana snow drifts.
I give the hose a quick swing across a cement drive. I clear the drive without even touching the throttle. Incredible.
Now I head into the leaves. Wet leaves. Dry leaves. Leaves packed from sitting through the fall. Leaves scattered through weeds, clumped grass, and flower gardens. This is no pansy test I'm putting the blower through.
OK, cool, it's moving leaves. Only, ah, I don't get the rip-roaring feeling that I'm moving twice the CFM at 50% more velocity than my little Echo. Don't get me wrong--it *is* moving more leaves. It just doesn't *feel* all that strong.
I keep going. The engine sputters. I blip the throttle and it comes back up. I blow more leaves. The engine sputters again.
I'm now packing up the BR600 and hauling it off to the dealer. I *refuse* to use brand new equipment that acts like this.
The dealer puts it on his workbench, puzzled. He hasn't had this problem before. So he fires it up. It sputters just a tad then runs like a banshee. He has to hold it down because--again, at an idle--it's throwing out so much wind that it very quickly starts to run across the workbench. Unbelieveable.
He runs it at full throttle for at least a minute, maybe two. Not a sputter in sight. He blips the throttle, runs it up and down the RPM range, then full throttle again. Absolutely no problems.
"Maybe it was just cold." I actually said that. I was grasping at straws, trying not to look like a fool.
Back to the leaves. It runs fine for a few minutes, then starts losing and gaining RPMs like it's starving for fuel. A few minutes later it sputters again.
Back to the dealer it goes.
Fix it, Mr. Dealer. OK, Mr. Customer. We'll look it over. In the mean time, here's a loaner. It works perfect. I just used it myself this morning with no trouble.
OK, I take the loaner and head back to my growing mountain of leaves. The loaner feels just a tad more powerful than my new one. Maybe there was something wrong and they'll get it all figured out and I'll be a happy camper again.
I use the loaner for about 15 minutes and it starts dropping RPMs. Nothing like mine was doing, mind you, but still it would drop speed a little then recover itself. It did this several times.
You can imagine I'm not so happy at this point. You can imagine I'm not so thrilled with my first Stihl purchase at this point. You can't imagine the self-control it took to throw the blower in the truck instead of *under* the truck and head back to the dealer--who is now closed.
Re-Thinking Stihl and the BR600
Lot's of people are happy with the BR600. I'm not. I spend a week trying to decide what to do. I've never heard anyone complain about the Stihl BR420. Maybe I should trade "down" for that. It's still much more powerful than my Echo. Then again, there's the Echo PB620 that is rated the same power as the Stihl BR420, and for a few dollars less.
Maybe they can fix the BR600. Maybe.
I went back to the dealer determined to trade down. I just couldn't live with the thought that the BR600 might give me trouble at some point down the road.
So, I tried the Stihl BR420 and I tried the Echo PB620, and I chose the Echo. Look for an upcoming review on the Echo PB620 to find out why I made that choice. But this review is about the Stihl BR600...
Who Should Consider the BR600
Well, you don't need to be spending five hundred bucks on a tool like this unless you have some serious clearing to do. Most landscapers will tell you the Stihl BR420 and the Echo PB620 are too much for the average homeowner (which I'm not).
If you *need* the power because you run a business, or have a lot of land, or some other big-ticket reason, then you can consider the BR600 and its competition. If you're an average homeowner (or even an above-average homeowner) then the only reason you'd want a BR600 is so you can brag to your friends. Not saying that's not a legitimate reason!
A smaller and less costly blower will suit most homeowner's quite nicely. Many professional landscapers stick with the Stihl BR420 instead of the BR600.
If you're a seasoned Stihl fanatic, you may find the BR600 to your liking. You probably have a good reationship with the dealer. You're probably going to need it.
You can get the same power as the BR600 in other brands (Echo 755 comes to mind). But, you're going to pay a penalty in weight. Most other blowers in this class weigh 25 pounds or more. The equivalent Husqvarna weighs 29 pounds! For many of you hefty fellows, this won't be a problem. I'm no featherweight by any means, but I tried the Echo 755 and my back muscles gave me warning signals after just a couple of minutes. So, weight is a big reason to consider the BR600.
Before summing things up, here are a few details to throw in the mix.
Stihl equipment is only available from certified dealers (and perhaps the occasional gray market dealer on eBay). You won't find Stihl at your favorite big box retailer. This is one of the reasons I've never purchased Stihl before. I think it's a violation of our free market system to force the consumer into a captive dealer system. A lot of professional landscapers love this system. But I'm not a professional landscaper. And I like paying less than retail. And I'm a bit of a rebel. And... Well, you get the picture.
You *can* get deals on Stihl equipment from the dealer. You have to buy at the right time of year, and be nice to the dealer, and make sure the moon is blue and all that. The dealer I worked with had a special going on at the time I bought. And then I went to a trade show the dealer sponsered and got another twenty bucks off the blower. It all worked out to an incredible deal--if only the blower had worked out.
You need to run full synthetic oil in the BR600 and at least mid-grade (89 octane) gas. If you don't, you might just kiss the engine good-bye several years before its time. This didn't bother me too much as I wouldn't be running the thing 8 hours a day 5 days a week. Some of the pro's gripe because they run through so much gas and oil that it makes a big difference to their budget to pay the premium on synthetic oil.
You have to take the BR600 back to the dealer for a one-time valve adjustment after 50 hours of use (you'll get varying numbers on how many hours, but 50 is the safe number). This adjustment is documented in the owner's manual, but it is *not* covered in the warranty. You get to pay extra for this feature--just not up front.
Unfortunately, the short of it is that I can't recommend this blower to anyone. It's not that I don't want to. It's not that it doesn't have the coolest specifications of any blower I checked out. It's not that you're just not at all likely to have the same problem that I did. But, ah, you know, I just really think the thing is a piece of garbage. The only sputtering a five-hundred-dollar blower needs to do is when it spit-shines my shoes--which I almost expect for that price.
There are other good choices out there. If you can heft the extra weight, you have lots of choices in the same price range. If you can settle for a little less power (which still equates to really good power) then you can save a few bucks on another professional blower and still get the job done.
As for me, I'll have a hard time buying Stihl ever again. I wasn't pleased with one of their 290 chainsaws I borrowed from a friend, and this thing with the BR600 probably seals it for me. Stihl isn't, after all, the only game in town.