Pros: Sturdy construction. Powerful blower.
Cons: Doesn't always start easily. The maintenance of a gas machine.
Electric or gas? Maintenance or plug in? Heavy or lighter? Vacuum or Not? Loud or louder? These are some of the questions I pondered last fall while shopping for a new leaf blower. Also to be considered was the number one concern of a lifelong cheapskate, price. My Sears blower was still young and worked fine until the day I used it in vacuum mode. I’ve always had electric blowers and enjoy the convenience of a simple plug in with minimal maintenance and care. Yet those cords could be a nuisance and even 200 feet of extension cord couldn’t reach the perimeters of our property. So after lots of reading, including a very persuasive Epinion, and multiple visits to Sears, Home Depot, and Lowes I decided to buy a Stihl top of the line SH 85 leaf blower/ vac.
Once my decision was made it was a matter of choosing a dealer. I soon learned that Stihl products can’t be purchased online, and a handful of authorized Stihl dealers were within a 20-mile radius of my home. After calling around and noticing that prices didn’t vary among the dealers, I chose a business close to my place of employment. On my first visit there I learned that a demonstration and hands on instruction are part and parcel of a Stihl purchase. On the whole the experience was somewhat underwhelming. The Stihl man took my blower out of the carton, filled it with fuel, and gave me a brief overview of the controls and the process of attaching the blower tubes. Maybe it was the cold, the dampness of the day or the newness of the machine, but he had some difficulty starting the Stihl. Of course, I’m thinking, “What have I done?”
We went ouside where he blew some leaves around, and I tried my hand at the Stihl. Then we went inside where my Stihl man had some difficulty switching the machine from blower to vacuum. He eventually sought out a co worker for help. I had been concerned about the size of the bag, but one look at it dispelled those concerns. This bag is plenty big enough for my needs. The vacuum demonstration wasn’t overly impressive either, and I attributed that to the dampness and the wet leaves. After a few more bits of instruction, chitchat, and answers to a few questions, I wrote my check for $259 plus tax and drove home with my new Stihl SH 85 and a set of bright orange Stihl hearing protection.
Stats and Stuff
engine power 1.10 bhp
weight 11.9 pounds
fuel capacity ……….13.5 oz
air velocity …………(vac mode) 38mph
sound pressure rating..68dB
Bag capacity ………..1.2 cu ft.
Special shredder blade reduces yard waste 14.1 (dry leaves)
Comes with vacuum bag and suction tube
Converts to a handheld blower or vac
Comes with both round and flat nozzle blower tubes
Soft grip main and vacuum handles
Throttle speed lock
Internal rubber coating in fan housing
Primer bulb and starting throttle lock for easier starting
Powerful Quad Power engine
Upright fuel tank with cap retainer
ElastoStart shock-absorbing starter handle
Rubber feet for added stability
Easy access air filter
Helper handle integrated into the blower base
My Experience & Random Observations
To justify to myself spending so much money for something I’d use a few times a year, I had to have a a blow off with my two electric blowers, an older, economy Toro and the barely two year old Craftsman, a piece of mulch wedged in its gut. It was no contest in favor of the Stihl despite having to hold back on the throttle. The owner’s manual instructs not to run a new machine at high revs for the first three tank fillings; so I used some restraint. The engine develops its maximum power after 5 to 15 tank fillings. I’ve observed the power increase and now after the break in period the Stihl leaves my electrics in the dust with its steroidal power.
The impeller is plastic, but it has a sturdy metal blade attached. This metal cutter is easily accessed and looks like something easy to replace down the road.
This thing can get quite loud. You definitely want to wear ear protection while using it as well as eye protection. While using this, more than once I experienced debris flying up into my face and bouncing off my safety glasses.
I really like the assist handle on the bottom of this unit. Holding it with my right hand on the padded top handle and left hand gripping the assist handle makes for a balanced, comfortable feel. Because of its weight I wouldn’t want to maneuver this Stihl one-handedly for any length of time. The on/off switch, throttle trigger, and throttle setting lever are all easily reached with thumb and forefinger. A soft, clear cover keeps the on/off button protected and adds to its ease of function.
Having a vacuum feature was a priority for me because I’d always vacuumed the stairs in the basement stairwell. After doing this a few times I’m not sure now it’s worth the bother. Despite the no cord freedom, it’s difficult maneuvering the blower and bag in that narrow area. With trial and error I found it was just as easy, if not easier, to blow all the leaves to the bottom and manually pick them up. Switching from vac to blower is not major surgery, but it does take some time and manipulation. Just in the few times of use I’ve already had the impeller jammed with pieces of mulch; I’ll be using the vac mode seldom and judiciously.
The vac feature does work well enough when vacuuming flowerbeds or around shrubs.
The bag provided is of very high quality and amply sized. Not a lot of dust seeps out while vacuuming. It does get heavy even when only half full. It's fairly easy to empty.
Starting was problematic the first few months of ownership and quite disappointing. It was taking far too many pulls to get the motor running. However, ease of starting has improved with use and the last time out it started on the first pull. That felt great! Today I decided to start up the Stihl after its winter hiatus before posting this review. It took quite a few pulls to get it started.
It’s not hard to go through a tank of fuel quickly, but that depends if your finger is heavy on the throttle. Never having had a gas blower, I have no frame of reference other that my gas trimmer in which a tank of gas goes a long way.
I like the power and portability of this unit and don’t regret my purchase though I had higher expectations for the vacuum function. A longer period of use and ownership is required for me to comment on its durability. The design and the solid feel of this unit and its components seem superior to me over other brands I inspected. One shopping for a rugged leaf blower/vac should certainly give the Stihl a look. In retrospect, I think I’d have been just as content with one of Stihl’s less expensive leaf blowers minus the vac kit.
Thank you for visiting this review. Any questions may be sent to the email address posted on my profile page.
Update 11/1/08 - This Stihl is still running beautifully. It sits unused for months, but starts right up on those days I decide I need its power. Still no regrets.
1/2010 I actually used this blower to clear snow off of my deck and driveway. And it worked!! It has to be a light, dry snow and you have to catch it before it gets too deep. I went out every couple hours as it was snowing so I could keep up with it. It's not the recommended way to clear snow, but in in a pinch it's worth a shot.