Leaf Blowers - What to Look out For

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Let’s keep this as simple as possible.  After having been a mower man for about 14 years I have used a lot of leaf blowers and bought a lot of different brands for employees, franchisees, and friends.  I think I have probably tried 8 different professional brands and 17 different models for a week or longer (some while gritting my teeth), and some I have relied on as dependable machines for 12 months or more.
When looking at buying a blower, consider the following points:

• Ease of starting
• Operating noise
• Balance and pulling
• Left and right hand use
• Air blow pattern
• Fuel leaks

EASE OF STARTING

In your buying process, before using a blower for the first time, make sure it is BONE COLD before attempting to start it.  Many people will bring it to you either hot or already running.  You are the guinea pig who will be starting it from now on; make sure you start a cold one.  Any blower worth buying should start in 3-5 pulls of the rope when started correctly.  Ideally it will be:

1. Pull rope after priming and with choke on.
2. Second pull with choke on – engine should sound different, like it is ready to fire.
3. Third pull with choke off – engine will fire and run by itself.

Engines which are more difficult to start will repeat Step 2 more often.  Some of the new Auto-Choking engines (such as Kawasaki) will start with 1 pull of the rope from a cold start.

NOISE

While leaf blowers have become known as the mower man’s mating call, some new blowers (notably the Stihl and Honda blowers) can’t be heard from streets away like their counterparts.  Some new machines have managed to virtually eliminate the annoying deep whistle that many blowers make when at operating speed, and as a result, have been able to rate their blowers at or below 77Db.  That means the neighbours are going to hear the brushcutter before they hear the blower.

BALANCE AND PULLING

Depending on how a blower is configured, it may be unevenly weighted or the fan or air outlet nozzle may make the blower pull to one side – horizontally mounted fans are particularly bad, as are curved outlet nozzles (which look like a hockey stick).  Other factors come into play here such as the size of the engine and air volume.  A test drive will quickly answer your questions – was it comfortable to use for an hour?

LEFT AND RIGHT HAND USE

The position of the exhaust, the design of the fan and air intake, and the location of the starter rope will largely determine whether a blower is a left or right handed design.  Some blowers are wonderful for right handed use, but the position of the muffler will burn the leg when used in the left hand.  Look for a blower which has an insulated muffler guard, blows exhaust forwards, has a starter rope which can be pulled by either the left or right hand, and who’s impellor air intake cover takes much of its air from the edges of the cover instead of the top (that is, if clothing sticks to the impellor cover, will air still be able to flow through the blower or will you over-rev and damage the engine?)

Consider that occasionally you'll use your blower in your other hand to get around difficult pot plants, an air conditioning unit, a dog kennel, or to avoid getting leaves where you don't want them, such as in a swimming pool.

AIR BLOW PATTERN

A common problem with blowers is the shape of air as it leaves the end of the nozzle.  Many older models, or current models with poor research & development, tend to have a quickly dispersing air flow.  This can’t be rectified with a bigger engine – I’ve been down that road.  Some manufacturers modify the inside of the blower tube to incorporate channels like a boat or X-fins like a missile.  The idea is that the air stays in a straight column as it leaves the end of the nozzle, resulting in being able to work better in windy conditions, work further away from your debris, and work in wetter conditions.  That is, you have more control so the job gets done faster – much faster.

FUEL LEAKS

Not much thought is given to leaking fuel when you’re in a mower shop and the retailer is giving the hard sell on their blower of the month, however, this is quite common in 2-stroke equipment - especially in warm weather.  Fuel leaks create quite a problem if you are transporting power equipment in a vehicle; the smell can be quite over-powering for the driver, it isn’t easily cleaned up once the equipment is no longer in the vehicle, and recent research has shown fuel additives (such as benzine) cause cancer in laboratory mice.
Secondly, blowers make dust, dust sticks to fuel, and those thick deposits will heat and damage your equipment (as well as make it unsightly and unprofessional looking).
Lastly, refuelling is a waste of time and money.  If I put a tank of fuel into my machine, I don’t want to pick up a machine with only ½ a tank of fuel after 10mins of use.
Some manufacturers have resolved their fuel leak problems, and have even designed the outside of their fuel tanks such that, if you spill while refuelling, the spilt fuel will run away from the motor (such as Stihl).

BLOWER VAC COMBINATIONS

On the whole, hand held blowers do a very good job of blowing but are quite inefficient at vacuuming.  They are great for vacuuming small areas, such as a courtyard on a ground floor unit, but aren't designed to vacuum a whole driveway or tennis court.  Most people don't realise that blower vacs are designed to blow everything into a pile and then vacuum the pile.  In the time it takes to attach the vac kit, it would have been much faster to just use a rake.  A lot of people buy blower vacs, but most seem to just use the machine as a blower, and leave the vacuum attachment stuck to the wall of the garage.  Here are some ideas:

  • With the money you save by not buying a vac kit, buy a more powerful blower.
  • Blow everything into a pile, slowing the revs as you get closer to the pile - get out a rake and a bag or bin.
  • Before you mow, blow everything onto the lawn and let the mower do all the work.
  • If you're just doing a small tidy up, blow everything into a less conspicuous place like your garden beds (never blow onto roads or down drains).
  • If you want to spend a bit more money, get a backpack blower like a Stihl BR600 or a Shindaiwa EB8510 trigger model; later on you will bless the day you bought one.

BEFORE YOU BUY

Take it for a test drive for at least an hour, but preferably for half a day.  If you’re a contractor or professional, test drive any new unit for at least a full day but preferably 3-5 days.  Your testing regimen should involve:

• A time trial on a large area such as a leafy carpark
• Blowing into wind and across wind
• A flight of stairs (being able to blow leaves UP a flight of concrete stairs comes in very handy)
• Wet weather blowing
• Moving PILES of leaves and debris
• Blowing from a distance away (to test for a good narrow nozzle pattern)
• Blowing under and around parked cars

Decide whether a backpack blower or a hand-held blower is right for you.  If you’re a professional, you really are wasting time using a hand-held model.  Backpacks are much faster, quieter, more fuel efficient, and more thorough – neighbours will thank you for less noise and done 3x faster – they won’t have to tolerate the noise for nearly as long.  With my backpack I clean up in 3mins what used to take 10mins with a hand-held or 15mins on a breezy afternoon.

My Top Tips

Once you've bought a blower remember these simple suggestions to make your experience so much faster:

  1. KNOW YOUR DESTINATION: Don't start your blower until you know where you want all your debris to go.  Surprisingly, this will make you work faster and in a more organised fashion.
  2. THERE ARE ONLY 2 SPEEDS: Flat Out & Stop.  Professionals operate their blowers at full throttle nearly the whole time.
  3. WORK WITH YOUR ENVIRONMENT: Gravity first then wind.  Blow everything down hill unless a breeze is blowing against you.  Even light debris like leaves will blow faster down hill.  Try also to work WITH the wind rather than against it.  God's blower will always beat yours so just join Him and steer the debris.

Good luck, and happy buying :)   If you appreciated the time and effort I put into writing this guide, please take the time and effort to vote.

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