Driven wild by the erratic weed eater

The humble weed eater can do impressive things in the garden – assuming you can get it started
The humble weed eater can do impressive things in the garden – assuming you can get it started

If there is one gardening tool that I have a hate/love relationship with it is the weed eater.

I have owned various brands of weed eaters both electric and petrol and included in this mix was a couple of bush cutters.

Wikipedia tells us Weed Eater was a string trimmer company founded in 1971 in Houston, Texas, by George C Ballas Sr, the inventor of the device. The idea for the Weed Eater trimmer came to him from the spinning nylon bristles of an automatic car wash.

In principle they are a great idea; you have this motorised spinning contraption that spins nylon cord at high speed capable of slicing through weeds near ground level.

When working as they are supposed to do, they will tidy up your section in a relatively short time, far quicker than on hands and knees, removing weeds.

Far better for the environment than using chemical herbicides.

A weed eater is like having a perfectly trained goat to chew out weeds and leave your other plants alone.

I have never found a goat that would only eat weeds when given the opportunity to choose between weeds and cabbages.

I can't remember when I purchased my first weed eater but I have memories of motors that would not start after pulling the cord untold times and if they did start to kick over, by the time you started to open the throttle they would die.

Floated engines, dirty spark plugs and, after so many pulls on the cord it would finally break.

When you were lucky and you got the motor going then a bigger problem would follow: the cutting cord.

I have had the types for which you are supposed to hit the centre part of the cord feeder on the ground to feed out some cord and the types that are supposed to automatic feed.

Ever try to load a twin-cord dispenser by yourself and actually get it working correctly?

Both systems work some of the time and to cause absolute frustration, never all of the time.

The electric ones I have owned solve the problem of starting the motor with a pull cord - just connect to the power and turn on. Magic, and nice and quiet also, but no better in the cord feed department and, with dragging a 230V extension cord around, can be likened to living dangerously unless an isolating device is used.

I have also owned bush cutter ones which are like the smaller weed eater but with a much longer reach and a steel cutting disc instead of nylon cord.

They are heavier to use, with a much bigger motor and made of heavier steel for cutting down scrub and small bushes, where using a chainsaw is not practical. (Real man stuff.)

The steel disc cutting blade means hours of cutting before it needs the edges sharpened.

The last time I purchased a bush cutter it was a dual purpose one with the option of a metal cutter or a cord cutter. It was not expensive.

After the second or third use it would not start so back to the store I purchased it from and was told to take it with the receipt to a local repair shop.

I knew the people that worked there very well and told them of my problem with my cutter.

The manager said follow me and took me out the back where there were numerous cutters, same brand and model as mine, all in various states of repair. Some were already in for their second, third and fourth repair under warranty.

I was told it could be fixed but only temporarily unless I was lucky.

Instead I got a "can't repair" chit for a refund. I went back to the lawn mower place and asked for a good weed eater and was sold on a Makita, not cheap but quality.

Starts on second or third pull and goes like the clappers.

The problem is it has a dual cord automatic feed which is difficult to load and does not work as well as it should unless loaded perfectly.

After frustrations of trying to get the automatic cord thing working I decided to buy some preloaded spools on our anniversary day recently - but was unsuccessful. A shop assistant asked me if I had seen a Pivotrim on TV infomercials. He showed me this great gadget that is a disc with 4 pivots that heavy duty cords are threaded through to give eight cutting cords which are so simple to replace when worn out.

The disc called a Pivotrim Pro Premium will fit most motorised weed eaters. I was sold and the next step was to fit it onto my Makita.

It took a bit of time to puzzle that one out but in the end I used some common sense and got the disc on. It is magic - the pivots move back when the cord hits a solid object so the cord does not get worn out quickly near hard objects.

You can even do edges on mowing strips very neatly and on slopes it cuts grass and weeds in half the time of the normal cord ones.

So after years of hating weed eaters I now look forward to getting out there and tidying up the place.

Problems? Phone me on 0800 466 464 or email

The Southland Times