June 15, 2010
With the field out by the apple tree starting to get a bit overgrown and with FOTS (Father of Tool Snob) informing us that we'd better get to doing something about it before it goes to seed (he's in the know on this sort of thing), we decided we'd fire up a string trimmer to deal with the tall grass.
The long, overgrown grass (complete with thick weeds) seemed to be a good match for the heavy duty 4-stroke LEHR string Trimmer (we have the Craftsman branded one, but it's the same tool). After about ten minutes of relentless starter-cord pulling, we had nothing. So we pulled some more, and then some more after that. This coming from a tool that touts: no winterization and an easy start-up every time. We began to see that unique shade of white rage that accompanies uncooperative lawn machinery. We tried the 2-stroke trimmer that we have and that one was no better. No starting, no nothing. We went back to the LEHR and got another ten minutes of anger.
We were actually in the process of putting the trimmer in the log splitter when we recalled that the house came with an old scythe tucked in the back of the shed. After a few satisfying kicks to the trimmer, we went and dug it up also locating our box of sharpening stones.
After a pass with the angle grinder and a fine tune with the stones, the scythe was pretty damn sharp (a slip with the sharpening stone almost took a finger off, giving us a nice way to test SallyeAnder's claim that their hand soap works on bloodstains). Never having used a scythe before, but having once gotten a lesson from FOTS, we headed out to the field.
A few things to note about the remainder of the morning...
1. The scythe worked great. It's nice rhythmic work that quickly puts you smack dab in your 'happy place.' With no annoying trimmer motor or uncomfortable earplugs, we were relaxed and somewhat hypnotized by the satisfying swishing noise made by the cutting. The neighbors were probably pleased as well to not hear the high-pitched, 10lb mosquito whining of the trimmer motor.
2. We lasted about an hour, but after that we were toast. It's exhausting work. It's sort of like using a post-hole digger in that it seems to rely on muscles that you didn't know you even had. Our technique was OK, but not that great. We're going to have to work on it next time.
3. And there will be a next time. The trimmer would have been much less effort with the only energy burned being done by moving the shaft around. But the scythe gave us the whole package; we not only got a workout, but were engaged with the process, tweaking a grip, shifting our weight, trying to figure out the best way to work the tool. Above everything, we simply enjoyed ourselves. With no motor, we were able to hear the birds and the wind and all those other little noises that you miss in the muted cone of semi-silence that earplugs provide. The scythe was also able to handle some weeds that the trimmers would have likely had some problems with.
Needless to say, there was no stopping to load another string on the trimmer, no re-gassing, and no engine troubles. The only engine was us (with a pathetically small gas tank, by the way).
4. We also got to thinking about the time when people would spend entire days, no weeks, doing this work. It was one of those, 'we're a nation of sissies' moment, and while we were gasping for air around minute 55, we were in awe of the men who cut hay by hand.
5. If you've got a similar situation going on and there's a part of your property that gets overgrown and you only want to hack it down once or twice a year, we recommend getting a scythe and giving it a go. At the very least, it will give you a deep appreciation of your rural grandfathers. And probably a sore muscle or two.
Here's one at Amazon.com (looks like you have to buy the handle and blade separately). We also some on ebay, but if you start trolling barn sales, you'll probably have a good chance of finding one.
And a video on proper technique:
June 14, 2010
Because there are now so many tool blogs out there, we've decided to shift focus away from tools and towards things like soaps and facial scrubs. The first foray into this territory is SallyeAnder's Hogwash! Soap.
Actually the truth is that we were contacted by SallyeAnder, who thought that their multi-purpose soap would be a good match for all of you, our readers. Being the tool-using types, you're also probably the greasy, grimy, muddy pants types. If you've ever heard, "don't even think that shirt is going in the laundry with my blouse' then we can relate. You probably have a bar of Lava sitting on your basement slop sink.
And that's sort of where Hogwash! fits in. It's basically an all-natural Lava. It's made with an olive oil and soy base and doesn't have any artificial dyes. It has some cornmeal in it which gives it that pumice vibe, good for scrubbing glue off your fingers. It comes in a 6 oz. bar which is basically a 1-1/2" by 2-1/2" by 3" cube.
So on to the whole, 'does it work?' part of the review. Since our samples arrived from SallyeAnder over a month ago, we've been using Hogwash! on a daily basis and its size has hardly diminished at all. In fact the only wear is that the crisp edges of the brick are a little rounded over. This bar of soap is going to be around for a long, long time whether we like it or not.
And thankfully, we like it. We might even name it. It works great on everyday filth and SallyeAnder also claims that it works on grass stains and blood stains. We ended up testing both of these conditions (you'll have to wait until tomorrow's post to find out where the blood came from), and the soap does indeed work. Our stained rag was nice and clean in no time.
If you're concerned with the 'naturalness' of the products that you buy, it appears that all of the soaps that SallyeAnder makes are edible. We cut a small chunk off of our Hogwash! and gave it a go. It tasted terrible and it took about two hours before our mouth returned to normal, but if you're stranded on an island, at least it's something.
We also wanted to mention that SallyeAnder also sells a soap (and lotion) called No-Bite-Me which is a bug repellent in addition to a soap. We tried out a sample of this and it works great. There are also shave soaps and other similar things available. They're neat products with some really great packaging and we're happy that they took the initiative to introduce themselves to us. It's nice knowing that funky little companies like this are out there.
May 27, 2010
No one is ever going to mistake us for lumberjacks, but we're also not going to pass for city-dwellers either. Because of the wood stove and all the trees on the property, we need a half-way decent chainsaw. We happen to have gotten this Poulan a few years back as a gift from our old boss and we've been using it ever since despite the fact that it's purple and green and has the words 'Wild Thing' printed on the bar (which, thank the heavens, has finally rubbed off).
But aesthetics aside, it starts when we want it to and it cuts when we need it to. We neglect it most of the year and don't pay too much attention to properly winterizing it. From time to time, we have to fiddle with the idle, but that's not a bother. The only thing that's functionally wrong with it is that the pull cord got all tangled up once and in the process of fixing it, we lost a few revolutions of tension, so it hangs a bit loose. No big deal. It still starts.
We don't think a whole lot about the saw (like we said, we sort of neglect it), but what spurred this review was last weekend's project of making a patio/planting bed border out of railroad ties (have you ever tried picking up a railroad tie? Oh man, are they heavy). The front of the patio has a curve in it to follow the driveway, so we had to make a number of relatively precise cuts with the saw. Like all the other times, the saw started right up and acted just like a chainsaw should. It handled the railroad ties without a problem and other than a fine creosote dust on everything and a chain the needs sharpening, all is good in the world.
Seriously, the only problem we have with the saw is the whole "Wild Thing" thing. Had this not been a gift, we would have never purchased it ourselves based on that alone. We think it's just kinda lame. Sort of like the tool equivalent to having neon lights on the under-carriage of your car.
The Wild Thing costs about $150 and as long as you can handle the look of the thing, it's a great choice for someone looking for a reliable homeowner saw without a big price tag.
May 25, 2010
It's springtime here in the northeast and that means there is some pruning to be done. With this being the first year in the new place, we've come to notice how completely tangled the little fruit trees in the front yard are. They sort of look like big, green, messy muppet heads. Thankfully, for us, late last year, Craftsman sent us a sample of their new 4-volt Cordless Pruner, so last week, we charged the little thing up and spent some quality time with it.
The pruner is about the size of a tube of caulking and its got jaws that are about 1-1/2" long. Operation of the tool is pretty simple; pull back the safety lock with your last two fingers and press the trigger with your middle finger. The jaws, once in motion, have a slow and steady action.
We used the pruners for a number of operations in and around the house. It was far too bulky for our little bonsai, but it worked out fine for just about everything else. According to Craftsman, the pruner can cut branches up to 1/2". We found this to be true, but the 1/2" mark doesn't seem to come from lack of strength as much as it does the limitations created by the jaw size. The little tool had no problem with any and all 1/2" branches we threw at it and it seemed like it could cut larger branches, it just can't get its mouth around them. The cuts that it makes are nice and clean with no ragged edges.
Craftsman says that once the internal battery is fully juiced, it can make approximately 500 cuts. There was no way we were going to sit there and count cuts like some kind of forestry Rain Man, but we can say that during the time we used it, we never had to charge it up in the middle of a day, and we guess that the 500 mark is probably on target. Put it this way, unless you're really going at it, you'll get a day's worth of pruning in on a charge.
We were actually a little surprised that we liked this little tool so much. What we realized was that because you're not putting the effort into making the cut, you can increase your precision quite a bit. The size is a benefit as well. We were able to get into some spots that would have been difficult with traditional pruners (we no longer needed the room to open the handles).
We almost had a problem with the trigger (but didn't). Like we said before, you have to pull back a safety lock with two fingers and then pull the trigger with a third. While some sort of safety lock is absolutely necessary with this item (it wouldn't even pause going through a finger), we first thought this design was a bit awkward and that it might not be an easy set of motions for someone with aged, possibly arthritic hands (just the person we initially thought this tool would be perfect for), but once we spent a while with the tool, we came to see that the motion is, in fact, very subtle and easy to perform. We started out wondering why Craftsman didn't opt for some sort of thumb safety lock, and ended up very impressed with their engineering.
Overall, it's a nice item and if you're a gardener, particularly one who is losing some hand strength (or has none to begin with), you would probably appreciate the Craftsman Pruner.
The Pruner is $50 at Sears
April 16, 2010
The latest issue of Consumer Reports delves into some home and garden items that you all might be interested in now that spring is almost here. Among other things, the magazine has rankings of the latest string trimmers and mowers and tractors.
The relevant articles are posted up online but without a password you can get the intro, but not the actual product ratings. Still, if you're in the market for one of these items, even the intros are quite helpful
Unfortunately, the tractor article doesn't rank the 1947 8N Ford Tractor, like the one we're currently tinkering around with out in the shed (pictured). Because it's an essential character in the tractor pantheon, and far outdistances any tractor made since, we'll rank it for you:
Noise: Unbelievable. Deafening.
Exhaust: Smokes like a forest fire.
Power: Can do anything.
Badass quotient: Think Al Pacino in Scarface.
Check out the overview of the Consumer Reports Home and Garden issue here.
April 7, 2010
We're sure you're sitting there thinking, "why the eff are these morons reviewing a leaf blower in spring?" There's an answer to that. First off, LEHR sent us this blower to review back in October (we think). At the time, we tested it out quite a bit, but it started snowing before we could get our review posted up, so we packed up the LEHR and there it sat, in the corner of the garage, for the past number of months. That is until last weekend when we decided to burn some brush.
Continue reading: "LEHR 4-Stroke Propane Powered 25cc Eco Blower/Vac - Review"
April 2, 2010
This one is for the real mountain men out there. Not the, "look at me, I just unclogged my sink drain" DIYers, but the hardcore, "I built my house with no power tools" crowd. The shingle froe is an old colonial tool used for, among other things, making shingles. The sharp edge of the blade (the long side that faces away from the handle) gets pounded into a log, and then the handle gets leveraged down to pop off a sheet of wood. The tool can also be used in some woodworking situations, but we prefer to think of it as a Grizzly Adams item.
This particular one has got the Peavey name (American made) so it's got to be high quality. If you've ever used a Peavey log roller, you know what we're talking about.
Here's a video of a guy making shingles.
$50 at Amazon.com and Highland Woodworking
November 4, 2009
We've got this great Toro electric leaf blower and before we bought it we did all the right research and truly agonized over the purchase. We finally decided on the make and model we wanted and went to the local HD to pick it up. At our last house, it was a charm. With the yard hugging the house so closely we could get most everything with a 50' extension cord and when necessary, break out the dreaded 100' (*shudder*). Now, at the new place, everything is different. Our front yard is practically an orchard and threading between the trees with the cord (attached to the lone exterior outlet on the wrong side of the house), while do-able, is impractical and tedious. Thankfully, the folks at Craftsman were nice enough to let us test out their blower attachments for the string trimmer. Could this little guy deliver adequate power to get the job done?
So how is it? Honestly, it's pretty nice. It blows at a peak speed of about 150 mph so it's not the full-throated blowing madness of our electric blower which operates at around 230 mph, but it does work and it's certainly better than raking (which occurs at about 2 mph). The length of the attachment places the blower unit at just the right height, making it easy to get the air under the leaves and the convenience of not having an entirely separate tool for the task is a real space saver in the garage. We should also note that there are gas and electric blowers that operate in the 150-200mph range, so don't think that the Craftsman is a step down from the other methods.
Removing the trimmer head and attaching the blower is a really easy process, just turn the tightening knob and press a little button and the trimmer is off. Installing the blower is as easy as sliding it on the shaft and clicking the button into place.
For speed's sake, the leaves we can reach with the electric, we'll probably still do that way, but the ones way out at the horizon line can be easily done with the trimmer attachment. So all said and done, we see this little guy benefiting both our situation as well as someone who has a pretty small yard with maybe only a couple trees and limited storage space. It's likely that you already have a string trimmer, but do you also have the space for a full-sized leaf blower?
The attachment fits any high quality trimmer. If you've never noticed before, string trimmers are essentially a hand-held PTO with the trimmer being just one of the attachments. In fact, Craftsman also has an Edger that we're reviewing as well. The blower attachment costs about $70 so it's definitely less than a regular blower, it also takes up a fraction of the space.
October 19, 2009
We recently reviewed three new string trimmers over at Popular Mechanics; the Worx cordless, the Craftsman Propane Trimmer (powered by Lehr), and a brand new Troy-Bilt 2-stroke. We compared the tools in a number of categories including noise level, ergonomics, and power.
Read the review here. We also took a closer look at the Craftsman Trimmer here.
We also helped out Timothy Dahl (of Charles and Hudson) with an article for Shelter Pop. That article is about buying tools and can be found here. We definitely recommend putting Charles and Hudson on your blog rotation and Shelter Pop looks like it has some cool stuff too.
August 31, 2009
A little bit ago, we reviewed the Craftsman Propane Trimmer and really liked it. The Craftsman tool states that it is 'Powered by Lehr," and a little research uncovered the fact that Lehr is a company that has found a way to power a 4-stroke engine with propane. Seeing the benefits of this, they put their technology in a string trimmer called the Eco Trimmer and they also licensed the know-how to Craftsman who released their own model (which, again, we reviewed here). From what we understand, the two trimmers are nearly identical, so if you're interested in getting an EcoTrimmer, check out our review of the Craftsman.
Like the Craftsman, the Lehr is available in both curved and straight shaft. Both cost about $200 which is a lot for a trimmer, but when you think about it the benefits may outweigh the initial down payment.
Learn more about Lehr at www.golehr.com
Curved Shaft Trimmer at Amazon.com
Straight Shaft Trimmer at Amazon.com