Best Brush Cutters

Updated April 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

21 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
213 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best brush cutters

Last Updated April 2020

Weed eaters (or string trimmers, if you prefer) do a great job with a lot of the unwanted growth around your garden, but a nylon cord just isn’t strong enough to cut thick or woody stems. That’s when you need a brush cutter. 

Similar in many ways to weed eaters, brush cutters have more powerful motors and use a steel blade instead of a cord. As you can imagine, not much that’s growing in your yard can stand up to that kind of punishment! Many still offer a string trimmer head as an option, so you end up with a versatile tool that can handle anything from trimming lawn edges to clearing stubborn undergrowth and even small saplings.

Although the heavy-duty nature of a brush cutter means it’s not for everyone, there are still plenty of choices. If you haven’t owned one before, knowing which is best for your needs can be difficult. BestReviews has checked out the latest models so we can help you with your decision. Our top picks represent a range of alternatives. In the following brush cutter buying guide, we look at all the important features and answer several common questions.

We looked long and hard to find a battery-powered brush cutter. While Husqvarna, Makita, and Stihl have made them (and some are available in Europe), we couldn’t find any for sale in the United States.

Key considerations

Gas power…or gas

Many garden tools offer a choice of corded, cordless, or gas. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. Trailing a cable around a garden of any size just isn’t practical, and for safety reasons you’re restricted to 100 feet anyway. While a few battery-powered brush cutters have been produced, with big 60- and 80-volt electric motors, we can’t find any that are currently available in the United States. We suspect that’s because even the best battery technology struggles to keep up with the power demands of a brush cutter. As a result, gas is the only option, though you do have a choice of a two-stroke or four-stroke motor (also known as two-cycle and four-cycle).

Two-stroke vs. four-stroke motor

Two-stroke motors use a premixed combination of oil and gas put directly in the tank. It can be a bit messy, and you need to get the proportions right. If you don’t, the motor will either run rich, which usually means a lot of unpleasant smoke, or lean, in which case the motor will splutter unevenly and could even seize. Why would you choose a two-stroke machine? They’re lighter and quite a lot cheaper.

Four-stroke engines have separate tanks for oil and gas. They’re not only cleaner to work with, they are also more efficient. They produce fewer harmful emissions and use less gas. However, they’re heavier and more expensive.

So which is best? It’s really a question of how much you’ll be using one. Most entry-level and mid-range homeowner models use a two-stroke engine. More powerful pro-grade tools use a four-stroke engine.

Size

Much is made of cubic centimeters in motors, from around 25 to those that exceed 40. However, as any car enthusiast will tell you, capacity alone isn’t an accurate guide to performance. You need to look at the brush cutter as a whole, and particularly at its reputation for reliability.

Compliance

EPA or CARB compliance is becoming increasingly important. These standards apply to both types of motor, identifying them as producing lower emissions. In many states, noncompliant models are now illegal.

EXPERT TIP

Two-stroke engines need a carefully balanced mix of gas and oil. Use a measuring jug or you’ll end up with a poorly performing tool.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Attachments

As we’ve noted, most brush cutters still offer a weed eater (string trimmer) head, which can be swapped in fairly easily. Some go further, offering a range of other blade attachments like hedge trimmers and pole saws. There are also those called “attachment ready,” which have a motor and shaft with a detachable lower section. These can take accessories from a range of producers. If you’re buying a brush cutter and don’t have these other garden tools, it’s worth exploring the flexibility on offer.

Shaft

On weed eaters, a curved shaft can be an advantage, getting you closer to the action for better control. On brush cutters, it’s not really an issue, and some might argue that you want the distance to maximize safety. A few lightweight string trimmer/brush cutters have a curved shaft, but most are straight.

Grips: These are either a D handle (also called a loop) or handlebars. The former gives a range of hand positions, though the latter are wider apart and provide greater leverage (they tend to be used on heavy-duty machines). Adjustability is a plus.

Head

Size: Though not perhaps a high priority, the actual size of the head might be an issue if you’re working in tight spaces.

Material: Nylon cutter heads are available for some electric weed eaters, though they’re something of a compromise. On a proper brush cutter, you want the strength and durability of steel blades.

Guard: A guard is provided, but on machines primarily designed as weed eaters, this can be a bit small. We like to see plenty of blade coverage, which does a better job of deflecting debris away from the user.

Tanks

It’s nice to have semitransparent oil and fuel tanks so you can quickly check levels on the go.

DID YOU KNOW?

Many brush cutters can also accommodate a string trimmer head, giving you a versatile tool for the whole garden.

Accessories

Safety gear: TR Industrial Safety Helmet and Hearing Protection
This is a great value combination of an adjustable helmet (which you can use with either the plastic or metal mesh visor provided) plus adjustable earmuffs that clip in and can easily be removed. All components are approved to both the European CE standard and the American ANSI standard.

Harness: Hanperal Comfort Shoulder Strap
Some brush cutters include a shoulder strap, but they’re often thin. If you’re using the tool for long periods, you’ll appreciate the way a good harness spreads the weight across your shoulders and back. The Hanperal strap is made of tough, easily cleaned nylon and fits most models (check for a clip-on section on the shaft).

Brush cutter prices

Inexpensive: If you have a weed eater that takes attachments, you can find brush cutter heads that cost from $50 to $70. However, if your existing tool isn’t sufficiently powerful, it will struggle. We would be very careful about going that route.

Mid-range: Around $150 will get you an entry-level two-stroke string trimmer/brush cutter. They’re not bad tools, but reliability can be a bit hit-or-miss. Quality name-brand models tend to run from $220 to $300.

Expensive: Above $300 you have powerful four-stroke machinery. The best professional-grade brush cutters can be as much as $600.

EXPERT TIP

For best performance, use your brush cutter on dry days. Wet grass, leaves, and twigs can quickly clog the blade guard and make the motor stall.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Wear safety gear. A brush cutter is usually used to cut through denser material than a weed eater, and you may be working on rough ground. Flying debris and small stones can be dangerous. Safety glasses offer limited protection; a lightweight visor is much better. For the same reason, strong gloves and tough work boots are recommended. And while modern engines are quieter than their forerunners, ear protection is still advised.

  • Never use a damaged blade. And check that the blade is properly tightened before starting work. 

  • Never fit nonstandard cutting attachments. Flails, in particular, should be avoided because the standard guard may not be strong enough in the event of breakage.

  • Turn the motor off. Always turn the motor off before attempting to fix any jams or tangles.

  • Keep children and pets well away from the work area.

Other products we considered

The two-cycle Coocheer String Trimmer and Brush Cutter is one of a growing number of imports at remarkably affordable prices. The 42.7-cubic centimeter motor is as high a capacity as we’ve seen, though the designation as a trimmer first is probably a better indication of performance. At half the price of many big-name competitors, it’s worth considering.

The Makita Brush Cutter comes from a well-known and highly respected maker. This 25.4-cubic centimeter, four-stroke tool is easy to start, will work at any angle, and at only 12 pounds is very maneuverable.

The Husqvarna Pro Brush Cutter has a high-efficiency 34.6-cubic centimeter, four-stroke motor, ergonomic and adjustable handlebars, and includes a string trimmer head and harness. It’s expensive, but it has the performance and durability demanded by professionals.

Starting problems are often because the instructions weren’t followed closely. Machines differ. You may have owned a similar one before, but that doesn’t mean the procedure is the same on your current tool.

FAQ

Q. Do brush cutters need much maintenance?
A. Not really. Clean the cutter and guard after each use. Dirt and green material can be very difficult to remove if you let it harden. Use white spirit to get rid of any sticky deposits. Other than that, it’s just a question of looking after the motor. Generally, that’s just an occasional oil change on four-stroke models, plus a new filter and spark plug perhaps once a year. Do make sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions, though.
 

Q. How often should I sharpen brush cutter blades?
A. If you use the tool regularly, once every few months is probably sufficient. Bear in mind that some blades are reversible, so they need sharpening less often. When the blade pulps and tears material rather than cutting cleanly, it’s a sign that the blade is blunt. It’s an easy job with a whetstone or smooth file, though if you’re not confident, your local hardware store may offer the service.
 

Q. Some brush cutter blades have three or four edges; others are like a circular saw. What’s the difference?
A. Those with three or four edges are designed for general-purpose use. They’ll handle thick grass, heavy weed growth, bramble, and so on. Those that look like a saw are for thicker branches, though not so thick that you’d need an actual saw or chainsaw. For really tough stuff, there are some that use that kind of chain, but it’s wrapped around a metal disk.

Other Products We Considered
The BestReviews editorial team researches hundreds of products based on consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. We then choose a shorter list for in-depth research and testing before finalizing our top picks. These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5.
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