With summer over (and it was a good one, whatever anyone says), it's time to consider successes and failures, and first up is a foray into battery-powered, or cordless, hedge-cutter comparison. This summer I had the fun of putting two head to head: the Ego 6500D and the Stihl HSA 56. Battery-powered tools still have a bit of a reputation to build. On the website Garden Guides, it says "Cordless hedge trimmers have difficulty cutting in general". Nothing could be further from the truth as far as these are concerned.
I had a lot to learn about hedge-cutters. Up to now I've made do with shears, secateurs and the odd saw blade. It turns out that these are quite scary beasts. Mishandled, they could easily maim, so I began to appreciate the effort that's been put into developing safety features. If you've got one, you might like to check what's there.
- Dual handles mean you have to hold the cutter in a stable position to work. The control (rear) handles have two compression switches, so your hand has to be firmly clasped around them. The loop (front) handles have compression switches, so the cutter won't work one-handed.
- A plate in front of the forward handle shields your flesh from the blade, should your hand slip.
- Tooth extensions put a distance between the end of the blades and any flesh they accidentally come into contact with.
- A switch locks the Off position, which means you (or a curious child) can't absent-mindedly set it going when grasping the handles (the Stihl has this, the EGO doesn't.)
- Insulated gripping surfaces, which protect against shocks should you accidentally cut into hidden live wires.
So, specs up first:
Ego Hedge Cutter 6500E
- Battery: 56V
- Blade length: 65cm
- Cutting capacity (gap between blades): 33mm
- Speed: dual
- Weight (without battery) 3.8kg
- Noise levels: LWA 91.45 dB(A), with sound pressure level at operator's position LPA 81.4dB(A)
- Vibration: 5.313 m/s2 front (loop) handle; 3.115 m/s2 rear (control) handle
Stihl Hedge Cutter HSA56
- Battery: 36V
- Blade length: 45 cm
- Cutting capacity (gap between blades) 25 mm (measured by me)
- Speed: single
- Weight: 2.9 kg (the specs don't say whether this includes the battery, but that's what it feels like in comparison with the EGO)
- Noise levels: LWA 91dB(A), with sound pressure level at operator's position LPA 80 dB(A)
- Vibration: Loop (front) handle 1.2 ms2; control (rear) handle 2.7 m/s2
Ease of handling
A glance down the specs show an immediate difference. The EGO has a longer blade, is heavier, and has more vibration. The thing that struck me most was the difference in battery position. Whereas the Stihl's battery is in between the loop handle and the control handle, spreading the weight between them, the EGO's larger, heavier battery is immediately beneath the rear control handle. This balances the longer blade, but it does make the two feel different and it would be worth trying both to see which you prefer. I personally preferred the slightly less ponderous feel of the Stihl.
However, the EGO offers a couple of extras over the Stihl - two speeds and a rear (control) handle that can be set in five different positions by simply pulling out a catch. The handle, therefore, should always be positioned to face upwards and this made a huge difference to both wielding the weight and the comfort of the cutting position.
We tried the hedge cutters out on three different projects. One was shaping a yew "lump" in my father-in-law's garden; the other was trimming the holly column and ivy-covered wall in my mother's. Now it became clear that you really need to choose according to the work you're likely to require.
The yew and holly required trimming a lot at head height and overhead. Yes, I'm sure this is not approved cutting technique, but let's be honest, how often are you going to set up a ladder when all you have to do is reach up? There may be a warning against it. If so, it's in the EGO booklet, which carries so many WARNING paragraphs and SAFETY instructions that your eyes start dancing from one warning triangle to another and I gave up reading them all.
In practice, the Stihl was easier to use. It's easier to sweep the shorter blade around, and if you want to nip the end off some soft growth the shorter blade makes it's easier to be precise. However, the yew has grown a tad wide in girth and the longer reach of the EGO allowed cutting the top to be a stand-on-the-ground job, even though stretching up and towards the centre was something of a strain with the weight.
Given the chance, both Husband and I returned repeatedly to the Stihl; it feels lighter, more manoeuvrable and less tiring to hold. With less vibration it's less of a strain to reach out. However, its shorter blade meant that, had we not had the EGO, we would have been up a ladder, leaning into the bush.
I found the same on the holly. A wide sweep overhead was easier with the Stihl, and its lighter weight meant that it was easier to nip off individual twigs that I'd missed. However, for thicker stems, the EGO has the edge. The central trunk of the holly needed cutting off at the top and I needed the EGO to hack through its inch-and-a-half diameter.
The ivy was different. It immediately proved easier with the EGO, partly because of the cutter's ability with slightly thicker stems, but also because of the nifty position-changing handle. It's a matter of a moment to pull out the catch and twist. Not only can you turn it 45 degrees and 90 degrees to the left, but 45 and 90 degrees to the right, which means that you can position the blade to your right or your left, making access to the hedge much more flexible, and in my case, no problem in cutting behind a couple of rose bushes in both directions.
With the handle positioned at right angles to the blade, cutting on the vertical comes closer to the body, giving you more strength and manoeuvrability and the greater weight is less noticeable, while the longer blade means speedier cutting.
Noise levels and vibration
As you can see, the official figures are very close and both guarantee a maximum sound level of 93dB.The EGO has slightly more of whine about it, increasing at the higher speed, which I personally find more annoying than the throatier rasp of the Stihl. However, the EGO's higher speed felt more comfortable, vibration-wise, than the lower speed, while the Stihl was more comfortable overall.
Batteries and battery charging
Both batteries clicked into place and had a switch that clicked them free so you could remove them. Both have indicators that light up to give an indication of how much power is left. As with all the EGO products, one of the leading features is the speed the battery charges. This EGO hedge trimmer uses the 1120E battery which takes a very impressive mere 25 minutes or so to charge fully (if you use the CH5500E Rapid Charger) and, unlike my experience a couple of years ago with the EGO mower, I've found it's still got plenty of juice when I've returned to it after several weeks.
The Stihl takes longer, but the advantage here is that the battery is lighter and slightly easier to handle, a small size that drops into place, rather than having to be slid into place beneath the handle, as happens with the EGO. The Stihl battery is smaller, at 36V to EGO's market-leading 56V, but for the jobs I gave it showed no sign of running out, and had plenty of juice left, retaining the charge for more use a few weeks later.
Initially, my impression was that the EGO design was more clunky. In operation there was more vibration, it was heavier, whinier, and the battery not quite so easy to slide into place. However, the adjustable handle was a boon, and it had the ability to handle thicker stems (the width between the teeth governs the size of stem that can be cut), and a long reach. Having dual speed was wasted on me. I used it the top speed all the time and can't see why you wouldn't, as it felt more comfortable. That uses up the battery faster but didn't present a problem in the individual jobs I presented to it.
In all of these areas, Stihl is more limited. However, the Stihl is lighter and defter and the battery an absolute doddle to get in and out. It also has that lock switch that prevents accidental start-up if you grasp both handles. Did the longer battery charging time worry me? No, because it also holds a charge for a long time and so you could easily put it on to charge at the end of a session, making it ready for next time. For a well kept hedge, it's ideal. It easily cuts moderately thick stems, but solid stems over an inch it's beginning to bounce off.
This really is horses for courses, while price will help you in your choice. The EGO 6500E comes in at £219, excluding the battery (which costs an extra £84.99) and charger (at £74.99, Rapid charger or £49, Standard Charger). The Stihl is a more wallet-friendly £199, including the AK10 battery and AL101 charger. Both batteries will fit the other cordless tools within the range.
Were I the sort of gardener I'd like to be (not letting anything get away from me), then the Stihl would be fine. My being the type of gardener I am (I mean, how do things grow that fast?) the EGO has the versatility to cope with more of what's thrown at it.
Thanks to Caro, who has added her comment on the Stihl. "I have the Stihl hedge trimmer and absolutely love it. When trimming any length of hedge, the lighter weight is a blessing for my arm muscles! Because all the batteries in the Stihl range are interchangeable and I have other Stihl tools, I sometimes use the more powerful AK20 battery which holds the charge longer and takes about 40 minutes to recharge."
NB: Both the Stihl and EGO were on loan for review purposes.