Brush Cutter or a Grass Cutter, How to Pick One?

It is mainly the engine power that differentiates a brush cutter from a grass cutter. While they’re both powered by an engine (or a motor) and let you cover more ground much faster and efficiently, there are few differences between the two in terms of design and usability which you should be aware of, before purchasing one.

This article intends to provide you with a good understanding of what those differences are, and also a couple of other things that you should (definitely) keep in mind which I learned by using my somewhat old Kawasaki brush cutter for a number of years, that should come in handy for you so hopefully you wouldn’t make the mistakes I made.

I first thought about giving you a brief introduction by adding various defining characteristics of the two, but in my experience, they’re pretty much useless pointers, if your’re a novice. So with that in mind, I’ve instead created a couple of questions that you should ask yourself and based on your answers, you should pretty much be able to make your own choice.

My Old Kawasaki Brush Cutter

It maybe old, but it’s a workhorse!…

Before giving you those questions though, I want to point out a couple of things that you should consider whether you’re going to purchase a brush or a grass cutter because they’re directly associated with the level of your comfort and health. The article is a bit long, but I urge you to carefully read it because I put a lot of my own experience, online research and my time, for putting it all together.

The Handle Design

Brush cutter with loop handlebars

Loop handles…

Now this is more of a brush cutter user’s concern, but they’re still (to a lesser degree, mostly due to their lightweight factor) applied to grass cutter users as well. First of all, I prefer the bicycle handle style over the loop handle design. But the loop handle comes in handy if you usually have to lift the machine up for trimming. But for me, this is no concern at all.

Brush cutter with bicycle handlebars

Bicycle handlebars style (my favorite)…

I just use my brush cutter to clean up my thickly grown weed & the saplings, thus I rarely go up, although I do adjust the handle to be slightly bent towards the shaft as it helps to take away some of that weight from my back. It just puts me in a more relaxed position.

Brush cutter with more comfortable looking bicycle handlebar style handles

There are also couple of variations of the bicycle handlebars styles for brush & grass cutters where the left one is slightly longer towards the left side which even though I’ve never used, after using my evenly shaped handles for many many years, I think that’s a much improved style because you hold the brush cutter to your right-side and if the handles are evenly shaped, then your left hand has to reach out a bit more to grab the handle which is slightly uncomfortable.

Accelerator Button Position

If you choose a model with the bicycle handle style, then pay close attention to the position of the accelerator button. Take my Kawasaki brush cutter for instance. Kawasaki for some reason has put it in such an awkward position (shown below) where it puts a lot of pressure on my thumb.

Awkward acclerator position of my Kawasaki brush cutter

Counterproductive accelerator desgin of my Kawasaki Brush cutter

And in effect, after using it for about a half an hour, it starts hurt real bad. If I keep doing that for a couple of hours, then it comes to a point where it even hurts when I try to bend that finger. Most newer models with bicycle handle style include the accelerator button at the front of the handle. Yes I’ve used these and they’re very comfortable to use. I think that’s the way to go.

That said, I can see Kawasaki’s logic (I guess). For instance, in a moment of panic one’s hands might tighten the grip, and if the accelerator switch was located at the front of the handle, then this should rev up the engine even more which can be dangerous. So maybe Kawasaki designed it in this way as a countermeasure. Still, I think it’s counterproductive. If I were you, I’d stay away from such designs.

Vibration Levels

Hand-arm vibration syndrome (infographic_1)

It’s a big safety concern…

This too again mostly concerns brush cutters as they come with powerful engines and the more powerful the engine, the more vibrations it produces. But grass cutters with gas (petrol) powered engines should also pay attention, because if your hands are exposed to certain levels of vibrations over long periods, they might get affected by what is known as the Hand arm Vibration Syndrome, a serious health risk.

Hand-arm vibration syndrome (infographic_2)

The vibration that you feel (specially on the handle) when using your machine is mostly generated from the engine and the crank shaft (there’s a metal bar that travels inside the shaft of your machine that connects the engine to the cutter head at the other end, it’s called the crank shaft). While electric motors generate low levels of vibrations, gas powered mechanical engines unfortunately generate more vibrations mostly due to the piston(s) and other mechanical parts.

At first, you might not think that this is a big factor, but if you usually run your brush cutter at high engine speeds, then doing that for a hour or two can make your fingers feel very uncomfortable. This is another drawback of my Kawasaki machine, but I think it’s simply showing its age actually. Because as an engine ages, things get loose which increases the vibrations etc.

The type of cutter head you use  also generate vibrations. For instance, I use a cutter head with two blades and another with three metal blades. The the head with three blades reduces the vibrations compared to the header with two blades.

While there’s little we can do to reduce the vibrations generated by the engine and the crank shaft, simply choosing the proper cutter head design does help while reducing the vibrations.

So the point is, when you buy a brush or a grass cutter, make sure that it comes with some sort of an anti-vibration technology, this should help you a lot in the long run, as far as your health is concerned.

Also remember that, each engine has an optimal speed at which it produces the least levels of vibrations (it should be noted in the manual). Although this is not always practical, if you can run it at this speed most of the time, it’ll increase the level of your comfort.

I also recommend that you wear wool gloves when working as they can absorb (only to a certain degree, though) some of that vibration coming from your machine.

The Blade Guard

Brush cutter head-guard

This is another very important aspect of your brush or the grass trimmer. Especially if you use cutting heads with metal blades because they throw away rocks or pretty much anything that’s lose which gets in its way, all over the place.

Make sure your machine comes with a strong head (blade) guard that it’s located as closer to the cutting blade as possible (and covers most of the cutter head that’s exposed towards your body) so that it has the best change of catching anything that comes in your way.

Fuel Tank Guard

Fuel tank guard on my Kawasaki TG24

Make sure your trimmer comes with a protective guard protecting the underside of the fuel tank. Otherwise, when put on or gets dragged on rough surfaces (especially if the whole tank is located under the engine as the case with my Kawasaki TG24), it can easily get damaged and replacing a fuel tank is costly.

Other Safety Equipment

Protective equipment for brush & grass cutter handlers

Make sure to wear a helmet that covers your head, ears and the front of your face with a strong glass (or a net) and other equipment such as boots and protective trousers for the optimal levels of protection.

Well, I think I’ve covered the basics, so now let’s move on to the actual questions that should help you to choose the kind of trimmer or a cutter that will fit your requirements. And below are those questions. As you can see, pretty much everything can be broken down to these simple three questions.

You should ask your self:

1.) What do I need to cut? (is it just soft grass or hard brushes?).

2.) What is the nature of the area that needs trimming? (is it large?, does it have hard to reach edges? is the job ‘subtle’ in nature? etc).

3.) Are their any special requirements? (noise level restrictions for instance).

You should buy a grass cutter (trimmer) if:

To put it bluntly, if you need to trim the soft grass on your garden and clean up the edges gently, then you should buy a grass cutter.

STIHL FS40CE grass trimmer

STIHL FS40CE model, note the bent end (more on that later)…

They’re also the more cheaper choice, so it’ll save you some money. They have a smaller engine, and overall, they’re designed to be lightweight (4-6 kg usually), thus easy to maneuver. If you’re a woman, this will come in handy.

You also have the luxury of choosing between a gas powered conventional engine or an electrically powered motor (these are quiet machines and should be the ideal choice if you’re concerned about the noise) that are even more lightweight (2.3-3 kg mark, roughly) as they don’t include some of the metal parts (such as a drive shaft) that the mechanical engines rely upon. Their vibration levels are extremely low which should be an added comfort factor. That said however, if you have a large area to cover, make sure the battery can survive that the work length (the battery life should be noted in the manual).

If you have a large are to cover, all in a single session, then a gas powered model will be your best choice. Sure they’re a bit more noisy than the electrically powered ones, but nowadays most models come with special noise cancellation techniques. So if you’re going to purchase a gas powered grass trimmer and the noise is a concern to you, make sure it has those features in built.

Most grass cutters use plastic strings to cut the grass which is handy when reaching for hard to reach edges and other areas as their impact will be minimum upon hitting on rocks and concrete materials and unlike the metal blades, they don’t (mostly) throw away rocks and other similar materials that could hit your windows etc and damage them for instance.

Plastic string trimmer head (Echo ProMaxi Cut)

A more conventional plastic string head…

Some grass cutters by default come with different cutting tools such as cutting blades or metal strings, but unless you need to trim more aggressive plants like saplings and such like, the plastic strings should be the ideal solution.

Champ Junior 2, Australian made (grass trimmer head)

Australian made cutting head with 4 metal strings, best suited if you have thick grass and weed actually…

But my advice is that, don’t waste your time too much on the cutting edge because they’re cheap parts that can easily be replaced.

The engine capacity can vary depending on the manufacture, but they’re usually around 25-30 cc. In other words, they’re more fuel efficient (assuming that you want to buy a gas powered one) compared to the brush cutters, and the engine power is more than enough for these kinds of requirements.

When it comes to maintaining a garden, the shape of the trim is also equally important. And the correct shape is defined by the angle of your cut. Therefore, grass trimmers come with two different shaft styles. One is the more common straight shaft.

Straight vs the bent shaft (grass cutters)

The other is the one that’s slightly curved at the end, and also a bit shorter in length. It’s the bent or the curved shaft that’ll make it easy for you to evenly trim grass on even and uneven grounds and when cleaning along with the edge of a fence, for instance.

Cleaning the edge of a fence with a curved shaft grass cutter

As an added benefit, some models also come with heads that let you pivot for cleaning up the subtle edges of your grass field with ease (you can still do it with a grass cutter that has a fixed cutting head too, but it requires a little physical strength from you since you have to hold the grass cutter in an uncomfortable position. A cutting head that can be pivoted just makes things easy for you). Generally speaking, models with curved shafts are more comfortable to use.

Convertable pivoting heads for edge trimming (WORX WG168, grass trimmer)

That said however, they’re not without their drawbacks. For instance, due to the bent end, you won’t be able to reach deep under fences or hedges. They also deliver less rotational power from the engine due to the bend (I’m simply skipping the boring technical details) and the shaft length is also shorter which can be problematic if you’re a tall individual.

If you’re going to be required to go under a lot when trimming grass on your garden, then a straight shaft will be the ideal solution. And, you can trim both even and uneven grounds with them, once you master the handling anyway (I do it all the time).

So before I move on to the brush cutter section, let’s recap. When purchasing a grass trimmer, you should consider the followings:

Is there a lot of grounds to clear in a single session? (if so, a gas powered one will be the best choice) Are there hard-to-reach edges & does the tool need to be able to clean under a lot? (if so, a grass trimmer with a straight shaft would come in handy) Are there a lot of grass lines to be trimmed? Does the garden include lot of slopes? (if so, a slightly bent shaft model makes sense) Does the noise matter? (if so, an electrical motor powered trimmer would be an excellent choice. But there are especially designed gas powered grass trimmers that make less noise).

You should buy a brush cutter if:

If you have a lawn or a land that’s filled with hard grass, weed and bushes etc, then a brush cutter is the ideal solution. And unlike with string trimmers, there aren’t a lot that you should be considering because in most cases, it’s about the raw cutting power!. So combine what I’ve already talked about in the basics section and keep in mind some of the things that I pointed out in the grass cutter section, and also consider the following features.

First of all, make sure the brush cutter is powerful enough to meet your needs. While there are some battery powered models, my instinct is to suggest you to go for a gas powered one. They’ll last years to come (provided that you buy one that’s built with quality materials) and as long as you have enough gas & oil, you don’t have to worry about ground clearance or running out of power, in other words.

Engine capacity of a brush cutter can vary anywhere from 30-60 cc (when the engine capacity exceeds the 50 cc mark, they’re usually considered clearing saws – the big brother of brush cutter).

My Kawaski brush cutter is around 30 cc (don’t remember the exact number, yeah the manual is long gone) and it’s more than enough for my needs. And when I say my needs, I mean cutting and clearing out thick bushes & saplings that are sometimes 1-1.5 inches in diameter.

Stihl FS 560 C-EM, powerful clearing saw

A clearing saw…

But depending on your workload (say that you’re in for forest cutting), you might have to choose a more capable machine (a clearing saw or a brush-cutter/clearing-saw hybrid). You also have the choice of going for a two-stroke or a four-stroke engine, I personally prefer the two-stroke engine because that’s what I’ve been mostly exposed to as far as brush or grass cutters are concerned, so my advice could be a bit biased. But they’re (two-strokes) very reliable engines nonetheless.

Brush cutter is a also bit heavy machine. The weight can vary anywhere from 6 kg – 11 kg usually, though there are lightweight ones available that may lack in power somewhat. They all come with a strap for supporting the weight for easy handling.

My strap is made out of nylon, not exactly the most comfortable ones out there. But I just wrap it with a piece of cloth around the area that touches my shoulder as a dirty fix.

A comfortable brush cutter strap

But there are ones that come with rubber wrappers (with single or two shoulder support) for enhanced comfort, those however, you’ll have to purchase separately, most of the time. 

If you have to tame a really stubborn weeds and bushes, then in my opinion, a cutter head with three well-built blades will be the ideal choice. Sure I use my cutter head with two blades too, but the three cutter blade design produces less vibration, cuts aggressively and will not get stuck that easily, in my experience.

Brush cutter head with three metal blades

And I also go very close to the ground (sometimes too close) when cutting the bushes for achieving the optimal cutting results. But you have to be careful when doing that because the main mounting nut of the cutter head (that which holds the cutter blades to the head) will touch the ground and if you haven’t added a mounting nut protector, then over time, the mounting nut will wear out which can be a bit expensive to replace. So make sure to buy a mounting nut (bolt) protector.

Cutter head mounting nut protector of my Kawasaki brush cutter

As you can see from the image above, mine (the protector) is already worn out due to the hard, closer to the ground cutting, that I do.

Well, I think I’ve pretty much explained all the necessities that you should be aware of for successfully purchasing either a brush or a grass cutter that perfectly suits your needs. If I’ve missed a thing or a two, I’ll update the post in the future. Happy buying!.