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Doing it yourself? Get the proper tools

Gas or electric mower? Vacuum blower or low-tech rake? Here’s your guide to lawn tools

Posted: October 3, 2008 9:49 p.m.
Updated: December 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.

If you're going to do yard work or gardening yourself, then you'll need the right tools - from wheelbarrows and lawn mowers to trimmers and gloves. Not choosing the right tool could cost you more money - and a few backaches.

 

In these uncertain times, many people are cutting back on expenses by eliminating certain purchases or services they feel are less than vital. While no one, of course, would ever drop their newspaper subscription, they might buy a fewer lattes each week or start drinking tap water instead of bottled. They might only get one massage a month and maybe let the psychic figure out why they haven’t been called. A few folks, innovative or misguided as the case may be, might even consider eliminating their gardening service. If you’re one of these, here’s a word to consider: “amortization.”

To do the job yourself, you will need the proper tools. And if you have none of them, purchasing those tools might cost you more than a couple years’ worth of gardener bills. You might not see a return on your investment until around 2010. And, if you have a big yard and want a riding mower, make that 2113.

However, for those bold enough to consider going it alone, we’ll take a look at the various tools and machines you may need to purchase, and get a little advice on choosing and using them from Keith Oien, sales manager at the Valencia Do It Center.

Lawn mowers
We’ll assume that you have a tract-home-sized yard, which would normally make a riding lawn mower a bit overkill. But riding or not, the powered lawn mower is usually the biggest-ticket purchase a homeowner will make tool-wise. Powered types include gas and electric, and you can always go old school with a hand mower.

Gas vs. electric: “Gas-powered lawn mowers have typically been what people think of,” Oien said. But, in his opinion, they have several drawbacks when compared to electric lawn mowers. Most importantly, Oien feels, gas mowers create air pollution. Beyond that you have to remember to purchase the gas, and if your mower has a two-cycle engine, you have to mix oil with the gas. “You have to use a fuel stabilizer if you don’t use the mower for awhile,” he added.

Gas mowers also require tune ups, and their air filters require regular cleaning — more often under dusty conditions. Oien said that with all the regulations on gasoline in California it is probably cheaper to use an electric mower than to use a gas one.

While gas mowers may be more powerful in general, Oien feels you usually don’t need all that power. If your lawn is so long your electric mower can’t cut it all at once, raise the mower height for the first pass and then lower it for a second pass.

“I find electric mowers very easy to move around. They’re lighter,” Oien said, and he doesn’t feel restricted by the extension cord.

The Do It Center has gas mowers from $159 to $269, and electric mowers from $169 to $239.
Hand power: Your final choice in lawn mowers is hand-powered. Oien said these are more suitable for smaller yards and for people who want the exercise. “They’re definitely lower cost,” he added. However, the height adjustment on hand-powered lawn mowers is limited and, if you let your grass get too long, it will be difficult to push through. The Do It Center has a hand-powered lawn mower for $89.

Trimmers
When it comes to cleaning up the edges of your lawn, you can go with cord-type trimmers or the more precise edgers. The units intended specifically for lawn “edging” include large electric models ($89) and hand-powered models ($29).

These days many folks use the cord-type trimmers for cutting weeds and for edging their lawns. These come in gas-powered and electric models. Oien said the electric models are much lighter than the gas models. With either type you choose the diameter of the cord you use to cut, depending on what you are cutting. These cords are available at the Do It Center from 0.050 to 0.105 inches. Oien noted that, especially with the heavier cords, you need to be careful when you are using them around trees.

Blowers
Blowers find a variety of uses in the yard. You can herd leaves on the ground or blow them out of rain gutters. You can push the grass you “edged” off your driveway and back on the lawn and you can even “sweep” your garage with a blower. The Do It Center has a gas powered blower for $149 and an electric model for $49. There is even a vacuum “blower” with a bag, with which you can suck up your leaves and clippings.

Oien reminds that the “low-tech” alternative to a blower is a rake.

Chain saws
While chain saws might go beyond the limits of general yard machinery, they can come in handy for tree trimming. The Do It Center also has a unique machine called the “Alligator,” which is a cross between a lopper and a chain saw. One jaw is the saw and the other more of a grip. This retails for $99.

Hedge trimmers
If you have hedges, junipers or bougainvillea or just about anything that keeps growing outward and upward, you need a hedge trimmer. These days most people use electric hedge trimmers. The Do It Center has a 22-inch (blade) model at $84, a 20-inch at $59 and a 16-inch at $34. There is also a cordless electric hand trimmer at $49. “That’s for little places,” Oien said.

Can you say manual?
Even the laziest yard-worker will need a number of hand tools to clean up and touch up and dig.
Rakes: The Do It Center has rakes from $5 to $14, in many styles. Some are made of plastic and some of metal. Leaf rakes have flexible prongs for duties such as raking up leaves, and smaller leaf rakes are available for getting under and around shrubs. There is even an “adjustable” leaf rake. Bow rakes have stiff prongs, for raking garden soil.

Shears, loppers and pruners: Shears are used to manually trim hedges, and loppers are for thicker stems, such as rose stems. Pruners are used to cut branches. The Do It Center’s selection of these three tools ranges from $10 to $30.

Hand saws: Unlike typical wood saws, which have smaller teeth for neater work, hand saws for yard use have larger teeth that are angled to both cut and clean on forward and backward strokes. This helps cut through the green wood of branches.

Shovels and such: If you’re going-a-digging, the Do It Center has you covered with shovels of many types and sizes from $6 to $32. There are hoes and cultivators at $14, and aerators from $27 to $29.
Wheelbarrows: Many homeowners find a wheelbarrow essential. With these you can move dirt, sod, logs and the clippings you want to get to your recycle barrel or compost pile. They are useful for mixing garden soil as well. The Do It Center has these from $34 - $69.

Fertilizer and weed sprays
You may have only realized it from the bill, but your gardener probably added fertilizer to your lawn and shrubs regularly. Now it’s your turn. You may also want to use a weed spray, unless you enjoy digging out your unwanteds. Get advice on fertilizers and weed killers from your garden shop professional.
You can spread fertilizer using a hand spreader ($10 to $13) or a rolling spreader ($22 to $69). Some weed killers and fertilizers come in convenient jugs that attach to your hose. You apply them while spraying water from the hose.

Outfitting
Finally, do not go gentle into the yard jungle. Gloves are essential. The Do It Center has gloves from $2 to $24. Some offer a better “feel” and others more protection. There are also hats and “Slogger” shoes at $19.

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