5 ways to keep your yard gear humming
Warmer weather means more time in your yard—and, too often, time wasted dealing with mowers, string trimmers, chain saws, and other power equipment that won’t start or doesn’t cut it. Here are some tips from the experts at Consumer Reports that will get your gear ready for the long, hot summer.
Sharpen the blades. Mower blades should slice grass, rather than tearing it, which looks ugly and can invite lawn disease. Blades typically need sharpening once a month. You can do it yourself with a special file or grinding wheel after removing the blade. Got a lawn tractor or rider? Drive it up onto auto ramps so you can safely get under it and sharpen the blades on the machine. You can also have mowers and other tools professionally sharpened (about $10), including chain saws, which take more finesse. You’ll know a chain saw is dull when it saws more slowly and leaves powder instead of chunks as it cuts.
Quick tip. Save time by having an extra mower blade or saw chain on hand that’s pre-sharpened and ready to go.
Tune up the engine. Most mowers and other power tools have one, easy-to-reach spark plug. Change it each year using a spark-plug socket. Typically, mowers and tractors have a paper air filter that drops in like the one in your car; drop in a new one each mowing season. Chain saws, trimmers, and other handheld tools typically have a fabric screen you simply brush off with an old toothbrush. Most tractors and riders also have a fuel filter: Simply loosen the clamps, pull out the old filter, and clamp in a new one.
Quick tip. New spark plugs come with the correct gap right out of the box so just make sure you buy the right one.
Freshen the fuel. Gasoline can go bad in as little as a few weeks—and bad fuel is the culprit behind most no-start situations, followed by a fouled spark plug. Unless you’ve added a fuel stabilizer to last season’s fuel, start with fresh gasoline and some stabilizer, which should keep it fresh for up to a year.
Quick tip. Ethanol in fuel can harm small engines. While pre-mixed, ethanol-free fuel is pricey (about $8 to $10 per gallon at a marina or $6 to $8 per quart at a home center), it may be worth it for trimmers and other handheld power tools, which use less fuel than mowers.
Oil it up. Today’s mowers and tractors have four-stroke engines with a separate oil reservoir like the one in your car. If you didn’t change the oil at the end of the last mowing season, now’s the time. A 10W-30 or straight-30 weight oil is typical for summer; check the owner’s manual to be sure. Chain saws, trimmers, and other handheld tools (and some older mowers) have two-stroke engines, which typically use one part two-stroke oil to 40 or 50 parts gasoline.
Quick tip. Check the dipstick on four-stroke mowers and tractors after each mowing, and top off if the level is low. Don’t overfill, or you could get air bubbles (and subpar lubrication). For two-stroke tools, we suggest buying premixed fuel. Make sure you get the correct mix for your machine—40:1 or 50:1.
Load up your string trimmer. Plastic string-trimmer line tends to become brittle as it ages. Some models take a pre-filled spool of line. And most now accept aftermarket quick-load trimmer heads where you simply thread in a new length of line as the old one wears down. Check the manual for the right thickness, typically given in fractions of an inch (.080 and .095 are common sizes).
Quick tip. Before whacking away at your weeds, give the trimmer head a quick soak in a bucket of water to lubricate the line. And use the manual line-release on auto-feed trimmers if the line isn’t feeding out on its own.
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