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Making an investment in any new power tool is always a tricky process. Often it can be a complete minefield trying to find out if something will be a valuable return on investment. We have all been sucked into the trap of buying something cheap and paying more in the long run. I am sure that most would agree that paying more is fine as long as you get something that will last.
This is the same thing I asked myself when I first came across petrol garden multi tools on Amazon. They seemed like the ultimate wonder tool that could perform 4 separate functions with one device.
Most of the numerous multi tools have a hedge trimmer, chainsaw, strimmer and brush cutter attachment. Furthermore most of these average £150 which seems rather good value. To buy these tools separately would easily double that cost straight away.
Although I have generally had negative experiences with garden multi tools I am now on my third! Their good value for money and ability to generally do the job has kept bringing me back. In hind sight however there are many things I would have considered differently if I was to buy them again.
In this article I will describe my experience with three models and come to a conclusion if they are worth the money.
What are garden multi tools?
Garden multi tools are 2 stroke petrol engine machines that can carry out multi functions in the garden. The engine drives a shaft through a central tube which can power different working attachments.
These commonly consist of a strimmer, brush cutter, chainsaw and hedge trimmer. They typically have an extra pole extension for extended long reach. Many of the garden multi tools on the market also come with a hardness and health and safety equipment.
Why I bought a garden multi tool
I had recently moved to an agricultural property and now had a third of an acre of garden to maintain. I had a background in garden maintenance so was familiar with petrol garden tools.
I now had a 60 metre long Leylandii hedge to cut which was 2 metres high. I also had an 80 metre hawthorn hedgerow, a small fruit orchard and a 400 metre lawn. I knew that I was going to at least have to buy a long pole hedge trimmer.
As the same with many people I had limited shed space so did not want to clutter it with tools. While browsing through Amazon I came across multiple examples multi tools and was quite impressed. I rapidly came to the conclusion that for the cost it worth taking a punt on petrol garden multi tool.
My experience with three garden multi tools.
Overall I would certainly say my experience with these tools has been negative. On the other hand I have on every occasion put them through a fair bit of work.
I would say that may garden is larger than the average persons in the UK. I have used them to cut hedges, cut through brush and cut large, established apple trees.
My first two purchases did the work but soon stopped working the third; the Parker brand is still working well. The reason for this is having learnt something’s that if I knew in the beginning would have helped. I will share these later in the article.
The Trueshopping 5 in 1 multi tool
My first experience was with the Trueshopping 5 in 1 multitool. Everything worked well but did notice the device was very shaky during use. The harness was very flimsy and the straps would often slip out of the buckles.
The strimmer worked very well but the brush cutter dented and buckled easily after hitting a few rocks. At first the hedge trimmer attachment worked well and cut the Leylandii hedge well. I then tried cutting the one year old sprouts off of the hawthorn hedge. The cutter worked well but struggled with slightly larger stems.
When it came to cutting the Leylandii hedge again I found that it was no longer cutting cleanly. Strands of foliage were simply left hanging annoyingly from the hedge. Then that year in the real problems started. The multi tool was always tricky to get started and took many pulls to get going.
The cord had actually started to break into the casing via abrasion. This goes some distance to explain the quality of this product. Soon after the tool would not get going with any power. I tried to adjust just about everything I could before I took it to a repair shop. The repair shop simply refused to look at it and insisted they would not be able to fix it.
Having already faced a losing battle with the tool I decided to get rid of it. I generally found this multi tool to have a cheap feel about it. I would certainly not recommend buying one.
The Timber pro 52 cc multi tool
After having a bad experience with the Trueshopping multi tool I thought I would consider a few options moving forward. I guessed the old saying ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ had some relevance here. Perhaps I should buy just a good quality hedge trimmer just for the large hedge?
Perhaps it was a good idea to just buy a separate tool for each function.
Scrolling down through the Amazon reviews of multi tools I couldn’t help but think I had been unlucky. There were simply so many different types on the market most with good reviews. The problem was the Trueshopping multi tool also had good reviews!
I had come to the conclusion that buying one of each tool was going to cost me a substantial amount. I decided to give petrol multi tools another try. This time I would do even more research and try to zoom into the product images to get an idea of quality. My line of thought was going for something that looks much more robust.
After a couple of hours researching I decided that the Timber Pro garden multi tool was the one. This model was a little more expensive but had great reviews and looked sturdy.
I bought it and waited for it to be delivered. On its arrival I decided to have a good look at it and read through the manual. It was indeed more robust and sturdier than my last purchase.
The first project was to cut the Leylandii hedge; I mixed the fuel and started her up after 5 pulls. This machine seemed much more stable and more powerful than the Trueshopping. It did everything I asked from it and cut both the Leylandii and hawthorn with no bother. Later that year I decided to lower the whole hawthorn hedge.
By using the chainsaw attachment I effortlessly cut through the 4 inch diameter branches. As I got to the last few bushes a branch fell on top of the saw forcing the plastic case into the chain. This completely busted the case and the chain and I had to complete the job with a hand saw.
The garden multi tool was good for a year and a half until it started to become difficult to start. I would find myself spending ages pulling at the cord to get it started. I knew I wasn’t flooding it, it wasn’t the spark plug or fuel mix so I was getting rather frustrated.
Then I pulled quickly and the cord came loose from the mechanism. Annoyed but patient I decided to unscrew the back to re-connect it. I do not think of myself as someone who is mechanically minded but I can do very basic repairs.
I found the springs and plastic which held the wheel in place very flimsy and cheap. One of the plastic attachments had broken in two so decided to screw it back up and seek help. The first two lawn mower repair shops would not touch it as it wasn’t a recognised brand t them.
I did find a guy that would look at it for me but gave me quite a dismal summary of the situation. He said it was basically not worth fixing and would not be able to get the parts for it. Now I am not completely convinced this is completely the case but three repair services could not help. The fact that I could spend more repairing it than it was worth rendered it a write off.
A lesson learned
During my time running around to different repair shops I did obtain some interesting information. Most of the time I got the same response ‘do not buy cheap stuff off Amazon!’ But a couple of people said that when using these machines it is good to use a fuel additive.
This can stop the fuel corroding working parts when it has been left idle for long periods. One repair shop guy advised me to only buy things which were built in the same country with accessible spare parts. I decided in the end to buy individual professional tools for each of my main gardening chores. These included hedge cutting, tree cutting and strimming.
Tree cutting – For general light cutting I decided to buy a Makita 32cc petrol chainsaw
Strimming – For strimming I bought a Parker brand 52 cc brush cutter and trimmer
Hedge cutting – For hedge cutting I bought a Stihl HS45 Hedge cutter
From the day of writing this I have owned all of these for 3 years and all without a single problem. Costing me collectively a little over £550 I would say in hindsight it was the better option. I just wish I hadn’t spend the £340 on the other cheaper multi tools. However it is important to note I was asking for a lot of work out of what is essentially a cheap product.
The Parker brand garden multi tool
From reading the last paragraph you are probably wondering how on earth I got to buying a third one of these things! Well I hold my hands up, I went against all my logic and gut feelings, here is why.
During my previous experiences and frustrations with petrol garden multi tools I had learnt a lot. Firstly I was simply buying something cheap and working it on a professional scale. My third of an acre patch with huge hedges and hedgerows were simply too much for them.
There was one feature I did miss about the multi tools and that was the long reach. The extender poles were perfect for reaching those hard to reach places and high branches. My Stihl hedge cutter was great for cutting my hedge but I still needed the step ladder for the top section.
With this in mind I was missing the long reach of the multi tool for some scenarios. At this point I had met someone who had purchased a Parker Brand multi tool 4 years ago and it was still working well. He had made some recommendations to me on the model and his maintenance schedule.
I came to the conclusion that it would not hurt to give a garden multi tool one more chance as a backup. Even if I used it sparingly for those awkward jobs that needed extra reach.
I had already had great success with the Parker brand brush cutter which had now lasted a few years. I looked on Amazon and saw their multi tool was selling for £130. With some amazement at myself I took a deep breath and made the purchase.
This time I implemented some extra maintenance techniques to the garden multitool. I only used it for things that required extra reach and jobs that did not push it to its limit. The Parker Brand multi tool is now completing its second year and still working well with no problems.
How it will fair over time is anyone’s guess but I have a feeling this time it will last a few seasons. Below are a few things you should consider and implement if you want a garden multi tool to last.
With hind sight one of the potential problems I was having was storing a garden multi tool in a damp environment. Even with a concrete built shed, cold and damp winter air can get into working parts.
This can cause a range issues including corrosion and electrical faults. If you are storing a multi tool in a shed consider keeping it in a sealed container. By keeping the engine box inside or in a sealed environment will prevent damp getting in.
One of the problems facing most petrol garden tools is they can stand idle for long periods. This can lead to fuel being left inside the engine for long periods.
This can result in the fuel losing performance and corroding the inner parts. With garden multi tools it is a good idea to mix in a good quality fuel additive to reduce this risk. This will also go some way to prolong the life of petrol tools especially on the cheaper end of the spectrum.
Make sure you can get it repaired
One thing to bear in mind with buying any power tool is it will at some point need things working on. Sometimes the cost of the parts and labour can mount up to a large proportion of the original cost.
This is therefore a good argument to buy reputable brands and pay a little extra. At the very least make sure you can get parts for it and this is not outside the realm of economic viability.
From my experience the garden multi tools were so cheap it was a calculated risk. If you are thinking of buying multi tools consider asking the seller for repairs information and spare parts.
Visit your nearest garden machine repair workshop and ask their advice on which is the best. After all they will be the ones repairing it if it goes wrong.
Should you buy a garden multi tool?
So I guess it is time to make a verdict here. Should you buy a garden multi tool?
If you have an average sized garden and do not intent to operate it on a large commercial scale it should be satisfactory. I have found them to not respond well to heavy duty gardening projects. If garden multi tools are pushed above their capabilities expect to only see one good season out of them.
With moderate garden tasks and correct storage and fuel care these can last 4 years and maybe longer. Within the latter context they are worth the price. If you have moderate duties for each attachment it further supports their economic viability.
However if you have one huge hedge to cut every year buy a more robust tool designed specifically for that job. This also goes for chain saw cutting and brush cutting. Anything which mimics commercial operations on an annual basis will be too much for garden multi tools. This will inevitably cost you more in the long run.
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Paul Nicolaides is a Landscape architect and garden builder with over 30 years experience in designing, building and maintaining gardens. Contemplating just how important garden space is for nature and recreation he created 'Cool Garden Gadgets' to explore the best gadgets for enhancing outside spaces. From outdoor dining ideas to the latest garden technology we break it down for you here.