Taking care of your yard care equipment will keep them in top shape, and most importantly, reliable and safe. There’s nothing worse than racing against a setting sun, and your trimmer or lawn mower refuses to start. After yanking the pull starter 20 times, and literally pulling your arm out of its socket, you realize it’s not going to start today. Basic yard care equipment maintenance can make the difference between your equipment lasting less than a year, to lasting 10 years or more. I’ll be covering the essential gas powered machines that most homeowners would have in their arsenal. Both 2 stroke and 4 stroke engines will be discussed. If you’re serious about keeping your lawn equipment in top shape, get a compressor and an air blow gun. The compressor will save you hours of time cleaning your equipment, and can get into areas that you can’t by hand.
When these first came out in the ’70’s, they were called weed whackers. I still call them weed whackers today. Somehow calling them a string trimmer doesn’t describe their potential. Before we get into some basic maintenance tips, let’s cover how to use them. Most people have no clue how to use a weed whacker and run it full throttle, hacking back and forth, literally scalping their yard. Running it at full throttle burns the grass, and leaves a lot of ugly brown areas on your yard. It should be run at low to medium speed.
If the area you’re cutting requires more aggressive cutting, switch to a thicker trimmer line. I use a .095 trimmer line as it does a nice job on detail work as well as more aggressive cutting on thick weeds and shady lawn grass. A weed whacker is not intended to do your entire yard, unless it is very inaccessible or on a steep slope. It’s designed to do detail work like areas around trees, shrubs, hedges, and sidewalk. Large areas should be cut with a lawn mower. The most expensive part of your weed whacker and the most neglected is the gear drive at the trimmer head. The gear drive transfers the spinning shaft from the motor, and converts it into a right angle to transfer power to the trimmer head. On the side of the gear box is a small allen or hex screw. This screw is a fill cap that exposes the inside of the gear drive housing. Every six months, fill the housing with grease until it fills completely, and replace the screw. Don’t use just any type of grease!
Shindaiwa makes a special grease in a tube. It looks like a toothpaste tube, and with most weed whackers, it screws right into the hole. It can then be squeezed like a grease gun to fill the housing. If you don’t grease the gear regularly, the grease will disappear, and the gear box will get extremely hot. The gears will then start to wear rapidly, and eventually seize up, destroying the bearings and gears. At this point, it’s probably not worth repairing, as the gear box on a quality weed whacker costs almost as much as the entire machine. If you can’t afford even a small compressor, invest in a good canister vacuum cleaner, or small shop vac, but I strongly urge you to save up and get a compressor. After every use, I use an air blow gun to blow out the cooling fins on the cylinder head, pull starter, and every nook and cranny that you can get into through all the vents on the plastic outer body of the motor. A strong vacuum works, but not as well.
Grass and dirt are like glue, and will stick to everything, especially hot engine parts. Keeping the cooling fins clean will keep the motor running cool and extend it’s life. Blowing debris out of the pull starter will keep it working smoothly, and put less drag on the motor. Once a month, remove the air filter assembly, and blow out the air filter as well, and the carburetor intake. Once a year, remove the gearbox from the shaft. There’s a screw head on the side of the shaft next to the fill plug that secures the gear box to the outer shaft housing. Once you remove the gear box, the inner shaft will slide right out. It’s either a long spring with square ends, or a solid steel shaft. Using a good quality high temperature, high pressure grease, generously lube the entire shaft. Slide it back in, making sure the square ends fit completely into the outer shaft and into the motor. If it doesn’t want to go back in completely, rotate the shaft, and it will drop back in. Do the same thing when installing the gear box. Yard work is dirty, dusty work, and flying debris will find it’s way into your weed whacker.
Chainsaws create a tremendous amount of sawdust that gets everywhere inside the body of the chainsaw. Having an air blow gun and compressor will save you hours in cleaning it. Same procedure as cleaning the weed whacker. Blast air into the cooling fins and pull starter areas, through the vent openings in the body. Concentrate especially in blowing out the area where the clutch housing is located inside the chainsaw body. The chainsaw tends to suck everything into this area as the chain passes through what you’re cutting, and clogs it up. Blast air from the bottom side where the chain enters the body, as well as from the top side. You may have to do this several times, both top and bottom. You’ll be amazed at how much debris keeps coming out.
Every six months, remove the blade, blade guide, and blade cover. Usually there are two nuts that secure the blade and cover, allowing quick access. Spend a few minutes to blow out the clutch and clutch shoes. If you don’t clean out the clutch, it will rust from moisture trapped inside of the housing and between the springs and clutch shoes and lock up solid. When you release the throttle, the chain won’t stop spinning, a very dangerous condition. Once it locks up solid, it can’t be repaired, and needs to be replaced. I destroyed an Echo clutch because I wasn’t paying attention to this area. Don’t bother with trying to resharpen a chainsaw blade. It can be done, but it will only last for a day.
Once the factory hardened blades get dull, the exposed edges of the blade are soft, and even when sharpened, will dull quickly. Get a new chain, they’re inexpensive, and you get a new factory hardened edge that will last for a long time. Make sure to put the chain back on in the proper direction. Those little sharp chrome blades should be facing forward. Chainsaw blades spin forward, away from you, for a reason. If the chain should break when in use, it will whip forward, away from you. If the chain rotated backwards, or towards you, and it should break, it will whip right into your face, upper body, or arms, with violent force. At the speed it rotates at, this would cause severe injury or even death.
Everyone has probably owned a lawn mower or used one at some point in their lives. There are two types of lawnmowers. The first, and most common, is a rotary mower. It looks like an airplane propeller surrounded by a metal body. The propeller spins and cuts the grass, throwing the cuttings out through the side or rear. Rotary mowers are better on coarse grass, or uneven terrain. The second, is a reel mower. The blades look like a long cylinder with the blades curving around it. At the bottom is a bed, or knife, that is the other cutting edge. A reel mower works just like a pair of scissors.
As the reel rotates, the blades come into contact with the bed, creating a scissors action which cuts the grass. Reel mowers are for fine grass and level terrain. This is the type of mower used on golf courses and sports fields, as they give you a very fine, detailed cut that looks spectacular. Cleaning is the same as with chainsaws and weed whackers. Air blow the cooling fins, carburetor and air cleaner, and pull start openings. Also air blow debris from the blades, drive chains, if it has them, and wheels. Some rotary mowers come with an attachment for a garden hose to blast out the clippings around the blades and housing. I don’t really recommend doing this too often, as water tends to cause rust on the blades and housing, and will eventually damage the blade bearings on the motor shaft. Lawn mowers are four stroke motors, unlike chainsaws, weed whackers, and blower vacs using two stroke motors. Four stroke motors run on straight gasoline, without any oil mixture.
They have an internal oil sump which lubricates the crank, piston rings, and moving parts. Once a year, drain the oil and replace it. Fill the oil until you see it just about at the bottom of the fill plug. Blowers, Yard Vacs, And Other Two Stroke Equipment This section is to cover all other two stroke engine equipment. The maintenance procedure is the same. Blow out the cooling fins, and pull starter area through the vents in the body. Make sure to use a good quality two stroke oil mix recommended for your unit. Never run these engines on straight gas, the oil mix is the lubricant. Without it, the motor will fail from lack of lubrication and can’t be repaired for a reasonable price.
When your equipment becomes difficult to start, especially after a year or two of use, even when following these maintenance procedures, replace the spark plug. It will almost always cure a hard starting problem, unless there is some other mechanical problem. Use a fuel stabilizer in your gas, even if you use your equipment regularly. This will prevent moisture buildup and keep the fuel fresh longer. If you’re storing your equipment for the winter, run the engine until it’s completely out of fuel. Once the engine dies, pull the starter cord a few times to burn up the remaining fuel in the lines. If you’re serious about taking care of your yard long term, invest in good quality, name brand equipment. Stihl, Husqvarna, Echo, and Shindaiwa are the best equipment with a strong dealer network, and parts availability is not a problem. Avoid the no name, under $100 weed whackers and chainsaws. They will last six months to a year, and have a catastrophic failure. My experience with cheap equipment is the ignition systems are poorly made, and fail quickly. You’re left with a perfectly fine motor, but a dead ignition system that costs more to replace than the unit is worth. If you are a serious arborist, and take pride in your yard, quality equipment and a solid maintenance program will keep your equipment running forever. Most of my equipment is more than 10 years old. I just keep replacing parts as they wear out, but I have never replaced a motor yet. If you follow these basic maintenance tips, your equipment will start up every time, and never let you down.