Sunday, 16 December 2012

A few words about my chopper (ladies need not avert their gaze)

In the same way that gardeners exchange notes about plants that perform well, there is also a friendly exchange of information about good tools. Gardeners love a good gadget or trick, whether it's a domestic size rotavator to help dig the vegetable bed, or something as simple as keeping your ball of string in a tin can (just punch a hole in the side for the string to stick out and it won't get tangled up).

A few years ago I bought a sinister looking thing from my local farm and smallholding store. Made by Morris of Dunsford (Devon), this goes by various names according to local modifications- it's best known as a slasher.
This is essentially a chunky grass hook on a pole and is effective in clearing scrub (brambles, nettles, thin saplings etc). It is light and easy to use, as well as turning heads when you're seen with it! Why would anyone in their right mind choose an old fashioned tool over a modern brush-cutter?
  • Cost- a petrol brush-cutter will cost you £100+, but you can buy a brand new slasher for less than £50.
  • Weight- a petrol brush-cutter is heavy and needs harnesses for safe and comfortable use, whereas this tool can be carried and used with only one hand.
  • Other bits and bobs- a petrol brush-cutter needs fuel, oil and a mountain of safety kit to operate safely, but all the slasher needs is a sharpening stone (which is small and easily portable) and possibly an occasional squirt of WD-40 to protect the blade.
Any tool you use has an element of danger in it- just ask anyone who's hit their hand when using a hammer! Safe operation is key, but operating powered tools does carry more risk than hand tools; although your chances of having an accident aren't much greater there is a greater chance of having a serious accident with a powered tool. Hit a stone with a petrol brush-cutter and the stone will fire off and possibly hit something (or will damage the blades), but hit a stone with a slasher and you'll just hear a 'dink' of metal on stone.
To operate a petrol brush-cutter you must wear face protection, as well as ear defenders, heavy duty gloves, harnesses etc. You can use a slasher with none of these safeguards, and merrily wage war on heavy duty weeds while listening to the birds singing, holding a conversation... 

Do not wear gloves when using a slasher! You must have a good grip on the handle while you're slashing at weeds and gloves won't give you enough grip- instead use your bare hands, and when you buy your slasher your must first take a piece of coarse sandpaper and roughen the handle.

This is a tricky one to look at when comparing the two tools. On the one hand your slasher will need sharpening while you're using it (very good opportunity to take stock of progress etc), but then a petrol brush-cutter will need to cool down and be refuelled from time to time. In terms of actually making progress a brush-cutter will make faster progress on a patch where the stems aren't too tangled up, and on an area where you don't have to work around plants/obstacles or on uneven ground, but where the scrub is established and the conditions underfoot are less than ideal, the slasher has the advantage; you can reach in under the brambles to hack their stems near ground level and then wrap the stems around the slasher and pull them out, all the time keeping your hands away from the thorns thanks to the long pole. If you have a pitchfork with you then this will help even more- you can wrap more brambles around it, as well as rake up prickly debris.

Which is better?
Well probably the slasher, for the following reasons:
  • Price (you'll need to cover a lot of ground before a petrol brush-cutter pays for itself)
  • Easy of use- both in terms of weight and manoeuvrability, and portability
  • Better for the environment- as well as not causing a noise nuisance, the slasher is a long lasting metal head on a wooden pole; if the pole breaks, fit another one. If a brush-cutter breaks down and can't be fixed economically it will have to be scrapped. Also the slasher does not need to burn fossil fuels to operate. 
In conclusion 
Buy this tool. For all but the biggest clearance jobs this tool will serve you well. It's enjoyable to use, and being able clear an area without the noise of an engine or being weighted down with safety kit is liberating. I'll be honest, it looks good too; either in the potting shed or out at work, you will admire this tool for it's rustic good looks and it's ability to get the job done with no fuss. Now, I'm off to find more brambles!