Spring means getting strung out about trimming

May 10, 2010

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I look forward to most aspects of spring: flowers, baseball, short sleeves, the congressional recess.

But one aspect leaves me shivering in dark closets because I know that with spring comes the need to engage with that demonic atrocity, the string trimmer.

To be fair to the string-trimmer industry, I've only owned two, and none that were built, I suppose, since the mid-1990s. Maybe things have changed. Maybe today's machines are to yesterday's what Xbox is to the Kenner Easy-Bake Oven.

But my experiences with the dragons have not been good.

First, two-cycle anything gives me fits. I don't know why it should be my job to mix the fuel. This would be like having to make your own batter at a pancake house.


And no two two-cycle machines of mine have the same fuel/oil ratios. There's a 40:1, a 32:1 and so on, each requiring its own separate gas can and each requiring math. My grass will grow 3 inches while I sit there trying to figure out how many ounces of oil I need for a gallon of gas at a ratio of 38:1.

Fortunately, I've learned it's all pretty much the same. If I get it wrong, they might smoke a little, but they'll run. For now, at least.

To be honest, it might be better for my soul if the string trimmer didn't.

The concept behind them is great, but in practice, they are something less.

I treat each string-trimming event as a drag race. Because I know I'll get about 4.6 seconds of useful trimming under my belt before the string breaks; the string becomes tangled in chicken wire; or the entire lower carriage comes off and goes streaking across the sky like a jet-powered Frisbee.

If I were string-trimming a cow pasture, nothing would ever go wrong. But I use a mower for open space.

I can trim around our stone walls, except that in the venerable game of Rock, Paper, Nylon String, rock always wins.

The string trimmer works great around fence posts -- unless the posts have any actual fence attached to them, at which point the string once again loses the war. As it does against sheet metal, concrete or just about anything except my newly planted dogwood trees, which it snaps off with the efficiency of a Roger Federer forehand.

So after the string is worn down to the nub, it's time to advance more string, a project best done over a rainy weekend. My gizmo has a knob on the bottom that is supposed to automatically advance the string. I'm sure the boys back in the String Trimmer Engineering Department still share a guffaw from time to time over that one.

No, you have to take it apart, detach the two strings from the carriage, advance one clockwise, the other counterclockwise, rethread the spool, rewind the slack, resize the string and put it all back together again. That would be difficult enough, except that for some reason there's a great big spring right in the middle of the spool (function unknown) that means that everything is under pressure, and one slip and the whole delicate parts assembly catapults into the stratosphere.

There must be string-trimmer conventions in Las Vegas where there are seminars with topics, such as how to prevent their products from being successfully used by anyone except grinning automobile mechanics with names like "Little Butch."

And if your name does indeed happen to be Little Butch and you know how to make one of these things work efficiently, I'm all ears.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at"> Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under">, on or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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