Hedge trimmer features explained
Investing in a capable hedge trimmer will take the effort out of what could be a long, tedious job. But which features should you be looking out for when you’re shopping for the perfect model?
Our expert guide highlights the hedge trimmer features that will prove invaluable when it comes to tidying up your garden. You’ll want to consider blade length, tip protectors, hand guards, battery types and more.
Hedge trimmer features to look for
The blade consists of a fixed bar with long rounded teeth and a reciprocating one with shorter sharpened teeth. The longer the blade, the more you will be able to cut with each sweep, but the heavier and harder to manoeuvre the trimmer becomes. Make sure the weight and balance feel right for you. For most gardeners, a 45-60cm blade is suitable and we have tested lots of models in this range.
The distance between teeth affects the size of stem that the hedge trimmer can cut. Wider teeth can cut bigger branches, but this needs to be matched by a larger motor in order to have the power to cut through the branch cleanly. Many hedge trimmers have a fairly restricted width of up to 20mm between teeth, which is fine for an annual trim of a typical garden hedge, or for twiggy hedges such as privet.
If you need to tackle overgrown hedges or those with tough branches, such as holly and laurel, look for a trimmer with a wider spacing between teeth. Hedge trimmers with large teeth spacing are usually more powerful and so should be able to slice through larger, tougher twigs.
You will often see claims that the hedge trimmer can cut stems up to 33mm, but in practice we would not recommend using a hedge trimmer to cut such thick branches. We think that if your hedge has branches larger than around 1cm, you will achieve a neater finish with loppers. A neat cut is less likely to let in disease and so it's often worth spending the extra time to keep your hedge healthy.
Although hedge trimmer blades are generally very durable, they can wear down over time through years of use. Some blades have a short bar across the top. This is to prevent you from damaging the blade if you knock it against a solid object.
Some hedge trimmers have an optional piece of plastic or metal that can be attached along the length of the blade to sweep away cuttings. Certain Stihl models, for example, support this feature. This can be useful when cutting the tops of hedges, as you can quickly and easily get rid of trimmings that might be in your way when cutting. It's a useful (but not essential) accessory.
This prevents your fingers coming anywhere near the teeth when you're using the hedge trimmer. It also stops clippings from getting caught up around your hands as you cut. This is particularly handy if you are cutting prickly hedges such as holly and berberis.
Blade sheath or guard
A blade sheath protects the blade when carrying or storing the machine, preventing dust and dirt from getting onto the blade and blunting the cutting teeth. It also serves as a good way of protecting you and your clothing from the sharp teeth.
Wraparound front handle
A wraparound front handle with an 'on' switch that runs around the length of the handle makes it easy to change from cutting the sides or top of the hedge. Some of the Bosch models have three 'on' switches, which are responsive and easy to use.
Rotating rear handle
Some more expensive hedge trimmers have a rear handle that rotates so you can maintain the same grip when cutting vertically or horizontally. We think this is a useful feature, but a wraparound front handle will do the same job.
Features for cordless hedge trimmers
Most hedge trimmer manufacturers now produce a range of tools that all use the same battery. As a result, you can often see 'bare' hedge trimmers for sale. These do not come with either a battery or a charger. Be aware, though, that the battery is often as expensive, if not more expensive, than the hedge trimmer itself and so the price will rise sharply once these are added in.
One word of warning, batteries can be unreliable and can fail to recharge if not regularly topped up. Store your batteries in a cool, dry place and try to use them regularly.
There are two main types of battery – Ni-Cad and lithium-ion. Lithium-ion batteries are increasingly replacing Ni-Cad and often have higher voltages and capacity.
Ni-Cad batteries can be affected by being intermittently topped up, and should be left to fully discharge before being charged or it can shorten their life. Feedback from owners suggests that the life expectancy may be only a few years in some cases.
Lithium-ion batteries are designed to deliver similar power with less weight. They also have little self-discharge and none of the memory effects associated with Ni-Cad, so you can expect their life span to be considerably longer.
Neither type of battery is perfect and we've had feedback from members telling us that their batteries have died after very little use.
High voltage lithium-ion batteries are increasingly common and there are now 56V and 72V batteries are starting to feature on hedge trimmers. These typically allow the hedge trimmers to run for longer between charges and to have more power, meaning they are more likely to cope with thicker branches.
In addition, you'll often see reference to the Ah rating of a battery. This is short for ampere hour and the higher the figure, the more energy is stored in the battery, so the longer it will run between charges.
Be aware, though, that a large voltage battery will generally be heavier than a low voltage one. Some of the hedge trimmers we have seen are just as heavy as petrol models. You need to be sure that you need the extra cutting time and are willing to put up with a hedge trimmer that is heavier and, possibly, less manoeuvrable.
Most cordless hedge trimmers we've tested run for at least 30 minutes, long enough for our testers to cut around 40m2 of hedge. However, we've also tested more recent models that can run for up to an hour, which allows you to cut almost twice as much hedge. Find out which are our .
The useful life of a battery depends on a number of factors including how often you use the trimmer, whether you keep it charged or let it run down. It's important that you follow the manufacturer's instructions to get the most from your battery.
Many manufacturers now make interchangeable batteries that can be used across a range of power and garden tools, so you can use the same battery for your drill, your strimmer and your hedge trimmer. This cuts costs as you will only need to buy one battery and one charger, but it does limit your choices to the tools made by one manufacturer.
Battery indicator lights
Look for batteries with lights to show how much charge you still have in the battery. This allows you to plan your work and see when you will need to take a break to recharge the battery.
This plugs into a power socket. In almost all cases you can remove the battery and charge it away from the machine, so you don’t necessarily need power in the shed. Be aware that the charger is not always included when you buy the hedge trimmer and you may have to buy it separately.
Cordless hedge trimmers vary significantly in weight. The lightest are around 2kg, but they can weigh up to around 3.5kg if they have a large voltage battery.