Review

Hands-on test: Stihl Compact Cordless garden tools

Get to work on your outdoor space with a set of battery-powered garden equipment like the professionals use.

Stihl is famous for its pro garden tools. You’ll see its signature orange and grey on the equipment sported by most tree surgeons and professional gardeners, usually petrol powered. For a while now, it has made lighter kit for home gardening. Now it’s launched an entire range that uses an interchangeable battery pack, so you can buy an entire range of compatible garden electricals, much like you might buy a suite of DIY power tools.

The Stihl Compact Cordless Power System encompasses a strimmer, blower, chainsaw and mower. Light users will buy a single battery and move it from tool to tool. Heavy users will want a couple, so you can charge one while you’re using the other. The batteries come in three capacities

There are five types of tool in the range. The FSA 56 strimmer (£149), HSA 56 hedge trimmer (£149), BGA 56 leaf blower (£109), MSA 120 C-BQ chainsaw (£179) and the more powerful MSA 140 C-BQ chainsaw (£229) are all Stihl branded. Confusingly, there’s also a compatible lawnmower, the Viking MA 235 (£249). This sister company is being rebadged Stihl, but not until early 2018.

All the tools work with three different 36V lithium-ion battery options: the AK 10 (£60, 59Wh capacity), AK 20 (£90, 118Wh) or AK 30 (£120, 180Wh). Plus you’ll need the AL 101 charger (£30). You can often save money by buying the battery and charger in a bundle with the tool, but it’s good that you can buy the tools battery-free because no-one needs five batteries and five chargers!

Tools that give you the edge

We tested four tools in the range. The FSA 56 strimmer is perhaps the best example of the benefits of cordless power. It’s powerful, not too loud, light and well-balanced in the hand. The lack of cord is completely liberating. Lawn edges were neat in a flash, weeds were whacked in record time, all with no worries about accidentally clipping a power cable. It’s a revelation, really: try it and you won’t want a corded strimmer ever again.

The design is sleek, lightweight and ergonomic. The shaft is slightly telescopic, extending by about 20cm. The handle is adjustable, too. The head has a small guard and two nylon lines opposite each other, which makes quick work of strimming and also means you will rarely need to replace the line in the middle of a job. The two-button controls fall naturally under thumb and forefinger.

Battery life is quoted not as minutes but in terms of how much work the tool can do. It’s 500m of lawn edge or 100 square metres of lawn for the smallest (AK 10) battery. You can double and triple this for the bigger battery sizes.

We’re childish: hand us a leaf blower and we pretend we’re Jillian Holtzmann from the Ghostbusters movie reboot. However, the BGA 56 is so lightweight that it almost kills our Ghostbusters fantasy. It’s so easy, you can hold it in one hand, triggered by just your index finger. The sheer blowing power isn’t as much as some corded models, but it’s enough - and coming from such a compact tool, it’s stunning.

Some corded home models can also suck, in order to vacuum up and shred leaves. If you have a lot of trees then that might be a better option. If you just want to blow leaves into a quick pile, though, the BGA 56 can’t be beat. Again, it’s surprisingly quiet and, again, the lack of cord and weight saves a lot of time. You can get started immediately, no faffing around with cables.

Battery life is quoted as 300 square metres of dry leaves on asphalt. You can double and triple this for the bigger battery sizes.

Pick up the MSA 120 C-BQ and suddenly things get serious. It may be compact but this is a proper chainsaw. We’d strongly recommend protective overtrousers, chainsaw gloves and a good saw horse. The guard and control system are very safe but the stakes here are much higher than with, say, strimming.

The chainsaw is essentially light without being lightweight. It weighs in at just 2.5kg plus battery. Cutting length is a respectable 30cm, which makes it perfect for cutting firewood to size as well as chopping off branches.

Again, performance outstripped expectation. We thought battery power would make things sluggish, but it cut through good-sized logs like a knife through butter on a summer’s day.

Chainsaws do need a bit of maintenance. You need to clean out the sawdust, sometimes oil or sharpen the chain and tension the chain when necessary – a simple handle on the side of the Stihl makes it easy to do the latter without tools.

Battery life is quoted as 40, 100 or 150 cuts, depending on which size of battery you go for.

The Viking MA 235 mower will be rebranded Stihl in the new year, so if you want your mower green then get in quick, but if you favour orange and grey then hold off until early 2018.

The mower doesn’t seem in any way miniature. This is a full-sized mower with a proper grass box. Yet it packs away well for storage, once you’ve figured out how to get the grass box off (an acquired skill). Fold the mower handle, pop the grass box on top of the mower body and it takes up a surprisingly small amount of valuable shed space.

In use, the mower is light but has enough power to get the job done. And it’s manoeuvrable: the wheels guide you straight forwards, but if you tip it back on the rear wheels slightly then it turns nicely. It’s significantly quieter than most mowers and once again the lack of power cable really saves you time. No setup, no having to move the cable to avoid crossing it - a quick mow is finally possible. Battery life is quoted as 100 square metres of lawn. You can double and triple this for the bigger battery sizes.

We didn’t get to test the HSA 56 hedge trimmer, but it works along similar lines to the rest of the range: light in the hand but fully featured. It has a 45cm blade and cutting thickness is 16mm, so it will cut branches as thick as your fingers - but not your fingers, thankfully, because it only works with two hands on the controls. Battery life is quoted as 140 square metres of hedge. Again, you can double and triple this for the bigger battery sizes.

In all, the Stihl Compact Cordless Power System range hits the spot beautifully. These are serious tools that aren’t too lightweight but they’re not overkill either. They’re a Goldilocks ‘just about right’ size for what you need at home. They’re not cheap, but you get what you pay for and these are serious 36V tools. Going cordless saves you time and hassle, while the interchangeable batteries save money, space and resources. Just pick the right size of battery for your size of garden; two if you’re an avid gardener.

from £109 stihl.co.uk

Alternatives

Ryobi ONE+

Ryobi is known for its DIY power tools with interchangeable batteries, so it’s only natural that the same 18V system now features a mower, strimmer, leaf blower, chainsaw and hedge trimmer. From £50 uk.ryobitools.eu/one 

Flymo Mighty Mo

This 36V mower is keenly priced considering it comes with battery and charger. Like the Viking, it's wheeled rather than a hover mower and it folds away for storage. £180 flymo.com/uk 

Stihl Cordless

These 18V rechargeable tools are even smaller, lighter and more affordable than the Compact Cordless range, but the battery is integrated so you need to plug the whole thing into the wall. from £99 stihl.co.uk 

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