String Up My String Trimmer
April 10, 2012 3:11 PM   Subscribe

I need advice on loading and threading the string on a gas-powered weed-eater/string trimmer. I have owned many of them in my adult life, and either they all suck, or I'm doing something fundamentally wrong.

I hate weed-eaters. Every one I've used in the last six years, I've wanted to throw under the wheels of the nearest bus or drive over repeatedly with my car out of frustration.

That said, I am currently using a Poulon gas-powered trimmer that actually works. It is pretty much like every other gas-powered string trimmer I've ever owned (I've owned many of them in different brands), especially with regards to the problem I have with the string. Namely:

- There is no tension to the spooled string, so that it spools out easily as it runs.

- Or there is too much tension to the spooled string, which breaks off every five minutes, so that I have to sit down, take the whole top of the trimmer off, thread it back through, and restart the trimmer. I rarely have a chance to "bump" the bottom to let more string out before it breaks off again. Often, it can't "bump" because the string has tightened on itself on the spool, so that I have to pick at the string with my nails to get it to unwind enough to thread through the top again.

Overall, I go through a lot of string. I have to fill the spool of string almost every time or every other time I trim the yard. I don't think this is normal. I used my dad's string trimmer when I was a teenager, and I remember that it would allow me to "bump" the bottom frequently with the string never breaking off. I don't remember ever having to take the top off and rethread it, let alone every five minutes like I do now.

Let's just assume that I am using the right kind of string for the trimmer. I know, assumptions. But I have this problem even with brand new spools loaded by the manufacturer.
Also, my lawn is pretty standard suburban Midwestern USA. I have a lot of sidewalks to go around and a big wooden fence in the backyard. No brush, no tough weeds. I'm mostly trimming back grass and dandelions.

Can you offer any tricks for winding the string on the spool to make the proper tension for the damn thing to work correctly? Is there an art to this that I am missing?
posted by aabbbiee to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you pulling the string all the way out? I usually only do a 3/4 pull so that I don't get to the end and break it.
posted by snsranch at 3:20 PM on April 10, 2012

I don't understand the tension problem- I've never had a trimmer just spit out string as it goes. You're certain that you're:

using the correct diameter of string for your model?
winding the direction your trimmer indicates?
winding neatly with no crossing?
seating the spool properly after refill? Can you push on the spring and manually "bump" it with your hand after loading the spool (without starting the trimmer!), and does it feed ?
posted by oneirodynia at 3:27 PM on April 10, 2012

I have a lot of sidewalks to go around and a big wooden fence in the backyard.
Both of these will wear the line out pretty quickly, but nothing like the consumption you describe. I have a large petrol-powered trimmer and 1.5 acres of tough weeds and rocks that seem to have been specifically designed to wear out the line on a trimmer and I get about 3-4 full trims from a spool of line (about .5 - 1.5 hours of trimming each time).

Are you sure you aren't winding the line on backwards (ie wrong rotation)? That's the only thing I can think of that might lead to the string spooling out without you 'bumping' to feed it. It would explain why the line won't feed when you bump it, certainly. I know you said assume you are using the right string, but are you sure it isn't too thin?

Have you tried taking the trimmer in to a repair place, with a full spool that you have threaded in place and asked them to check it? Hard to diagnose something like this at a distance.
posted by dg at 4:20 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Man, this is something that can definitely be a little frustrating. Oneirodynia's suggestions are all good ones. I suggest paying particular attention to your winding technique, and making sure that you are winding it in the correct direction. If the string isn't feeding properly, try winding it in the other direction (counterclockwise if you've had it wound clockwise, clockwise if you've had it wound counterclockwise). I've always found that reverse-winding is the most common culprit with string trimmers, so check that out first.

Also, what model exactly is your trimmer? The manual is probably online and if you can get us a link to that or at least the model ID so that we can try and find it, it'll probably help.
posted by Scientist at 4:21 PM on April 10, 2012

I had this exact problem this weekend while trying to load a new spool of string in my Black and Decker Grasshog. I wound up finding Youtube videos of people showing how it's done by searching Youtube for something like "replace spool on black and decker grasshog." Maybe a similar search will help you?
posted by erst at 5:08 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you using the correct string for the trimmer? It shouldn't break off if it is the right gauge and material. Also, the little holes are usually swept back "with" the rotation of the string so that there is no hard edge for the string to break off on. The string should be wound in the opposite direction of the spinning of the head.

And I wonder if you are using it correctly? There should be a blade on the end of the shield of the trimmer that cuts the string to the right length automatically. So, you start the trimmer and (if yours has such a blade), bump it until the strings are that length. Usually like 4 or 6 inches.

Then, you use the tips of the strings to do the cutting. If you are pushing the string too close to obstructions, the string will wipe against the sides of it instead of whacking it with the ends, which causes the string to abrade in the middle.

Really stupid question: is your trimmer the kind that is supposed to use the pre-cut strings?
posted by gjc at 5:50 PM on April 10, 2012

I replaced my spool with a 3rd party thing that uses 2 pieces of string. It's similar to this. It's much more convenient and less troublesome that the damn spools of string.
posted by COD at 6:30 PM on April 10, 2012

You may be winding the spool wrong; try Youtube, as mentioned above.

However: your usage is way out of line. I used to be able to trim a couple yards (smallish, but with lots of sidewalks and fences) only bumping once, maybe twice if the fence was metal and I had to edge, too. You do not want to trim with the part of the line that is nearest the spool. You want to only be cutting with the very outer edge of the trim-line circle - it's moving the fastest, and can do the most work. Keep your revs up (not all the way), and just barely kiss your "workpiece" with the trimmer line. If the motor loses very many revs, you're either not revved high enough, or you're loading up your cutting tip too much.

And do not mash the button to feed line. Tap. Bump. Gently. It should feed, and you'll hear the revs drop under the greater load. Bump on smooth surfaces, not concrete. My dad borrowed my trimmer once, mashed the button down to a nub, and used all the line. I now trim my parents' grass for them.
posted by notsnot at 6:42 PM on April 10, 2012

There's a little channel/hole (I forget which) that you are supposed to run the string through. If you don't do that, it just unwinds and is eaten up immediately. Look closely at your weed-eater, I think you are missing a vital step.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:58 PM on April 10, 2012

Best answer: Not to question your technique, but have you questioned your technique?

gjc is right. Using a string trimmer properly around noncuttables is a little tricky. Beating the string into obstructions is the quickest way to cause catastrophic string failure.

I trained lots of kids how to use a string trimmer back when I managed a retail store and the baggers would get sent to do that sort of thing. One thing I was convinced of was that it really sucks to use a trimmer around concrete, but the other is that some people just have a really difficult time getting a feel for the nearly invisible blade on these things, especially kids getting paid near minimum wage. :-)

Try taking the trimmer out on a sunny day and finding an angle at which you can clearly see the line. Use that angle to "learn" where your cutting edge is. Practice some fine cuts. Any time you are failing to cut at that cutting edge, you are stressing the string.

As for bumping, during the normal course of operation, one should only have to bump occasionally, like every ten to thirty minutes. If you are coming up against obstructions, pavement, etc., that increases. Possibly significantly. That's not necessarily bad, but it isn't necessarily good either. You need to trim that grass between the pavement blocks? You really need to have precise control over the cutting edge, which means you need to know where it is.

The other thing? Lift your trimmer's head now and then and *listen* to the pitch running at full throttle. It will run slightly faster, and therefore sound a little different, when a little bit of the line has worn away. Bump at this point, not when lots of string is needed.
posted by jgreco at 6:08 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You guys, I said in the post that I was using the right kind of string for the trimmer, and that I have this problem even with pre-loaded spools from the manufacturer. It is frustrating to read so many responses that ignore what I said in the post. Please read the whole post before responding to it. (There is a continual problem with this on AskMeFi.)

That said, I know that my winding technique is not great, but I do know basics like going the right direction (there are little arrows on most of the spools I've used), and of course I know to thread the string through the holes (I don't even know how you'd do it otherwise- there wouldn't be any string outside the head to cut with?!?).

Yes, there is a blade that will cut the string off at the right length if it spools out too much due to lack of tension, but often that leaves large 4-6" pieces of string behind on the grass after it's cut off, and string only stops spooling out because it's now caught on itself inside the spool and will break off in a few seconds. Sometimes it will spool out and then break itself off just by cutting on that trimmer blade. Really, truly. I promise I have used string trimmers enough that I am fairly knowledgeable about my consistent failure to get them to work properly.

Thanks for the detailed technique instructions and comments. I appreciate your time. I will go out to YouTube and see if I can find something there.
posted by aabbbiee at 6:35 AM on April 11, 2012

Correction: There is a blade that will cut the string off at the right length. Stop.

It is not there to cut it off "if it spools out too much". When you bump, it's supposed to let out a fair amount; you can experiment manually to determine what the amount is supposed to be on your trimmer. The point is that you're supposed to be able to bump and get a fresh usable string in the normal case. This probably won't be the entire length, but a good fraction of it is quite likely. Two bumps if you've screwed up badly and the string breaks off near the head would seem reasonable.

Now, the thought that comes to me is that you need to rev the unit appropriately in order to get the string to do the right thing. On mine, I just bump it and slam the trigger, I hear thhwip-thhwip as the string cuts, and by the time the engine's fully revved the string is all set to go. Are you maybe not revving the unit and maybe your head is not latching, and instead just spooling out lots of line?

Since you really, truly promise that you've used string trimmers enough that you're fairly knowledgeable about your consistent failure to get them to work properly, especially after several models worth, I'll counter that with the suggestion that there's likely something fundamentally wrong with what you are doing. There are indeed crappy string trimmers, but you're probably not that unlucky. I'm sorry if we're not spotting it. Have you tried taking the unit back to where you purchased it, and talking to someone? Getting hands on with someone who is familiar with these units is almost certain to solve your problem.
posted by jgreco at 8:08 PM on April 11, 2012

You asked for tricks for winding the spool. Many, many people, including professional gardeners I have worked with, make winding mistakes with string trimmers- asking questions about your technique and what you use (saying to "assume you use the right line" is actually not helpful, as some trimmers can use multiple diameters of line) is not a personal attack, it's how we get more information from you about all the things that you are doing, because 1)you don't give enough specific information in your question, 2)what you are experiencing is unusual and either due to winding error or user error, or both. We're trying to figure that out, so accusing everyone here of not reading your post is over the line, IMO. If you responded to every one of my questions in the affirmative, anyone reading the thread subsequently would know the problem is most likely the way you use the thing, and would switch from trying to answer the question you originally asked, to figuring out how to help you use the trimmer properly.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:01 PM on April 11, 2012

Response by poster: Yes, I know that my problem is a user error involving either a winding error or general user error or user technique or all of the above.

I know that the problem is not the wrong type of string (size, shape, brand, color, smell, etc.), it is not unique to the machine I am currently using, and it is not a problem with a general understanding of how a weed-eater operates (the string should thread out the head).

By explaining what I already knew in the original post, I hoped we could instead jump past the obvious "did you you read the manual[s]?" questions into a discussion of what I said I don't know, like the art of winding the spool. That didn't happen, and it was frustrating.

jgreco, your first post was very helpful. Thank you for your comments on technique. I see that this could be an issue and I will work on it.

As for my question, it was about winding the spool. No one has responded with any tricks beyond what is in the manual(s), which of course I have read, so I will move on.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:00 AM on April 12, 2012

aabbbiee: "No one has responded with any tricks beyond what is in the manual(s), which of course I have read"

There are no tricks. If you wind the spool in the way the manual describes and use the machine in the way the manual describes, it will work.
posted by dg at 7:44 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, good luck. One of life's lessons is that the best tools are often dependent on the skill of the user, and those skills take time to learn and develop. Don't give up, figure it out...
posted by jgreco at 9:19 AM on April 14, 2012

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