Toro’s Latest Walk Mower on Steroids

Toro TimeMaster / Credit: ToroThere are a couple of great reasons to buy a 30-inch walk-behind mower. You’d like to walk, not ride, a large property while mowing for the exercise, but you don’t have hours to spare every time you mow. Or else you already mow with a lawn tractor or ZTR but also want a mower to cut tighter spaces, such as near gates or clumps of trees too tight for a riding mower.

Whether it’s one of these reasons or another, the $1,049 Toro 30” TimeMaster, Model 21199, proved its claims—and has improved further since the first version appeared in stores six seasons ago.

The Toro TimeMaster looks like an ordinary mower that someone fed with Miracle Gro. It achieves its 30-inch cut using two 15-inch blades whose paths overlap slightly. The price of this rear-wheel-drive machine approaches what you would pay for a rear-engine rider such as the 28-inch Snapper 2017 Rear Engine Rider RE110, $1,499, or 30-inch Cub Cadet CC 30 Rider, $1,200. But at those prices, you could ride more enjoyably in a low-end lawn tractor.

Besides, the point is to walk. And the TimeMaster is a lot easier to push than it looks. Even earlier versions we’d seen had Toro’s usual Personal Pace variable-speed control, and the help is more than welcome with a large machine. (You can get it up to a trotworthy 4.5 MPH.) There’s also an extra traction-assist handle: Grip it while you slide the Personal Pace bar forward to get more control. Also, despite the mower’s size, the TimeMaster is easy to tip back when you want to turn it.

First, of course, you have to get it started. You can pay $100 extra for the TimeMaster Model 21200, which has electric start, but even on this model, getting it going was exceptionally smooth. The mower is auto-choke, with no need to prime, and its 233cc, overhead-valve Briggs & Stratton engine fired up every time, no nudging needed. The blade-brake clutch is a given in a mower of this price, although we found we needed to engage the blades slowly each time, even when the mower was warm. Too quickly, and it seemed too much for the engine.

Testing the TimeMaster
We ran the mower through its paces across multiple runs, over level and slightly sloped turf at a range of deck heights. You can adjust the steel deck’s height for cuts 1.25 to 4.25 inches high.

The mower comes set for mulch mode, with its side-discharge door shut and the rear-discharge plug in place. In that mode, the most commonly used, it processed clippings finely and left no noticeable clumps.

In side-discharge mode, there was little difference. The TimeMaster cut just as evenly, and no windrows of poorly distributed clippings cried for another mow—or a good raking.

And in bagging mode, the Toro was admirable. The lawn looked about as trim, so efficient were the other modes, but this mower nevertheless found enough to fill its bag to the brim. As with other Toro models, removing the bag to empty it (and reattaching it) takes seconds, although a full bag will need a good shake to get the clippings pouring.

Other noteworthy features
Should you want to adjust deck height, the Toro makes it relatively easy: one lever for the front pair and another for the rear. You can adjust the handle height in one or two positions, plus another straight up for storage. Another familiar plus is a washout fitting for a garden hose. (Remember to keep the mower on a level surface and adjust the deck to its lowest, shortest-cut setting.)

To help you use all the fuel and keep it from sloshing around, the Briggs engine includes the foam insert (aka the sponge) found in many Briggs engines. Take our advice and use fuel stabilizer mixed into the fuel—and, for a last fire-up before winter storage, use a little ethanol-free fuel.

Given the size of this mower, certain tasks are more complicated. Every 50 hours, for instance, you’ll need to check and perhaps retighten the belt drive. After the first five and then every 50 hours of use, you’ll change the oil—but turning the 132-pound machine on its side to drain the oil is tougher than with the usual walk-behind mower. (Do so when the gas tank is empty.) And once a year, you’ll have two blades to remove and have sharpened.

The verdict
Most of us would get by fine with a standard 21-inch mower, self-propelled if your property’s terrain could use it. But if you have a specific use for a plus-size mower, the Toro TimeMaster Model 21199 should provide many, many seasons of top-notch cutting with a broad swath every pass. And presuming proper maintenance, the three-year warranty—and three-year Guaranteed-to-Start (GTS) promise—should give you even more assurance.

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Stihl Delivers Cordless Power in a String Trimmer

Stihl FSA 56 string trimmerWith every new year’s lawn season, we can count on one thing: that battery-powered outdoor tools will creep even closer in performance to their gas-powered siblings. And now and then, you needn’t shell out a lot of green to own green gear. The Stihl FSA 56 string trimmer, from the manufacturer’s AK line of midrange cordless-electric tools, is the second of two Stihl cordless tools reviewed here—and, at about $200, is moderately priced for a battery-powered trimmer.

The price for the straight-shaft trimmer includes a 36-volt, lithium-ion AK 10 battery and AL 101 charger, though we tested the trimmer with the beefier AK 20 battery we’d already had on loan from testing the Stihl MSA 120C-BQ chainsaw. (That product will not run on the AK 10.) Already have tools from Stihl’s AK line? You can buy the FSA 56 without the battery and charger for $50 less.

Revving up the FSA 56
As with the MSA 120C-BQ, the battery snaps snugly into place and has four LEDs indicating remaining power. Starting the trimmer takes three steps, one of them the usual safety lockout for the actual trigger, but the lockout itself has a lockout—a retaining latch you must release before anything else. Without a glance first at the manual, you might find the unit adult- as well as child-proof. But once you’ve done it once, you won’t forget it. You need to hold down only the trigger to keep the tool whirring.

The business end of the trimmer has a bump head for feeding line plus the usual metal blade in the deflector to keep line from spanning beyond the 11-inch cutting width. Not many years ago, a dual-line, battery-powered string trimmer was scarce. Now they’re fairly common, and this pair has an ample 0.80-inch diameter. We didn’t need to swap spools but ran through the process anyway and judged it as easy as in the video below. As with the unit itself and all Stihl products, you’ll find replacement spools only at a Stihl dealership.

The FSA 56, as tested, weighs 8.2 pounds, and we found it well-balanced and easy to operate along the perimeter of the test property. But the news gets better: With the lesser AK 10 battery, the one actually sold with the unit, the trimmer weighs only 7.3 pounds. The shaft is also adjustable by several inches, and you can adjust the angle of the front (loop) handle with a quick turn of a star knob.

Turf battles
We tested the FSA 56 on everything from soft, overgrown grass to a some stiff-stemmed weeds, with a persistent patch of ground elder providing much of the challenge. The dual lines ripped deftly through the grass and ground elder, though the heaviest growth likely accounted for the roughly 30 minutes we got out of the AK 20 battery before it began to cut out. (It’s rated for 34 minutes; the AK 10, 17 minutes.) Not that the trimmer didn’t slice through the denser patches. It did, but if you have a lot of thick weeds on your property, you might want to pay another $70 for a second AK 10, which would serve for another 15-17 minutes while the first battery charges.

Stihl claims that with the standard AK 10, you can “trim the length of five football fields on a single battery charge.” With most homes and their diverse plants and widths of the places the mower can’t reach, there’s no way to judge that claim. Still, we trimmed plenty of property on a charge—even accounting for fallen sticks, which add resistance, among the weeds we cleared. We even edged with the FSA 56, though we had to do it by holding the trimmer sideways; the cutting head can’t be rotated as with some other manufacturers’ trimmers.

As with the MSA 120C-BQ chainsaw, the charger took about 2 ½ hours with the AK 20. Buy the string trimmer in the usual way, with the AK 10 battery, and you’ll be up and running again in about 80 minutes.

A couple of caveats: We found no concerns about the battery life, but perhaps none arose since we used the higher amp-hour battery. Some customers on Stihl’s own site have complained about short battery life, along with problems getting replacement spools. For this second grievance, we advise you check before buying the trimmer that your local dealer stocks replacement spools for this product.

The verdict
With either battery on the FSA 56, you’ll be spending a lot of time charging it if you live in a woodsy neighborhood with lush growth around the edges. That, in fact, might be the concern of some buyers who’ve posted user reviews to Stihl’s website. In such settings, you’d be better off with a gas machine such as the $240 Stihl FS 56 RC-E.

But if you have modest weed growth along your property’s perimeter and don’t want to deal with the maintenance of a gas-powered weed whacker, the FSA 56 deserves your consideration. For power, ease of use, and light weight at the price, you can’t do much better in a cordless string trimmer.

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