Stihl Expanding Cordless-Tool Line to Attract DIY Crowd

The Stihl BGA 56 cordless leaf blower / Credit: StihlStihl is one of the biggest names in outdoor power equipment, known particularly for handheld gear. But its 36-volt battery-powered line of tools, introduced six years ago, hasn’t gone gangbusters—not from any concerns about performance, but from pricing more appropriate for well-heeled landscapers than homeowners. Fortunately, more is coming from Stihl: two new cordless lines for the rest of us.

As of next spring, Stihl’s Lightning Battery Systems will include the existing line, now designated AP, plus two others. The 36V AP line remains targeted to pros and includes two leaf blowers, a hedge trimmer, three string trimmers, two chain saws and two mowers (a third, the $320 RMA 510, is on the way) along with other tools.

Two new cordless lines
The AK line is intended for prosumer/suburban homeowners. The BGA 56 leaf blower, shown above ($130), HSA 56 hedge trimmer ($200), FSA 56 string trimmer ($150) and MSA 120 C-BQ chainsaw ($240) comprise this line. All prices shown for the AK line, though, are without the AK 20 battery and AL 101 charger, which add $50 to $70 more for the bundle, depending on product.

Stihl FSA 45 cordless string trimmer / Credit: StihlTargeted to condo dwellers who need to do their own yard work, the AI line uses integrated 18V batteries. It includes the BGA 45 leaf blower, HSA 45 hedge trimmer and (shown at left) FSA 45 string trimmer. Each costs $130.

Although the AP and AK lines are both rated for 36 volts, their respective batteries aren’t interchangeable. The AK line’s batteries, the AK 10 ($70) and AK 20 ($100), lasted roughly half to two-thirds as long, in Stihl’s own runtime tests, as the AP line’s AP 300. Stihl claims that charging the AK 10 takes 30 or 80 minutes, depending on which charger you use. For the AK 20, it’s 45 or 150 minutes, depending on the charger.

The AK line, however, should bring Stihl’s cordless tools into homes. Unlike the AP line’s, pricing for the AK tools—and the AI for condo owners—isn’t prohibitive. We’ll see, once the new lines are available for review, how these tools stack up against competitors whose products have been in homes for quite some time. Stihl’s advantage: All are sold at authorized dealerships, where you’ll be better able to try out the products before buying than you can at Home Depot or Lowe’s. And you’ll know whom to see should you be unhappy later.

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‘Pink Out’ Ethanol Charity a Mixed Brew

gas cap with warningNext Monday marks the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), during which many companies have pledged to donate a portion of profits for breast-cancer research. Among these organizations is Growth Energy, the advocacy group behind the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2011 decision to allow more ethanol into fuel sold at pumps across America. Growth Energy has partnered with Sheetz, Minnoco, Protec and Murphy USA for its annual Pink Out campaign, which covers nozzles for E15, gasoline with 15% ethanol, in pink to indicate they would donate 2 cents for every gallon sold.

The BCAM campaign generates billions overall for this vital cause. And if you’re fueling up a car of the year 2001 or later, Growth Energy’s program sounds reasonable. You might already be fueling up with E15 now and then, and you probably won’t notice the slight reduction in mileage from using a higher percentage of biofuel. But in its pitch for the Pink Out program, Growth Energy isn’t giving you the whole story. The organization claims that burning gasoline harms the environment and releases harmful gases, though the main selling point for ethanol, reduced carbon-dioxide emissions, has not stood up to scrutiny.

Outdoor gear at risk
Gassing up your vehicle is one thing; the latest fuel systems should be able to handle it. For anyone filling up a gas can for use in outdoor power equipment, however, it’s another matter. Gasoline in general can cause engine trouble if left sitting for long periods. Yet the ethanol mixed in makes engines run hotter, stiffens rubber and plastic parts, and attracts water, which at the very least hinders starting.

Manufacturers accept that their customers will use gas with 10% ethanol, E10, which is found across the country. If you use E15 in outdoor power equipment and hit trouble, though, any repairs won’t be covered by your products’ warranties—which is why you’ll see plentiful warnings to use gasoline with no more than 10% ethanol. (You’ll need them; the EPA’s pump label is not prominent.) Turning a gas nozzle pink doesn’t make it a win-win on your end, but you won’t hear that from Growth Energy or other groups running similar campaigns.

Purchases that truly help cancer research are unassailable. But if you’re going to fuel up outdoor gear, your boat or anything else with an engine smaller than an car’s, steer clear of E15 fuel. Use a list like this one from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation to “shop pink” every October. Or donate year-round, no strings attached.

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