Need a Leaf Blower? Think Features

Credit: Sears HoldingsMost of us wish our lawns looked better, but next month brings autumn to the rescue with a welcome coating of leaves. Still, for the sake of next year’s lawn, we ironically can’t leave them there—or this year’s turf will look great by comparison.

So if you’re in the market for a new leaf blower, here are some helpful features and extras of handheld models that help you get the job done more easily. Then you might even have time for some reseeding, along with laying down a healthy coating of fertilizer, before winter shows up.

Vacuuming. If you haven’t before had a leaf blower that can also suck up leaves, either standard or as an option, think carefully. Yes, such models can indeed make the pile smaller, important if you like to compost. And if you bag leaves, you’ll fit what remains into fewer of them. But if the point is saving time, forget about it. Anyone who lives around lots of trees knows that mixed in with that leaf pile are plenty of twigs, acorns and other debris that gets caught in the leaf blower’s impeller—the blade that draws in air—and makes you stop to get it all out.

Credit: Weed Eater
Weed Eater’s metal impeller

Metal impeller. If you’re undeterred and want a leaf blower that vacuums, too, look for a model with a metal impeller. It tends to better withstand the punishment of stuck twigs, acorns and other debris. Among corded-electric model, these include the capable Toro Ultra Plus 51621, $100, but blowers with metal impellers needn’t cost this much.

Variable speed. Many gas-powered leaf blowers have an adjustable throttle. On electric models, it might be on a dial. However you find it, variable speed lets you blow more gently around anything fragile or, say, put the finishing touches on a pile before your dog or the kids jump in. If you’re vacuuming, it also lets you turn down the suction around, for example, gravel.

Speed lock. While you’re shoving lots of leaves around and need to show them who’s boss, you might want nothing less than maximum power. For those minutes, it helps to be able to lock the machine at that speed, which on a gas model also keeps you from having to hold the throttle down. Many gas handhelds from Stihl have this feature.

Multiple nozzle tips. A flattened nozzle is fine for most leaves, but for moist leaves that are stubbornly holding onto the lawn, you’ll want a round nozzle tip. Some leaf blowers come with both, though you might find yourself sticking to the preferred one over time.

Credit: Stihl
Stihl’s gutter extension

Gutter extension. Models that accept this feature, typically an extra-cost option, have a blower tube that detaches. The gutter extension, several feet long and with a hook-shaped nozzle at the end, helps keep you off ladders. That saves time and could keep you out of the hospital, too. Our recommendation: a good hat and waterproof windbreaker. If leaves are stuck up there, there’s probably water, too.

On any model you’re thinking of buying, try it out for weight and comfort in its grip—some blowers have a second handle. Check where the power switch is and how easy it is to switch off if you’re in a hurry. And if it’s a gas model, look for a translucent gas tank, which helps you notice when it’s running low of fuel.

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Pressure Washers Aren’t for the Careless

Credit: @tayjhub (via Twitter)
Looks bad, but they get worse.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) maintains a database of injuries and deaths associated with specific products. Called the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, it uses information reported to emergency rooms to assess the dark side of owning, say, a lawn mower or snowblower. For much outdoor gear, you can see how people get hurt in both innocent and cavalier ways. The same is true of pressure washers. But with this particular product type, the negligent causes are especially vexing.

Take, for instance, the young mother who ran out of baby wipes so used a pressure washer to wet a cloth diaper. Or the people who passed out from carbon-monoxide exposure through using a gas-powered pressure washer indoors. Or others who, horsing around, treated the pressure washer as a squirt gun. All this might remind you of the Darwin Awards. Nevertheless, some of these injuries could happen to anyone.

Many, according to the CPSC, occur because of where someone is using a pressure washer. A great number of people, for instance, fall off ladders or the roof itself. (Recoil from first turning on the spray is a common cause.) Some trip over the machine, maybe while working in enclosed spaces. Occasionally, someone gets burned from touching the hot engine. And frequently, it’s not the pressure washer itself but close proximity with the surface being cleaned—and soap or other cleaning agents splashing into the eyes or mouth.

What most happens, however, is that a user loses concentration or is unsuitably dressed (barefoot, for example), and the spray comes in contact with that person or someone nearby. Therein lies the greatest danger. While it’s easy to think of these as glorified garden hoses, pressure washers’ nozzles blast water at 40 to 80 times more power.

Here’s how to stay safe:

• Don’t point the wand directly at a surface, especially when you first press the trigger and if the spray is especially narrow (less than 15 degrees).

• Keep the pressured spray away from yourself (including your footwear), other people and pets. You want to spend time after you’re finished having a beer—not sitting in the ER waiting room, feeling like an idiot.

• Wear goggles, long pants and sturdy footwear. No, flip-flops don’t qualify.

• Once you’ve cleaned a surface before, you’ll know which nozzle (or which setting on a model with an adjustable nozzle) is right. Until then, use the widest spray angle that removes the stain. Begin cleaning with the nozzle about two feet away from the surface and then, if you need to, move closer.

The bottom line: Medical experts warn anyone hurt from a pressure washer to seek medical attention. If you’re hurt from falling, a burn or something in your eyes, nobody should need to tell you to see a doctor. But if the spray has caused even a slight break of the skin, there’s danger to underlying tissues that, if ignored, could require surgery and months of therapy later. Swallow your pride, pick up the phone and get it looked at.

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