Most 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.
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.
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.