Honda might not be the first brand you’d think of when you need a leaf blower or any other handheld power tool, and the company’s power-equipment division has historically focused its efforts on beefier goods like mowers, generators, pumps and snowblowers. But the company wouldn’t be enjoying the cult status it has if it entered any new market segment on a lark. The Honda VersAttach System is its venture into handheld, and the multi-part product line is clearly a head-turner.
The VersAttach consists of a choice of two power heads, which use small yet 4-stroke Honda engines, and six attachments that snap easily in place (see SureLoc, below) to a straight shaft. There’s a leaf blower, pole pruner, edger, hedge trimmer, cultivator and string trimmer, all of which we tested. They’re sold separately but have a three-year residential warranty across the line.
The UMC435 power head, at $359, itself costs more than many handheld tools, but a lot of thought went into this machine. (A less powerful power head, the UMC425, costs $319.) The 4-stroke engine started easily after priming, and it runs quietly enough that you won’t need hearing protection until you open the throttle all the way. It’s also low-vibration, as claimed, and is designed to be held in any position you need while running—or being stored.
Included with the UMC435 are goggles and an adjustable safety harness, which includes a protective shield to which you can clip the power head. It’s important: Even without a tool attached, it weighs more than 14 pounds when fueled up. (The UMC25 weighs two pounds less.) The carabiner helps you deal with the weight of the power head, but as noted below, using certain of the tools requires you to lift the entire machine, such as reaching up with the pole pruner.
Honda SSBL Blower
The SSBL blower, $129, comes assembled, weighs less than five pounds and blows at 250 cubic feet per minute. From other such attachments we’ve seen, it looks like merely a sweeper for clearing leaves from a deck, patio or walk. But in clearing dry maple leaves stubbornly clinging to a lawn—and others entangled in pachysandra—the tool’s muscle surprised us. We further ran the same test we ran earlier on six Worx blowers and a Craftsman, and on full throttle it rivaled the best of those and a Stihl BG 55, a mid-range handheld gas blower, we ran for comparison.
Despite its power, you wouldn’t want the SSBL as your only leaf blower if you live among many trees that take hours to pick up after. The reason: It’s cumbersome to maneuver if you have to move in and out among bushes—which is usually a plus with a non-corded leaf blower. And the airflow wasn’t as narrow as a typical handheld blower’s. Among the six attachments, the leaf blower is what you might use for the longest period at a time. The harness takes some of the weight off you, but it’s still a nearly 20-pound tool.
Honda SSPP Pruner
The SSPP pole pruner, $199, is fairly lightweight at 3.5 pounds, a good thing because a 12-inch chainsaw at the end of a shaft can quickly feel heavy when held high. The tool uses an Oregon 91 Series chain, which needed less than five minutes to install, tension and oil.
We used the SSPP to fell and chop up one smallish tree plus two thicker, dead ones, and the greater distance between the bar and the operator makes for safer cutting than usual for a chainsaw, presuming safe usage, with less chance of injury from kickback. But with the bar and chain at the end of the shaft, you haven’t much leverage, either. Consider this attachment for light cutting, for which it’s well suited.
Honda SSET Edger
The SSET edger, $169, comes assembled and uses a metal blade as do other edgers—and some string trimmers’ edging components. This one is nearly 8 inches in diameter, and the attachment overall is slightly over 4 pounds. We edged grass down an asphalt driveway and formed barriers along other parts of the same lawn’s perimeter.
The trickiest part, we found, was tipping the edger shaft forward enough for the blade to penetrate the surface we were edging. This required raising the power head while it was clipped to the harness’s shield. Provided you don’t hit rocks or pavement as you edge, however, the edger blade proves tough and digs in well to carve neat, pronounced borders.
Honda SSHH Hedge Trimmer
The SSHH hedge trimmer, $209, isn’t your typical trimmer, given its 21.6-inch, double-sided, double-reciprocating blade and nearly 5-pound weight. It’s powerful enough for landscapers, yet you can ease off the throttle as needed. We tested this attachment on numerous bushes and shrubs, including holly, taxus, andromeda and spirea, and conclude that this tool alone is more trimmer than many homeowners would need.
Even though you can adjust the blade’s angle in relation to the shaft (over a 108-degree arc), one major convenience you give up is the ability to maneuver the trimmer quickly under, over and behind bushes to shape. It isn’t that you can’t do it; lugging the power head and shaft along just makes it less appealing. So for quick work requiring lots of awkward positioning on your part, you might want a lightweight cordless-electric on hand besides this one.
Honda SSCL Cultivator
The SSCL cultivator, $239, costs the most of the bunch and is the heaviest, at 7.2 pounds—for an overall weight upwards of 20 pounds. But for the job of digging and tilling soil for a garden or other uses, that weight is useful. We ran the cultivator over three dry, compact patches of lawn. The tool’s 6.5-inch swath was ample for the overall area of roughly 75 square feet, though like any cultivator it tended to skip over rocks it found. Nevertheless, the SSCL dug in when needed, particular at full throttle, and proved capable at prepping these spots for seeding.
Honda SSST String Trimmer
Priced at $129, the same as the leaf blower, the 3.1-pound SSST trimmer has much to recommend it. It trims in a 16.5-inch swath and uses a bump head to feed more line. Best of all are its thick, 0.105-inch lines. Given the power of the UMC435’s engine, this tool made short work of many weeded parts, some dense, of our test property. As with the other tools, it’s heavy (17 pounds) once you add in the power head; other high-performing gas trimmers weigh 10 pounds or less. But when it’s clipped to the harness, you feel little of that. The SSST, in fact, was balanced the best of the four attachments you’d use above ground level.
You wouldn’t consider most purchases of handheld power tools to be an investment, but that’s exactly what the Honda VersAttach system is. Given the quality and apparent durability of the power head and the various components, we’ve no concerns whatsoever about the quality.
The harness and carabiner indeed distribute weight you’d otherwise fully support with your arms. Nevertheless, these tools can be hard to hold for long stretches, and it’s part of your decision.
Another part is cost. For the UMC435 plus all six attachments, you’d pay more than $1,400. You might also want a few other tools, such as a beefier chainsaw, a traditional handheld blower (or backpack) and a lightweight hedge trimmer. But for what the VersAttach tools do, they might well be the last such tools you ever buy. For any homeowner with the available cash, that makes the overall system worth a hard look.