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 223cc, 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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Cordless Stihl Chainsaw May Be Just Enough

Stihl MSA 120C-BQ chainsawYou can’t beat a gas-powered chainsaw for a property full of trees, especially when many of them seem itching to cause trouble. If you’re like many suburban homeowners, though, you don’t need to break out the chainsaw often enough to maintain a gas model. Sometimes, too, cutting doesn’t require a tool with so much muscle. That’s the thinking behind the Stihl MSA 120C-BQ chainsaw, part of the manufacturer’s AK line of midrange cordless-electric tools.

We tested the Stihl MSA 120C-BQ, whose $240 price (all prices noted are rounded) includes a protective plastic scabbard but no way to power the saw. Pay another $100, and you’ll get the 36-volt, lithium-ion AK 20 battery and AL 101 quick charger, though you might already have this from another tool in the AK line. (Don’t, however, use the AK 10 battery for the MSA 120C-BQ; it doesn’t supply enough power.) If you have no other tools from this line, you can buy the chainsaw as a set with the AK 20 battery and AL 101 charger for $300.

Also your job to purchase and wear, if you value your health and safety, is hearing and eye protection, a secure helmet, boots, heavy-duty nonslip gloves and protective pants or chaps intended for chainsaw use.

An important plus in any chainsaw intended for DIY users is ample safety features. As with other, beefier chainsaws from Stihl—guide bars for professional tree-feller saws range up to almost 60 inches long—you get the Quickstop chain brake, tool-free chain tensioning, comfortable handles and low vibration. The saw weighs a mere 8.4 pounds with battery, which made for easy handling throughout our testing.

The MSA 120C-BQ we tested came with its chain mounted already on the saw’s 12-inch bar, and the rest was easy. The oil reservoir has a wide spout, so filling it was a snap. The ¼-inch chain remained well-lubricated throughout our cutting.

Testing the MSA 120C-BQ
Stihl claims its chainsaw will run up to 35 minutes on a charge, which the company says will get you 100 cuts if you’re cutting nothing wider than four inches, such as some firewood. Our test hardwood trees, ranging from three to eight inches (but five-plus on average), didn’t allow for a true test of 100 cuts per charge. What we achieved through two charges was roughly 50 cuts per run, still plenty for a homeowner saw.

One point to keep in perspective is that the MSA 120C-BQ isn’t meant for heavy-duty work. With any chainsaw, you have to position your body properly to avoid leaning into your cut—and apply just enough pressure to let the saw do the work at the speed its engine (or motor) allows. With a cordless saw like this one, you’ll be taking it slow through hardwood.

This isn’t a limitation, as long as you’re patient and keep the tool in perspective. Want a chainsaw that will tear through everything you’ve got? Consider a gas-powered model such as the $230 16-inch Stihl MS 180 C-BE, a 16-inch saw that, at $230, costs $10 less than the MSA 120C-BQ without battery and charger.

The Verdict
The MSA 120C-BQ is more than a capable chainsaw. While no battery-powered chainsaw, even the $280 MSA 160 C-BQ from Stihl’s pro-level AP line, can rival the best of its gas-powered brethren, most of us don’t need all that oomph. This saw delivers just what most DIY tree work calls for, and it’s lightweight and maneuverable enough for years of confident use.

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