Troy-Bilt Lithium Battery String Trimmer: A Review

– Posted in: Tools and Equipment

Early this past spring, Troy-Bilt sent me a Troy-Bilt 20-Volt Lithium-Ion Cordless Electric String Trimmer (model TB57) to review. You should know that in the past, two of my grown sons have been employed maintaining the grounds of the local mental health facility. As a result of this employment, they have used a lot of string trimmers, and purchased a super-duper, heavy duty, gasoline-powered commercial model for our family which they knew could take the abuse that maintaining country property requires. And as they usually wait a little longer than ideal to cut back the weeds in the ditches and such, it does take abuse. And still works fine.

Eyelash Edges

So why did I want to try Troy-Bilt’s Lithium Battery String Trimmer? Because of eyelash edges.

When the one cutting the grass is afraid to get too close to the flowers, the beds develop eyelash edges. Can you see them?

When the one cutting the grass is afraid to get too close to the flowers, the beds develop eyelash edges. Can you see them?

It happens every year. Because of rainy weather, equipment breakdown, or other cause, the lawn doesn’t get cut when it should. And when it does finally get cut, the one operating the mower isn’t quite sure where the lawn ends and the flower bed begins, and so he doesn’t cut quite as close to the edge as he should. Thus, the flower beds develop an eyelash fringe of longer grass where they meet the lawn.

So, when Troy-Bilt asked me if I’d like to try this trimmer, I thought, “This trimmer sounds like something I could handle. Not heavy like a super-duper heavy-duty gasoline-powered trimmer (which we already have), and no cord trailing behind me, getting tangled up in who knows what. I, myself, could eliminate the eyelash edges, without spending hours cutting a new edge on all those beds. Yes, I want to test that trimmer!”

Read The Fine Print

I am one of those people who believe in reading the manual before assembling anything. How else can you be sure you are putting it together correctly? Furthermore, I had never operated a string trimmer before in my life. (I know, you non-manual-readers are thinking, “How hard can it be?”) And so, for it to be a fair review of Troy-Bilt’s trimmer, I had to read up on the trimmer’s operation. Much to my surprise, this turned out to be my greatest challenge.

You see, the actual installation and operating instructions are in very small print. At first I mistook them for the warranty.

Compare the typeface of a magazine page with that of the trimmer's installation manual. Tiny, I tell you!

Compare the typeface of a magazine page with that of the trimmer's installation manual. Tiny, I tell you!

Not so long ago, I had better than 20-20 vision, and now, here I was, putting on my bifocals to read an instruction manual. How the mighty have fallen! Furthermore, this hindrance to string trimmer enlightenment was intentional:
The small print was intentional.

The small print was intentional.

I’m all for reducing waste, but to me, this just seems penny-wise and pound-foolish. What do you think?

How Do You Work This Thing?

Okay, so I was a little paranoid. I’ve been struggling with back problems all summer, and I was afraid using this thing would hurt my back. So I practiced holding the trimmer correctly before I put the battery in. There’s a picture of a teensy (13/16 of inch, I measured) man illustrating the proper grip. What I discovered, is that the only way I could hold my slightly bent right arm on the housing grip and my straight left arm on the D-grip and keep the cutting heat parallel to the ground, was by positioning the tool diagonally across my body, instead of straight out in front, as I had expected. And I realized that holding it as the manual instructed did not strain my back as I had feared. Sometimes it pays to read the instructions.

The Battery Is Heavy

The battery is easy to insert in the charger and easy to insert in the trimmer. You can figure it out without reading the manual. (It is wise to design such things so that even idiots can’t screw it up.) But it is heavy. Once I put it in the trimmer, it changed the whole balance of it and I had to practice my proper holding technique all over again. In fact, the whole time I operated it, my right forearm was busy pushing down on the weight of the battery.

It Works, But…

My moment of truth had arrived. I was going to operate a string trimmer. Eyelash edges would be a thing of the past. I decided for my first time I would attempt something a little more fail-proof than trimming a flower bed’s eyelashes. I’d trim the grass at the base of a stone wall. I might wear out the string a little faster, but no plants would be hurt by my klutziness.

Yes! I am operating a string trimmer for the first time!

Yes! I am operating a string trimmer for the first time!

There are two buttons to deal with: the throttle lockout button and the throttle trigger. You only have to press the lockout button when you first start it. But you have to hold the trigger down the whole time. The motor is quiet; ear protection is not required. Seriously, my kids have had noisier toys.

At first it didn’t seem to be cutting very well, but then my photographer said, “Try holding the trigger down more!” Whee! It sure spun around faster with just a little bit of encouragement. I followed the manual’s advice to “cut grass over 8 inches (ahem!) by working from top to bottom in small increments,” but these instructions confused me: “Cut from right to left whenever possible. Cutting from the left improves the unit’s cutting efficiency.” Huh? To my mind, the second sentence contradicts the first. For me, it seemed to work best when I started with the trimmer head on the left and moved it towards the right.

Since this was the first time I had ever used a trimmer, I have nothing to compare it to in terms of efficiency. I did have to make a couple of passes to get things trimmed the way I wanted, but the grass was high and also damp–which it’s not supposed to be. We’ve had such frequent rain and heavy dews that I despaired of ever finding the ideal conditions for trimming. So I just did it, manual be damned.

Poor Ergonomic Design

I found I quickly tired of holding down the trigger, so that I had to take frequent pauses to rest my hand. That cuts down on efficiency. If you look at my right hand in the photo above, it is bent and twisted as it is holding down the trigger. My wrist is not in an ergonomically neutral position, and it is holding down a button the whole time. The fact that I had to be told to press the button down harder indicates that I had to use more finger strength than I normally do to achieve efficient operation. I never got a backache, but my shoulders and my right arm ached. After no more than twenty minutes of use, I had a shooting pain radiating from my wrist along the inside of my forearm. To someone who struggles to keep tennis elbow and other repetitive strain problems at bay, this was not a good sign. I’m going to have to find a different method of eliminating eyelash edges. I just can’t risk re-injuring myself.

lachlan_trimmingMy son Lachlan, who has worked for the grounds department, also found the design bothered his wrist. For him, the problem was exacerbated by the short length of the tool’s shaft. As you can see in the photo, he has to bend over to trim, even with the telescoping shaft fully extended. The short length means his wrist must be at an even sharper angle in order to keep the trimmer head parallel to the ground. While he agreed the design made the trimmer uncomfortable to use, he thought it cut grass satisfactorily for a battery powered trimmer. But he wouldn’t want it to be his main trimming tool.

The Bottom Line

This Troy-Bilt Lithium Battery String Trimmer falls short of its potential because it doesn’t accommodate the human body satisfactorily. Even fully extended, the shaft of the tool is only a tad too long for me, five foot two inches when I’m practicing my best posture. The trigger location on the handle forces the operator’s hand into an uncomfortable position, and the stiffness of the trigger makes the fingers work harder than necessary. It’s too bad, because the lithium battery-powered motor has the potential to make a lighter, quieter, and more convenient alternative to the super-duper, heavy duty, gasoline-powered commercial model that does the lion’s share of trimming around here. I guess I’d better dig out the edge cutter and the grass shears.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

When dealing with frost it is always best to be paranoid. In the spring never think it is too late for one more frost to come. And in the fall never think it too early.

~Rundy in Frost

Comments on this entry are closed.

Bob November 3, 2009, 4:13 pm

All I need a string trimmer for is around my yard where the mower cannot reach. This thing is light weight and easy to use. I don’t have to use gas! I don’t have to suck up exhaust fumes while trimming! To start the trimmer all I have to do is push a button! This is the perfect string trimmer for most homeowners!
Confession time.
This trimmer is so easy to use that I actually let my 11 year old daughter trim while I mow the lawn with my battery operated mower (I don’t have to use, keep or buy gas for any of my yard work). My daughter has fun trimming!

Ted September 11, 2009, 9:44 pm

I work as a gardener around Minneapolis and for trimming I use a Worx battery operated line trimmer and I do really like it. For bed edges it can rotate 90 degrees so the cutting head in perpendicular to the ground. It’s easy then to run along the bed edge, though plants can’t really tumble over onto the lawn. It’s pretty adjustable for a good fit and the auto line feed seems is very handy – no bumping! I will say that most of my clients have lawn services that do the bulk of the trimming along walks and shrub beds, I only look after the edges where lawn meets perennial gardens and they get trimmed every week. I like their battery operated blower as well.

Jennah September 6, 2009, 11:23 am

I got one of these trimmers, too, and had the same complaint about having to hold down the trigger buttons. IIRS, my husband later told me there’s a way you can use it without having to hold the button down the whole time. I don’t remember how, though, so you may have to consult the…manual.

My review of it is here:
.-= Jennah´s last blog ..Waning Garden =-.

Kathy Purdy September 6, 2009, 4:08 pm

Hi, Jennah–There are two “buttons” we are talking about here: the throttle lockout and the throttle trigger. (Figure 12 in the manual.) I put on my glasses and checked the manual again. “Press the throttle lockout button in and squeeze the throttle trigger to start trimming.” What they don’t tell you, but I did learn from Lachlan, is that once you have gotten the string whirling, you can release the throttle lockout button. But if you ever stop squeezing the throttle trigger, the trimmer stops. As the manual says, “Release the throttle trigger to stop the unit.” Even we manual readers understand that sometimes the manual doesn’t tell you everything it should. So I just went outside with the trimmer and tried to see if the lock button could somehow keep the trigger in the on position without my holding it there. Nope, no dice. The lock is to keep it from starting unexpectedly. The trimmer will shut off as soon as you stop squeezing the trigger. If your husband figured out a way to run the thing without squeezing the trigger, please have him comment here. The manual isn’t telling, and my experimentation was not successful.

Claire H September 5, 2009, 11:28 pm

I want to avoid using gas trimmers, they are heavy, loud and pollute our planet. I used an old school trimmer I found at a garage sale, down on my knees.
But now I have a new and improved one, a stand up hand garden edger I purchased in England.
I was there studying on scholarship with the Royal Horticultural Society, from my school South Seattle Community College, Landscape Horticulture Program.
I found that they used these on all of their edges. It is quite the thing. A long 9 inch sharp blade, two long adjustable handles. They can be purchased for the right hand or lefties.
To start with you need a rake to organize your eyelashes. Then snip away. I loved doing this.
Don’t forget to create neat *Victorian Edges first and foremost. Then it is a cinch to quietly snip in rain or shine.
Happy Gardening!

* Victorian Edge: take a straight edge shovel and create a neat 90 degree angled line between turf and bed, about 3 to 4 inches deep.

Deborah at Kilbourne Grove September 2, 2009, 7:59 am

I hate trimming the edge as well, but as my garden is so geometric, it doesn’t look neat unless I do. My mother in law gave me her old one, which I liked but it had a bit of a problem feeding the line. I went out and bought a new one, but I find it very uncomfortable to use for very long. That is the problem with some garden equipment, you really need to work with them for a while before you buy, so you can tell if it is the best one for you. Great post Kathy, it will help other gardeners looking to make their own purchase.
.-= Deborah at Kilbourne Grove´s last blog ..The Kitchen Garden =-.

Salix September 2, 2009, 7:53 am

Hi Kathy
Great to read a hands on “report” from another country gardener. I do occationally use our super-duper, heavy-duty, gasoline-powered trimmer (it operates either with a string or a blade, depending on the job) but find it heavy and too uncomfortable to use as it is very powerful. Would be nice if the battery trimmer was an alternative.
.-= Salix´s last blog ..Pond Life =-.

Donalyn September 1, 2009, 10:34 pm

All string trimmers hurt me one way or another – someone needs to invent a Roomba type trimmer, edger, mower. 🙂
.-= Donalyn´s last blog ..Blueberry Sugar Doughnut Muffins =-.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter September 1, 2009, 10:27 pm

Great review/performance test. We’ve given up on string trimmers here & cut the bit of edging we do have by hand, but then, we don’t have acres. I’m sure the design of holding the trigger down is a safety feature, but when the user ends up injured because of a safety feature, that is ironically bad design.
.-= Mr. McGregor’s Daughter´s last blog ..Signs and Portents =-.

MA September 1, 2009, 10:07 pm

oh dear! I hate trimming the edges. HATE IT. Too bad this wasn’t the perfect answer to a tough job. Keep up the good work.
.-= MA´s last blog ..Bulbs that critters won’t like =-.