How much power equipment do we really need?

By Tom Seymour | Jun 10, 2021

Sometimes less is better. That’s especially so when it comes to outdoor power equipment. Sure, power equipment saves time and energy, and it also enables us to perform jobs that might be just too difficult with manually propelled equipment. But it is possible to go overboard with this stuff. Many do and many regret it.

You’ve seen it. Drive past a house and there, taking up space, are two lawn tractors, a walk-behind lawn mower, a snow thrower, several weed whackers, including a walk-behind model. The owner is out front, operating a leaf blower.

To the uninitiated eye, these accumulated power tools look like so much junk. And really, that’s not too far from the mark when you consider that power equipment, especially gas-powered equipment, has a rather short life expectancy. Well, if you are a small-engine mechanic, you can keep your equipment going for years. But the percentage of small-engine mechanics to the average population is miniscule. Collecting outdoor power equipment can become an obsession with some people. Newer, bigger and better products have an irresistible appeal to these poor unfortunates. In time, the total mass of power equipment becomes unmanageable, and it becomes just plain clutter. And clutter has no place for those looking to improve their homes.

Which Mixture?

Gas-powered equipment, especially equipment with 2-cycle motors, require that gas and oil be mixed together in a container. First you measure the oil and pour it in, then you pour in a little gas. Next, the mixture must be swirled around to thoroughly mix it and then the balance of the gas must be added. That, too, needs a bit of agitation in order to make a homogenous mix.

If that were all there was to it, then well and good. But 2-cycle engines do not all take the same gas-to-oil ratio, thus necessitating the need for separate gas cans for each device. Now we’re talking problems.

This has happened to me. In order to tell the difference between fuel containers, I would write on them with a permanent marker. But some permanent markers aren’t so permanent and in time, the writing fades, leaving the user to wonder if this is the 50:1 mix or the 30:1 mix. It’s impossible to tell by looking. And running a lower mix than called for can damage the engine.

The only thing to do with the now-unmarked gas is to run it in the machine that calls for the lowest ratio mixture. It will run the motor but will eventually gunk it up. The best answer is to add it, in increments, to the gas tank of your car or truck.

Two-cycle equipment is usually cheaper than 4-cycle stuff, so people keep buying it and companies continue making it. Thus, the cycle of which mixture is which, continues. The problem of gas storage continues as well. Eventually, you will wind up with a bunch of half-full gas cans that you can’t or don’t dare use, with no way to get rid of them. Having a collection of such containers around your home does little to increase its value.

Four-cycle motors circumvent the gas mixture problem by accepting unmixed gasoline. The oil is added directly to the motor, the same as in a motor vehicle.

Now, with 4-cycle equipment, we can use just one gas can. No wondering which can is for which tool. But even this seemingly perfect solution has a flaw. You should never use anything but Ethanol-free gasoline in small engines. It eats up the lines and gunks up the carburetors. The gas companies will tell you differently, of course. But despite what any rep from any company tells you, Ethanol-laced gas will ruin your power equipment. If you wish for further verification, just ask any small-engine mechanic.

The only solution to this problem is to use Ethanol-free gas, which commands a premium price. As if gas isn’t expensive enough already, try adding another one-third of the already-high price to it and you’ll find it not only way too expensive, but exorbitantly so.

But the hassle doesn’t end there. Not every variety store or gas station sells Ethanol-free gas. This means you may wind up driving a great distance to the nearest outlet that sells Ethanol-free gas. The best thing to do here is to buy (you may need to take out a bank loan to do it) several containers at one time, in order to save multiple trips to the gas station. Fortunately, non-Ethanol gas keeps for a long time, especially if you add fuel stabilizer (just another expense) to it.

Enter Electric

Electric equipment solves the gas problem. But it can introduce new hassles. If your device has a cord, as in electric lawn mowers and snow throwers, the cord always gets in the way, and it also comes unplugged accidentally.

Battery-powered equipment solves the problem, sort of. Good — as in Lithium — batteries are very expensive (think non-Ethanol gas as opposed to regular gas), but cheaper batteries have less power and don’t last as long.

So, what’s the final answer to all this? Well, my suggestion is to pare down the amount of power equipment you own by deciding what you really need and dispensing with the rest.

As of now, I have one electric snow thrower, a walk-behind weed whacker with a 4-cycle engine and a lawn mower, also with a 4-cycle engine. With these, I can get most of my chores done. Some hand trimming is still necessary, as is the use of those venerable tools, shovel and rake.

It may be difficult to part with your menagerie of power tools, but in the end, you’ll have a neater garage and outside and the headaches of all those gas cans will all but disappear.

Tom Seymour, of Frankfort, is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.

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