If your lawn is too large for leaf cleanup with a rake, we recommend the Worx WG520 Turbine Leaf Blower, a corded electric handheld blower that offers leaf-moving power on par with many gas models, at a fraction of the cost, weight, and noise. This conclusion comes after almost 100 hours of research and testing over the past three years, including hands-on time with 18 leaf blowers and the input of three pro landscapers with 52 years of combined experience.
In our three years of leaf blower testing, the Worx is the most powerful electric blower that we’ve used. In fact it’s more powerful than a lot of the gas blowers we’ve used. The strong air stream is able to easily get under dense, damp, matted leaves, lift them, and move them forward. At under 6½ pounds, the Worx is almost two pounds lighter than the next lightest corded model we tested, and several pounds lighter than similar handheld gas models. It’s also simpler to operate than other blowers, due in part to a variable speed dial that you can control with one hand. At around $60, it’s one of the best-priced blowers you can get—it’s cheaper than other electrics, and most cordless or gas models can easily cost $100 more. This is a new pick for 2016, and it replaces a model by Black+Decker that is now our runner-up pick.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $0.
Before we handed our leaf blowers over to a landscaping crew for testing, we spent hours reading everything we could on the topic. We spent most of our time with Consumer Reports’s massive leaf blower guide (subscription required) and Roy Berendsohn’s impressive collection of articles at Popular Mechanics, most specifically his two roundups of backpack blowers (here and here) and his review of handheld blowers. Berendsohn has tested lawn equipment for decades and is one of the most respected voices on the topic. A review by Sal Vaglica of This Old House also proved to be helpful, as did a piece in Wired that looked at four different blowers.
In addition to our reading, we consulted with two landscapers: Kevin Walker of K.G.W. Services in Carlisle, Massachusetts, for in-field testing, and Chad Crosby of West Michigan Lawn Services LLC for interviews. We also had a long conversation with Dan Pherson, a product manager at Stihl USA.1 And I’ve personally spent many hours using leaf blowers—even before researching and testing products for this guide for the past three years. Currently I own a 15½-acre property in rural New England that has plenty of leaves to manage.
If you live on less than a quarter acre, clean up after only one or two trees, and don’t mind a workout, a rake will be your best option (see our recommendation). If raking takes more than an hour and it’s more labor than you’re willing to deal with, a leaf blower is a better choice.
Leaf blowers not only work faster than rakes and take less effort, but they can also perform many tasks that rakes and mowers can’t. Blowers can clean pine needles from a gutter, blow dust out of your garage, clear grass clippings from a driveway, or get leaves out of your thick ground-cover plants like vinca or pachysandra.
Another way to deal with leaves is to use a lawnmower with a mulching function (for more, see our pick). These mowers can slice and dice leaves into small pieces, leaving them behind to compost and provide nutrients to your lawn. This is a good solution for lawn areas, but you’ll still need something for clearing walkways, flower beds, and stonework.
There are several prominent styles of leaf blower: corded, cordless (handheld and backpack), and gas-powered (handheld and backpack). Each one comes with a unique set of trade-offs that make it ideal for different circumstances.
Corded (electric) blowers, the least expensive option, offer power comparable to that of many gas blowers, but with less weight, less irritating noise, no emissions, and no maintenance. I’ve owned a corded blower for about nine years, and when I’m not using it, I just shut it off and toss it in a corner of the garage. Some corded blowers have a shredder/vacuum feature that can suck up leaves and chop them up into tiny pieces, kind of like a quieter, engine-free version of a mulching lawnmower. According to Stihl’s Dan Pherson, corded blowers are good for “general use, smaller properties, condos, a small back yard, and cleaning up the deck.” They’re usually not much quieter than gas handheld models on a decibel level, but we think the tone of the noise on corded models is far less irritating to the ears.
The best battery-powered cordless blowers offer power similar to that of the corded models but with a much higher degree of maneuverability, so they’re perfect for large lawns with few trees, small properties with multiple trees, gutter cleaning, and blowing a light snow off the deck. They’re also the quietest blowers. As Pherson told us, “When it comes to low noise, it’s tough to beat lithium-ion cordless.” The downside with these models is battery run time. The best models can get about 20 to 25 minutes on high. Because of the large batteries needed, recharge time can be long as well, especially on backpack models that have larger batteries than handhelds. Generally, batteries for outdoor equipment have advanced considerably in recent years, and with power and run time increasing as prices and recharge times drop, these tools are far better options than they used to be.
Gas handheld blowers have solid power and no tether, but they’re pretty hard to use—in fact, our general recommendation is to skip them and step up to a backpack model if you can afford to. Here’s why: On average, gas handhelds weigh around 10 pounds, making them 2 to 3 pounds heavier than similar corded models. Blowing leaves can take a while, and 30 or 40 minutes swinging and pivoting a gas engine at arm’s length is difficult to do. With backpacks, you’ll get at least the same power (and usually more), keep the limitless portability of a gas engine, and gain much better ergonomics.
In looking at blowers, regardless of the style, we need to stress that you shouldn’t put much stock in the airspeed (mph) and air volume (cfm, cubic feet per minute) numbers that manufacturers use to try to sell you their blowers. According to Pherson, “Velocity helps lift the leaves, the volume helps blow them away.” The problem is that there is no standardized way to measure blowers’ airflow stats—some companies record them from the end of the blower tube, others measure air coming directly off the motor, inflating the numbers.2 That said, for comparison purposes, they’re really only a starting point.
In looking at models to test, we chose those from quality manufacturers that have solid reviews either from other editorial sources, like Consumer Reports, or stellar feedback on retailer sites. This eliminated many blowers from Homelite, Remington, Troy-Bilt, Weed Eater, and SunJoe, all of which rank considerably lower than our tested models.
For this 2016 update, we looked at two new corded blowers; the Worx WG520 Turbine Leaf Blower and the Worx WG510 Turbine Fusion Blower/Mulcher/Vacuum. We also tested three cordless blowers: the Oregon BL300 4 Volt MAX Handheld Blower Kit, the Ego LB5302 56-Volt Cordless Blower, and the Ego LB6002 56-Volt Cordless Backpack Blower.
These blowers were tested on a property in rural New Hampshire under the canopies of large maples and oaks. We also brought them into the woods to see how they would do against the thick, matted leaf-and-pine-needle bed of the forest floor. In addition, we used them around flower beds, cobblestone steps, stone walls, and in dense groundcover like pachysandra and vinca.
The testing of gas blowers was done in 2014 by Kevin Walker, a landscaper with 31 years of experience, and two of his crew (Anthony, with nine years of experience, and Justin, with 12 years of experience). Each landscaper fueled up, started, and used each blower for an extended period of time, and all three inspected each unit from tip to tail. Walker and his crew are currently long-term testing our gas recommendation.
We also looked at the decibel readings of each blower using a Triplett SoniChek sound meter. We discovered that they all measure similarly in terms of decibels, but that different tones were either more or less annoying.
Compared with the others we tested, it has the most powerful airstream, and showed no problems getting under the bed of thick, damp, matted leaves and pine needles on the forest floor. With the blower tubes in the same position, the Worx pushed leaves two feet further than our runner-up, the Black+Decker BV6600. The Worx’s variable speed control can be used one-handed, making it easy to tone down the airflow when needed, like around flower beds or while dusting out a garage. At under 6½ pounds, it’s also lighter than the other blowers we looked at, which will reduce arm strain over the long term. Currently costing about $60, the Worx has a good price for a blower of this caliber. One of the reasons for the relatively low cost is that the Worx does not have leaf mulching ability. If this is an important feature to you, we recommend our runner-up pick, the Black+Decker BV6600.
The open end of the Worx blowing tube is a round 3¼ inches in diameter, compared with the Black+Decker’s, which has an oblong shape (2½ inches by 1¼ inches). So the airstream of the Worx casts a wide net and is ideal for open-lawn leaf moving. All of this means faster work and less overall time spent moving leaves.
The Worx is also very easy to operate. The entire interface consists of a single thumb dial that turns the blower on and off and adjusts the speed, with controls you can operate one-handed. It’s very intuitive and offers the ability to quickly reduce the airflow if you’re cleaning out a flower bed or around a recently mulched tree. Even if you’re using the blower just to sweep dust out of the garage, using less air will prevent a giant dust cloud. You can also control the Black+Decker with a single hand; with the Toros, the speed dial is so far from the handle that it usually takes two hands to operate.
Like any leaf blower, the Worx is loud. But because it doesn’t have a gas engine, it sounds more like a really, really loud hair dryer, which, minus the heating coil, is basically what it is. We found during testing that the noise of an electric motor is very different from the irritating high-pitched whine of a two-stroke engine, even if the decibel readings are in the same ballpark.
The Worx is typically sold for $60, which is a great price, especially when compared with the other high-end electric blowers, most of which come with a leaf-mulching function and are usually around $80. We like that the Worx is powerful, but also that it’s stripped down, which not only lightens it, but reduces the overall cost as well. If you have no plans on using the mulcher, why pay for it?
But when calculating overall price, keep in mind that if you’re starting from scratch and in need of the full 100 feet of maneuverability, you’re going to be dropping an additional $40 to $50 on a cord. Worx recommends at least an 18-gauge cord for 25 feet, a 16-gauge cord for 50 feet, and the heavier 14-gauge cord for 100 feet. I can say from experience that a 100-foot 14-gauge cord is extremely unwieldy and difficult to wrap up—and, sadly, capable of taking out an entire flower bed. So if you need that length, our recommendation is to get two 50-foot cords.
Consumer Reports has not reviewed the Worx WG520 yet, but the feedback at the various retailers is very positive. On Amazon it currently has 4.7 stars (out of five) across 73 reviews and on Home Depot it has 4.9 stars (out of five) across 30 reviews.
Part of why we like the Worx is that it’s extremely powerful, but we also found that it can be a little unruly in certain situations. Because it only comes with the single wide-end nozzle, there is no way to pinpoint the airflow—if you need that, our runner-up pick comes with a nozzle reducer. Also, due to its massive blowing power, the Worx is not ideal for quick, precise movements of the blowing tube. Think of it as a firehose, but with air instead of water. We found that it works best with wide, swinging arcs, and for blasting leaves across the yard. But for smaller shifts back and forth, like under a rose bush, you’re fighting the blower’s power and it can get a little tiring. This isn’t to say that you can’t do it, but if the majority of your leaf blowing is around fragile plants, flower beds, or stonework, the Black+Decker is a better option.
As we’ve mentioned, the Worx is just a blower and does not have the ability to vacuum or mulch leaves. We don’t feel that this is an essential feature for everyone, seeing as it seems to add $20 to $30 to the overall cost of the blower. If you have roadside yard-waste pickup or shred your leaves for the compost pile, a blower/vac is going to be worth the added costs, which would be another reason to go with the Black+Decker.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $0.
If you spend a lot of time blowing leaves out of flower beds, or if you need the ability to mulch your leaves, we recommend the Black+Decker BV6600 High Performance Blower/Vacuum/Mulcher. This was our main pick last year. Compared with the Worx, it’s easier to use in tight spots and around delicate plants, but it does have less power, so moving leaves in an open lawn is going to take longer.
One major element that sets the Black+Decker apart from the Worx is that it comes with a few interesting attachments: a reducer nozzle, an oscillating nozzle, and a leaf scraper, all three of which easily clip on the end of the blower tube. The reducer narrows the focus of the air stream, helping blast leaves and pine needles out of tight spots, like stone walls, walkways, and steps. The oscillating nozzle is a segmented piece that wiggles back and forth when air blows through it, creating a wider swath of air without your having to move the blower manually. The leaf scraper is a small rake, about the size of a hand, that fits over the blower tube. You can use it to pull up stubborn or damp leaves while the blower is running. Although the oscillating nozzle and the rake are interesting and functional, we rarely used them, preferring to spend our blowing time with the wider nozzle or the simpler reducer.
Because of the nice curve of the handle, combined with the small blowing tube, we found the BV6600 to be a great choice for precision work around flower beds and stonework, areas where the blunt force of the Worx doesn’t get the job done as well. Because of the arc of the handle, you can choose where the nozzle points just by where you grab the tool. If you hold the rear of the handle, the nozzle naturally points downward; if you grab the front of the handle, it naturally points horizontally. Thanks to this design, you also suffer little to no wrist strain if you’re working at waist height—say, blowing out a truck bed or getting leaves off a shrub.
Unlike the Worx, the Black+Decker can also be converted into a shredder/vac. This feature is important for anyone with roadside leaf pickup who wants to maximize their efficiency. Most shredder/vacs, like the Black+Decker, operate at a ratio of at least 13 to 1, meaning they can shred 13 traditional bags of leaves into one bag. That’s a lot, especially if you have to pay per bag for pickup. Pherson did warn that you should make sure you know what you’re shredding, “because pine cones and gumballs can gum up the blades.” In this guide, we focus exclusively on the leaf-blowing features of the tools and not the shredding functions, but judging from the customer feedback, most people are pleased with the Black+Decker in this category.
The blower that is the closest in form and ability to the BV6600 is the popular Toro 51619. We tested the Toro and although we like it, we prefer the BV6600 for a number of reasons. First, the Toro’s variable speed knob is so far from the handle that it needs to be operated with a second hand. Second, in order to swap out the nozzle ends, you have to remove the entire blower tube and the intake guard. Third, it has a secondary pommel handle at the rear of the main handle. You use this second handle only while the unit is in vacuum mode, so it’s unnecessary when you’re using the tool as a blower. Black+Decker smartly puts this secondary vacuum handle on the vacuum tube, so it’s attached to the tool only when you have it in vac mode. While we were testing the blowers, the Black+Decker felt noticeably lighter and better balanced, even though on the scale it’s only a little lighter than the Toro.
Finally, we need to note that the BV6600 was recalled in September 2016. There were reports of the fan cover falling off and exposing the mulching fan, resulting in four reports of “finger lacerations.” If you already own a BV6600, you can contact Black+Decker for a new fan cover. The company is now shipping models with improved fan covers. The info sticker on the new, improved model will read “Type 2” and not “Type 1.”
The most important factor with a cordless blower is run time. In our tests, the Ego provided just under 20 minutes while set on high with the included 2.5 Ah battery. Only the DeWalt (22 minutes) and the Ego LB6002 Backpack Blower (26 minutes) gave higher numbers, but those both typically cost $100 to $150 more. Most of the other cordless blowers hover around the eight- to 12-minute mark, putting the Ego significantly above similarly priced options.
Its power is also impressive. Though not as aggressive as the corded Worx, the Ego had no problems lifting and pushing piles of damp, matted leaves. A turbo button can be used to add a blast of power, but at the cost of battery life. It only took us eight and a half minutes to drain the battery in turbo mode, so it’s a feature you want to use sparingly.
The Ego is also very light. It weighs under 8 pounds, roughly the same as the corded Worx, but over 4 pounds lighter than the DeWalt. The Ego is easy to swing around, and we felt the arm fatigue was minimal, especially given that battery life dictates a stopping time. If the Ego does get too heavy, it has a little clip on it that can be used to attach a shoulder strap (not included).
Like the Worx corded blower, the Ego has a rear intake, but due to the smart design, it doesn’t suck in clothing. Ego placed the battery area behind the intake, leaving a wide space between the two. This gives the tool a nice balance and protects the intake from clothing and debris.
The downside of the Ego is that it does not have a variable speed trigger, which is something we were hoping they would fix with this second version. Changing the air speed is done with a dial at the front of the tool and requires a second hand, which is inconvenient when closing in on flower beds. We much prefer true variable-speed triggers to this setup. Still, for the cost and power of the Ego as well as the battery compatibility with other successful tools, we feel it’s the best cordless option.
The BR350 ranked second in the Consumer Reports rundown, placing behind only the $430 Husqvarna 356BT. You can find more powerful blowers than the Stihl BR350, but as far as Walker is concerned, this midsize model offers all the blowing power anyone would ever need.
The BR350 weighs 22½ pounds, which is a good amount of weight to carry around. If that’s too much, you can step down in size and power to the Husqvarna 130BT. Comparing it with models of a similar size, Walker and his crew liked the 130BT for its ample power, manageable weight, and relatively quiet operation. But it’s going to take longer to move leaves than with the Stihl BR350.
This is our second year recommending the Black+Decker BV6600 and so far we’ve had no problems with it. Like we said above, it was recalled in September 2016, so if you already own it, please see the recall announcement to find out how to get a replacement fan cover.
For the past two years Walker and his crew have used the Stihl BR350 and it has been very well-received. Walker told us that it “has been a great workhorse and definitely a crew favorite for larger work areas where a lot of distance needs to be covered.” When he first looked over the unit two years ago, he mentioned the higher-pitched noise, but he recently told us that none of his crew have mentioned it since.
When you’re getting into gas-powered models, noise and emissions are big concerns.
Regarding emissions, all of the gas-powered blowers that we tested are CARB-compliant, meaning that they comply with the strict emissions regulations of the state of California as set by the California Air Resources Board. We found in our research that most blowers from reputable companies are CARB-compliant. This doesn’t mean that they emit rose petals instead of pollution, of course, but it does mean that the manufacturer has made an effort to tighten the ship.
As for noise, the onus is on you to understand local regulations regarding the operation of leaf blowers. Some cities and towns have full-on leaf-blower bans and others allow leaf blowing only during selected times. Arlington, Massachusetts, for example, allows just one blower per 6,000 square feet, to be operated only 30 minutes at a time, with 15-minute breaks in between. Other communities adhere to maximum decibel levels.
Regardless of your local regulations, using your blower in a respectful manner is always a good idea. Most of it is common sense: Don’t blow leaves at 9:45 p.m. Don’t blow your leaves into your neighbor’s yard. Don’t leave your blower running while you go inside to watch the big game. Stihl has guide to safe and courteous leaf blowing that is worth a look.
If you choose a corded or cordless blower, you don’t have to do much as far as taking care of it. Don’t let it get rained on, don’t drop it off the roof, and don’t drive over it with your car. A gas blower, on the other hand, needs some effort, as do all small engines.
The most important thing to do is to read the manual and follow what it says. You can end up voiding many warranty claims through improper storage or winterizing of the tool or the incorrect mixture of gas and oil.
Jack’s Small Engines provides a thorough listing of daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance tasks. It’s geared toward the professional who uses a blower on a constant basis, but it’s still a good guideline. If you find that listing to be too dense, Roy Berendsohn of Popular Mechanics offers a good summary of tips for keeping any two-stroke engine in working order at the bottom of this article.
One particular piece of advice to keep in mind is to avoid filling any two-stroke engine with a fuel that is high in ethanol. As Berendsohn explains, “The alcohol in the fuel dissolves plastic and rubber parts in the fuel system. It also attracts moisture, which leads to corrosion of metal parts.” Many gas stations pump E10 these days, which is a 10 percent ethanol mixture. You can use that if necessary, but you should absolutely avoid E15 (15 percent ethanol). Many companies, like Stihl and Husqvarna offer small cans of premixed ethanol-free fuel specifically for 2-stroke engines. Compared with what you get at the pump, the price is very high, but the fuel is clean and there’s no need to fuss with mixing gas and oil.
If something does go wrong, seek out an authorized service dealer for your specific brand; such dealers are likely to be reputable repair shops with a deep understanding of that particular tool and its engine. Purchasing from a service dealer in the first place—which is the setup when you’re buying a Stihl—is a good idea too, as you can register the blower during purchase. A service dealer will also give you the opportunity to handle the blowers and, in the case of backpack models, try them on.
To understand what makes a good leaf blower, it helps to know how to use the device properly. A leaf blower is not a rake, and it won’t replace a rake if you use it correctly. Rather, it’s intended to make raking easier.
Walker told us that “[many] people use blowers to move large leaf piles across a yard, but that’s not what they’re good for. They’re good for getting under leaves and debris and getting them up and in one place.” In fact, for his own crews, he purchases “the lightest, smallest commercial grade ones I can find.”
He instructs his employees to use the blowers to gather leaves in smaller piles (from maybe one or two trees each), after which he has them rake the piles onto tarps that they then drag into the woods or wherever. If you blow leaves using this method, you’ll operate your blower for less time, which means less gas (or battery or electricity) used, less wear on the machine, less noise, and less emissions. It also means that regardless of your property size, you can get by with a decent midsize blower.
David Beaulieu, writing at About.com, has a detailed piece on how to use a leaf blower, including strategies on how to approach a large lawn and how to use the vacuum mode, which can come in handy for tight spots—under bushes or decks, for instance.
Oh, and always use ear protection. We measured most of our test models at above or around 90 decibels, which is the point at which noise starts to become a health issue, according to OSHA.
We tested a number of additional blowers and dismissed others before the testing phase.
We also tested the Toro 51619 Ultra Blower/Vac and found that its leaf-moving power is nearly identical to that of the Black+Decker, so it’s satisfying overall. But when we compared the models side by side, the Toro was a little heavier and out of balance, putting added strain on the wrist. It also has a tedious system for switching out the reducing nozzles that requires the removal of the entire blowing tube and the guard that protects the underside of the blower. Last, the Toro’s variable speed knob is so far from the handle that it needs to be operated with a second hand—on the Black+Decker this is a one-handed adjustment.
Toro also sells the UltraPlus Blower Vac 51621, which we also tested. It appears to be the same as the 51619 except that it has an additional piece to aid leaf shredding, as well as an oscillating nozzle. The oscillating nozzle on the Black+Decker works better, so we don’t think the $20 upcharge is worth it.
The Worx WG510 Blower/Mulcher/Vacuum is similar to our main pick, except that it is not as powerful and it’s equipped with the shredder/vac function. Unfortunately, it’s only a two-speed blower with no nozzle reducer, so you have less flexibility around flower beds. We much prefer the precision that the Black+Decker provides.
The DeWalt DCBL790H1 40V MAX Lithium Ion XR Brushless Blower was last year’s cordless pick and we still like it a lot. Its run time is a little longer than the Ego’s, but by only a few minutes, but it costs as much as $150 more, which we feel is a tough sell, although it does have a very durable feel to it.
We also tested the Ego LB6002 Cordless Backpack Blower and thought it was very nice. It was the most powerful of the cordless models we looked at and has the longest run time, getting about 26 minutes on full power. It also has a turbo button for added oomph. It currently costs about $300. There is no question that the backpack offers convenience and it allows the tool to come with Ego’s large and heavy 5.0 Ah battery, but we’re not convinced that the weight shift of the backpack is necessary for less than a half hour of run time—and just six minutes more than our handheld Ego pick . If you’re getting fully invested in Ego’s lineup of cordless lawn tools, the backpack blower starts to make more sense. With multiple batteries, you can potentially get infinite battery power (one is on the tool while the other is charging), and secondly, like we said, the backpack blower comes with the company’s most powerful battery, which can be used on the other tools as well.
The Oregon BL300 is priced similar to the Ego but it simply doesn’t have the run time. Our testing had it at just over 13 minutes on high (the Ego was nearly 20). Otherwise, it’s a nice, strong blower.
We tested the Kobalt 80-Volt Max Medium-Duty Cordless Electric Leaf Blower and we found it to be powerful, but hamstrung by an eight-minute run time. For the same price, the Ego is a better option. The GreenWorks GBL80300 is the exact same tool.
Ego’s first foray into cordless blowers, the LB4801 56-Volt Cordless Electric Blower, has a short 10-minute run time and isn’t as powerful as the second-generation version, which we recommend. This version offers about a $50 savings, but we feel the added cost for the newer version is worth it.
The Ryobi 40-Volt Cordless Jet Fan Blower was the least powerful of the cordless blowers we tested. We liked the longer, 15-minute run time and the smooth variable-speed trigger, but this model offered less power than the others and had problems moving any significant amount of leaves.
Stihl also has a cordless blower, the BGA 85, but we did not test it due to the exorbitant price. Just the tool alone, with no battery or charger, currently costs about $300. To get the rest of the package, you need to drop another $200, making it a $500 purchase. According to Consumer Reports, “You could blow off concerns about price if the model were a winner in your outdoor clean-up chores.” Unfortunately the testing house found that not to be the case, saying that “its oomph for loosening moist, embedded leaves was only so-so.”
Gas backpack blowers
When looking at backpack models, landscaper Kevin Walker avoids a number of things: “Anything that could break easily—long wires, protruding switches, unprotected spark plug cap, gas fill tank sticking out, anything that will get caught in branches … and anything that can break being thrown in the back of a truck.”
To him, the Achilles’ heel of all backpack blowers is the small, flexible electrical conduit that runs from the engine to the joystick throttle. “They get caught on everything. Those pulling out is a common problem.” He showed me the blowers that his crews use, and they’ve added wire-ties on all of the tools to hold the wire securely to the blower arm.
Foam-padded straps are another feature that Walker told us he steers clear of. “They tear and start to smell awful once they’re sweated into.”
In the end, what he looks for is simplicity and ease of use. “How easy is it to fill the gas, adjust the straps, start the engine,” he said. “Basically, can my sheepdog figure it out?”
At first, Walker and his crew liked the looks of the Ryobi RY08420A, praising it for its ergonomics and general ease of use. That, combined with positive reviews at Popular Mechanics and Consumer Reports, led us to choose this model as a budget pick in the 2014 guide. Unfortunately, it has not held up well during long-term testing. After only a few months of use, Walker reported that his crew now avoids it due to problems starting a hot engine.
We also tested the midsize Husqvarna 350BT but found it lacking next to our recommended Stihl BR350. Beyond the fact that the Husqvarna 350BT wasn’t as strong as the Stihl BR350, it also had a few design issues that the landscapers pointed out. They immediately identified the knob that tightens the joystick control in place as a weak point. “Those things are just bad,” Justin said. “I have to re-tighten mine every day.” Walker also showed me the two unprotected wires in the engine. “Those will get caught on a branch and pulled right out,” he said. “I have no idea why they’re not in a sleeve like the other wires.”
We also had problems securing the blower tubes on the 350BT. Husqvarna models come with four lengths of tube rather than three, giving them an additional 5 inches of length. That’s good for tall people, but when the connections aren’t great, the blower tube picks up a massive wobble. We had this issue only with the larger Husqvarna and not with the smaller 130BT.
We did not test the $300 Echo PB500 (comparable with the midsize backpack blowers) because Popular Mechanics’s Berendsohn ranked it below the Husqvarna 350BT. As of this writing, it also has a four-star (out of five) feedback rating at Home Depot, a lower score than that of the models we tested.
Gas handheld blowers
Though we strongly advise avoiding a handheld gas blower, if we were to recommend one, it would be a toss-up between the Stihl 55C and the Husqvarna 125B. Consumer Reports ranks the Husqvarna 125B in the top spot for gas handhelds, but that model sits just one point ahead of the second-place Stihl 55C. Berendsohn gave the Stihl 55C five stars and chose it as his “Best Overall,” saying, “The STIHL’s air-movement numbers were low compared with other blowers, but we found it moved debris better than those with higher numbers—the airstream is optimized, focused and less turbulent.” He gave the Husqvarna 125B 4.5 stars, though, and he didn’t have anything negative to say about it at all.
Sweepers, walk-behind blowers, and other options
You can also find light-duty sweepers, such as the Black+Decker NSW18, which are meant for dusting out a garage, blowing grass clippings off a paved walkway, or poofing a light coating of snow off the back deck. Because of their limited capabilities, we didn’t test at any of these models.
At the other end of the spectrum are walk-behind blowers such as the $850 Little Wonder LB170S. These tools are basically massive fans on wheels that have a tremendous leaf-moving ability. We passed over these machines because for residential use, only a very small minority would need them. Because they propel air out at one angle, they’re not suitable for getting leaves out of tall grass; that’s where the back-and-forth motion of a small blower will come in handy.
(Photos by Doug Mahoney.)
We're gonna have to have a whistle-off!