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Equipment Care: Long live handhelds

February 1, 2005 -  By

Most handheld equipment doesn’t follow a regular manufacturer-recommended maintenance schedule like trucks or mowers, but you still need to keep track of how your handhelds are running in order to get the most life from them.

As an owner/operator of Thompson’s Landscaping, Matthew Thompson can’t afford to lose any piece of equipment due to failures. He’s been in business for four years and hasn’t needed to replace any of his handheld equipment. His Henderson, N.C.-based company owns two string trimmers, two stick edgers, one pole saw, two hedge trimmers, one backpack blower, one hand blower and two chain saws.

Monthly inspection

Thompson inspects each piece of equipment every month and keeps a log of what service was done to the equipment. He said, “So far, I felt that once a month under my use, which is not too terribly heavy, does just fine.

“It probably takes five minutes to go over each piece really well. That’s plenty for them,” Thompson added.

He sprays all of the triggers with lubricant to make sure they’re working smoothly. He also checks throttle linkages and sprays oil on the throttle cables to keep them lubed.

“Basically, there’s really not too much maintenance involved on my part. Just run high octane fuel through them. I use No Smoke oil mix in mine at a 50-1 ratio,” Thompson said.

At the end of the season, he drains the gasoline from the equipment and is sure to run each piece of equipment dry. At the start of the season, he changes the spark plugs in all of the equipment.

Because his equipment is in tip-top shape, he hasn’t seen any signs that the equipment needs to be serviced immediately.

“So far, I haven’t witnessed anything that would lead to servicing. I think that a regular maintenance schedule keeps those problems from happening. So if you just basically keep it up monthly, chances are something else happening are pretty slim.”

Thompson said handheld equipment should typically last three to four years, and he plans to run his as long as he can.

Quick turnaround

As a larger company, DeSantis Landscapes of Salem, Ore., has a different view of handheld maintenance. “In our smaller equipment, we’re trying to move toward a two-year turnaround so that we’re constantly using newer stuff and not having to spend a bunch of time on maintenance repairs,” said Ken DeSantis, division manager of maintenance.

The 30-year-old company owns seven hedge trimmers, seven weed eaters, 16 blowers, eight edgers and five chain saws. The company uses brush cutter attachments on the weed eaters. With 45 employees in peak season, the company can afford to have a full-time mechanic that supports seven maintenance crews and six installation crews.

He said the mechanic doesn’t keep a regular schedule for smaller equipment, like handhelds.

“It’s not like he checks them every month or every few months,” DeSantis said. “Because most of the smaller handhelds are two-stroke, there are no oil changes or anything like that.”

The mechanic works on it as needed for tune-ups and blade sharpening. It’s up to the crew to oil blades on hedge trimmers and chain saws.

“The mechanic and the crew leaders will go through and identify problem equipment that needs to be repaired or replaced for the coming season. We are in the middle of that right now,” DeSantis said.

For example, the mechanic will check hedge trimmers for how worn the bars are and if the engine is running well.

DeSantis said division managers will make purchasing decisions based upon input from crew leaders. The cost and the history of the equipment is determined.

“We will do a cost comparison. Like this past year, we were looking at hedge trimmers. It was going to cost $50 to $100 less to replace the bar on it, so it made sense to replace the equipment altogether,” he said.

He added that if the equipment has been in the shop frequently, then the company might consider purchasing a different brand. The company is currently trying to settle on a brand of blower.

DeSantis said that once they find a brand that works for a specific type of equipment such as trimmers, then the company replaces all trimmers with that brand. He added that makes it easier for repairs.

Transport safely

Proper transporting of equipment is the key to maintenance, he said. DeSantis recommends adequate tie downs or slots for equipment in the trailer.

“That’s the time when you’re going to have the most damage done. If you don’t have a good place for it in your truck or trailer, then it might not last a year,” he added.

The DeSantis Landscapes provides a profit-sharing plan that considers the costs of replacing equipment. “We emphasize to crews that they need to take care of the equipment,” said DeSantis. “If we have to replace equipment or repair equipment, that comes out of what profit we might share. There is somewhat of a financial incentive for each individual.

“We’ve only had it (profit sharing) for two years now, but with that we’ve seen an awareness of how things are being taken care of.”


The author lives in Shelby, OH, and is a longtime writer for the aftermarket. Contact her at

LM Staff

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