Brushcutters: Flailing along

Helping customers rent the right brush cutter for the job

Helping your customer choose the right tool to cut brush not only can help them get the job done faster and easier, but in the long run can bring a larger return on investment in your equipment by saving unnecessary wear and tear.

Walk-behind brush cutters, such as the Outback from Billy Goat, Lee’s Summit, Mo., are a popular tool in most rental fleets. They generally are designed to cut weeds up to 8 ft. tall, saplings up to 1½ to 3 in. in diameter and other vegetation at a rate of about two-thirds of an acre per hour, depending upon the manufacturer’s specifications.

The appeal of this type of tool is its simplicity. These machines are designed for users to easily understand how to operate them, as they work very much like a walk-behind lawn mower with a rotating blade that cuts the vegetation.

The most important training for the user might be to show an example of what the maximum diameter the cutter is designed to handle really looks like and remind them not to try to overwork the machine. The same safety precautions that are necessary to take with a lawn mower are even more important with a walk-behind brush cutter. The more powerful engine can propel debris and create dangerous projectiles, so it is important that the equipment not be operated near other people, especially children.

Because of the small size of these machines, they also can help make trails. “We have had the local Boy Scouts use these to make many trails in our area,” says Clayton Larkin, vice president of Canycom USA, Bellevue, Wash. “They are rugged and reliable and easy to maintain.” Canycom also makes a ride-on rotary brush cutter.

“We expect to get a good return out of this and walk-behind brush cutters have been good items for us,” says Steve Carter, co-owner of Johnson County Equipment and Party Rental, Olathe, Kan.

When a customer needs to clear a larger area, such as the shoulder of a road or an overgrown field, a unit which works from a tractor, skid-steer or other tool carrier power take-off (PTO) will probably be a better choice for the task at hand. This also might be a better fit if the underlying terrain is too uneven or covered with such dense brush that it would be difficult to walk in.

When it comes to PTO units, there is another choice to make: rotary cutter or flail mower. The rotary cutter is a unit with a series of spinning blades, much like a deck lawn mower. This can be a good choice for someone who is looking for a rough cut. In addition, these units are usually less expensive and easier to maintain, so the rental rate might be less than for other types of machines.

There are, however, certain advantages to a flail mower. A flail mower tends to give a more finished cut and because its design can be somewhat safer than a rotary machine.

The flail mower gets its name from the use of T-, Y- or other shaped flails attached with chain links or by brackets to its rotating horizontal drum or rotor. The flails also are sometimes called knives or blades.

Centrifugal force spins the flails outward and if a flail hits an object, such as a rock, it will bounce off, rather than propelling it from under the mowing deck. For this reason, flail mowers are popular with Department of Transportation crews and those users who are sensitive to liability issues, such those cutting brush alongside roads or in residential areas. Also, a rear roller on flail mowers prevents scalping or gouging and prevents debris from being ejected from the rear of the deck.

The main disadvantage of a flail mower is the greater number of moving parts because of the individual flails, which are not standard from brand to brand, and the rotating drum. This means a greater initial cost and greater maintenance cost for these machines.

Just as with using any type of PTO unit, it is important for the user to keep an eye on the engine temperature of the tractor.

“Because of all the tall weeds, there is a good chance you may not be getting good air flow down through the radiator and across the engine like you should to keep it cool,” says Colby Stroupe, S &P Land Services, Monroe, N.C., a company that specializes in clearing land.

“Also, there is a good chance of leaves, grass and weeds plugging up the radiator, which also can cause the engine temp to go high very fast on you,” Stroupe says, adding that even though these machines have more power than a normal finish mower, it is sometimes necessary to take it easy.

“If the area is wet, it can take extra ‘oomph’ to cut through the stuff. So instead of trying to cut the entire width of the mower deck, the worker needs to make half passes, using just half the deck and, in some cases, even thinner passes,” Stroupe says. “The user needs to read the vegetation and learn what the tractor can handle.”

In extreme cases, he says it can be necessary to raise the deck, cut a pass, wait an hour or two for the area to dry, and then lower the deck and re-cut. He says that if a customer is following this advice and doesn’t get good results from his PTO brush cutting tool, it is usually due to dull blades or worn flails, or not enough horsepower driving the implement.

“Most importantly, no one should use a regular finish mower to cut brush,” Stroupe says. “The blades and engines of finish mowers are just not designed to cut anything but grass of up to a few inches high.”

Finding brush cutters

In addition to Billy Goat, several other manufacturers offer walk-behind brushcutters including Ariens, Dosko, Kuhn Power Equipment, Husqvarna Professional Outdoor Products, DR Power Equipment and MacKissic. Companies such as Bobcat Co., Vermeer, Star Industries and Paladin Construction Group offer attachments or PTO implements for brush cutting. For a more complete list of companies offering brush cutters and accessories, check the Sourcebook and 2012 Buying Guide published by Rental Management in December 2011.