Friday, 12 June 2020

Buckthorn Blaster Rocks Brush Clearing

Image of Buckthorn Blaster with gloves, loppers and pruners

Meet a revolution in cut stump treatment … in a 4 once bottle.

Some ideas are incredibly obvious, once you see them. The four once Buckthorn Blaster is just that kind of product. This simple herbicide applicator will change the way you cut and treat invasive brush on your land. If you are like me, you hate using spray bottles to apply herbicide to the cut stumps of wood brush. Most of us use the best two dollar squirt bottle we can find and curse a few weeks or months later when it quits working. I hate going home at with blue fingers on my gloves. I swear under my breath too many times every day when I pull the trigger and nothing comes out only to have the next pull shoot a stream of chemical out; most of which misses the stump. Expensive pressurized sprayers are bulky and must be frequently pumped up. The Buckthorn Blaster is a simple four ounce plastic bottle with a dense foam stopper that applies chemical to cut stumps much like a liquid shoe polish applicator. If you can polish you shoes, you can treat stumps with the Buckthorn Blaster. I use a 1:3 tryclopyr to bark oil mix, which is hotter than some folks but not as strong as others prefer. Both the herbed and bark oil are expensive. A 24 ounce spray bottle of cut stump mix cost around $10.00. It is common to go through half of that bottle during the course of a day. During the two hours I used the Buckthorn Blaster, I used just two ounces of chemical mix. The Buckthorn Blaster reduced the chemical use by one third. The number of stumps increased at the same time. Again, because the chemical only lands on the target stump I got more stumps treated between refills. More stumps with less chemical means 2-3 better invasive control in the woodlot. My spray bottle will often drip a little, especially when it tips over on uneven ground. The Buckthorn Blaster never drips. It only puts chemical on the stump where it is pressed. That means no off-target damage of nearby native plants. The small four once size makes it easy to carry in one hand while wielding a hand pruner in the other. When using loppers, I can hold the bottle while simultaneously cutting brush. Being more efficient means clearing more brush in less time. The bottle comes with three dense foam tips and a tool for changing tips.  Removing the tip to refill the bottle takes some care and can be a bit messy. That is my chief complaint but paper towels make the job fairly painless. The Buckthorn Blaster can be used with any cut stump liquid herbicide mix. I keep my bottle in a ziplock bag and toss it in my daypack, along with hand pruners, whenever I walk the property. It rides in the thigh pocket of my chaps when doing chainsaw work. What could be more convenient for taking care of that nasty shrub that pops up along the trail?

“More stumps with less chemical means 2-3 better invasive control in the woodlot.”

Finally, while the $8.49 price tag is a bit steep for what it is, the money goes to support the work of a really great organization. The North American Invasive Species Management Association (NAISMA) supports those battling invasive species of all types. They are a key sponsor of the Play, Clean, Go program that educates boaters about aquatic invasive control. For private landowners, Play, Clean, Go provides boot cleaning stations at public trailheads; encouraging hikers to clean their boots. That helps prevent the spread of garlic mustard and Japanese hedge parsley seeds. The NAISMA biennial conference brings together academics, practitioners, landowners and land managers to share the latest information about invasive plants and animals across the US and Canada. Consider joining NAISMA when you buy your buckthorn blaster. Tap into their deep well of conservation management experience.

[Update 8/9/2020] NAISMA now sells five packs of Buckthorn Buster replacement tips. I don’t know about you, but I treat hundreds of stumps from large boxelder to tiny buckthorn sprouts during a single day. the rough surfaces and jagged edges take their toll on the foam. The Buckthorn Buster ships with three tips, however, I find myself replacing tips daily when treating tiny sumps that poke holes in the foam. Fortunately replacement tips cost $3.99 for a five pack.

Tuesday, 09 June 2020

Suburban Ready Cordless Mower

Image or Greenworks 80 volt cordless mower

This cordless mower is ready to take on its gasoline powered competition.

Greenworks has marked a cordless mower that is powerful enough to take on suburbia and beyond. Our five acre woodland property has nearly an acre of mowed lawn. There were tight spaces, tall grass, uneven ground, steep slopes, and saturated soils; in short, all the good stuff. The GLM801601 was more than up for the challenge.

Initial assembly was a snap. Just popped on the handles and plugged in the 80V battery. The mower comes with two batteries and charger that takes only 30 minutes. In practical terms, that means the second battery was charged in the time it took me to use up the charge on the initial battery. So, it should be possible to keep mowing; stopping only once every half hour to swap batteries. That compares favorably with filling the tank on a gasoline mower.

Operation could not be easier. Press the start button and pull back on the dead-man handle. The cordless mower starts a second later taking only a couple seconds to reach full speed.

The GLM801601 has a 21″ cutting width, which is standard for most walk behind mowers. It has two power settings, based on the the thickness of the lawn. The mower switches automatically between normal and overdrive when encountering thick grass. [Caution: overdrive drains the battery much faster so be prepared to cover less lawn on a charge.] The cordless mower did not seem to down-shift back into normal operation as quickly as I would have liked. I found myself several times stopping and re-starting the mower after it left the heavy grass, to make the battery last longer.

There are three operating modes for the GLM801601. A rear bagging attachment easily drops into place after lifting the rear discharge door. The grass catcher is sturdy and easy to empty. a side discharge shoot snaps into place under the side discharge door. It did not take too much of a bump to knock the shoot off — easy on; easy off. This could be annoying if you regularly find yourself bumping into obstacles or the right. The final mulching mode chops up grass clippings and leaves them on the lawn. For our lawn, the mulching option works just fine, especially as we mow high and tend to leave clippings as natural fertilizer.

Image of 80 volt battery and charger

The heart of the Greenworks high end tools are its 80V battery and quick charger.

One big advantage is that Greenworks makes tools that share batteries. Those tools can be purchased as “bare tools.” So, the batteries you use for the mower can also power your snow blower, leaf blower, string trimmer and even a chainsaw. While the Greenworks battery chainsaw will not replace my Stihl 361 for felling trees, it will work great for clearing brush and small trees like buckthorn.

2019

September 2019

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Stihl Battery Chainsaw MSA 200-C

MSA 200-C chainsaw on sawbuck

If you are like me, you think a battery operated chainsaw is only for the suburban homeowner who wants to remove the bottom branches from a Christmas tree or occasionally clean up the stump from a tree limb; nothing serious.

But wait a minute. I spend most of my time clearing brush and small trees; that is what woodland and savannah restoration is all. So why am I hauling around a two gallon gas can, yanking on a starter cord and cursing every time I flood my gas saw?

With the MSA 200-C, Stihl has a credible chainsaw for landowners who spend most of their time doing just that kind of work. It is rated for 45 minutes of continuous operation. That might not sound like a serious chainsaw, but think about it. An electric chainsaw only operates when the trigger is being pulled.

Stihl designed its battery chainsaw to look and operate nearly the same as similar gas models. The chain break works like a champ. Even though there is no danger of an idling chain accidentally cutting me, I still engage the break whenever I move with the saw.

This is where I admit that I am not a big fan of the chain tensioner system that Stihl uses on their small saws, gas or electric. The thumb wheel is too small and stiff for gloved hands and while the Quick Chain Adjuster is faster than hex nuts, it tends to loosen up much faster, causing the chain to jump off the bar.

Overall

The Stihl MSA 200-C is easy to use and maintain. The battery fully recharged in 30 minutes. The Stihl chainsaw seemed to have somewhat more power than the Husqvarna battery saw tested last year. The Instruction Manual contains detailed information about operation and maintenance.

Retail price is around $330. That price does not include batteries at $175 each and charger that sells for $40.

Field Tests

I put the saw through three different tests, each designed to gage its performance on three of the most common jobs you face in the woods. 

Chainsaw Test 1: Brush and saplings

Image of chainsaw with two of four batter indicators lit.

I don’t know about you but I spend more time clearing honeysuckle, buckthorn, and similar brush; not to mention the saplings of such low value trees and boxelder and silver maple.

These species do not require a great deal of power, but they are everywhere. Every year, trying to catch up or keep up with shrubby growth eats up more time than any other single chore.

This is the first job a battery chainsaw has to prove itself on. If I can stay out in the field all morning without the battery going dead, that is a saw I will consider buying.

The first test started with a patch of sumac and scattered small hardwood saplings. The area was cleared and burned several years ago, but has started brushing back in. It took around 90 minutes to clear this area, including cutting back enough brambles and wild grape vines to get the other brush cut. Stumps were treated with 25% gallon 4 in bark oil.

As expected, the MSA 200-C chewed through this small stuff with no problem. Its 12″ bar made the job so much easier than the 24″ bar my gas saw carries. It is lightweight and well balanced. Ease of use is a big deal when you are in heavy brambles when maneuverability makes a difference; no taking the trigger to control the idol, no time lost stopping and starting the saw when crossing fences or dead falls.

The second site was a stream bank where beaver gnawed the sapling trunks years before. Those stumps, now re-sprouted, sported 2-4″ stems 6-10′ tall. Again, these were not big trees but required making flush cuts at ground level below the beaver damaged stumps. This patch took 2.5 hours and left me with a burn pile six feet wide, fifteen feet long and seven feet tall. As with the other patch, all stumps were treated to prevent re-sprouting.

“The equivalent work would have burned 3-4 tanks of gas.”

The equivalent work would have burned 3-4 tanks of gas. A single spare would have probably gotten through the afternoon. So, instead of carrying a can of saw gas back and forth to the truck, you can probably cut brush pretty much all day with one spare battery.


Chainsaw Test 2: Bucking firewood

Image of MSA 200-C chainsaw from the rear, resting on sawbuck.

Okay, so this was not a big test. Heavy rains cancelled other work, so I headed to a pile of red cedar trunks piled up after last year’s savannah clearing. It was just me, the MSA 200-C and a sawbuck. I build pollinator houses to encourage wild bees and other insects to set up housekeeping near native plantings. Think of it as workforce housing for the world’s biggest free labor pool. I cut each trunk into 3″ sections. I drill each section through with multiple holes. These holes let pollinators can seek shelter and lay their eggs in the fall.

Image of red cedar logs cut into section for bee houses.

Red cedar for pollinator houses.

Cutting up four trunks took about 45 minutes. In the end, I had two boxes of sections for my bee houses. The MSA 200-C walked through every cut, regardless of how wet or dry the log. No balking of bogging down. Nice clean straight cuts.


Chainsaw Test 3: Tree felling, limbing and bucking

Finally, I wanted to pit this little mighty mite against a grown-up tree. In this case, I was a 16″ diameter boxelder. I chose that tree because I wanted to see how the MSA 200-C would handle a complex felling problem.

This tree had a slight lean in the wrong direction, which meant I would need to use plunge cuts wedges to counter the lean. As the bar on the MSA 200-C is only 12″ long, there would need to be two opposing plunge cuts through the middle of the trunk. I also made two matched face cuts in the direction I wanted the tree to fall.

The face cuts were smooth and easy to match up from both sides. The plunge cuts did bog down the saw. It automatically stops when asked to do too much work. All I had to do was pull the bar our an inch, release the trigger and pull a second time. The saw jumped back to life and went back to work where it had left off. Both plunge cuts came off without a hitch leaving a nice hinge and plenty or room for the wedges.

Once wedged, I went for the release cut. I made the plunge cuts far enough back so that I was able to make a single release cut. The whole process went without a hitch. The tree came down in a safe and controlled manner, exactly on target.

“The tree came down in a safe and controlled manner, exactly on target.”

Limbing was quick and easy. I can say with honesty that was able to complete the job, including bucking up the trunk, with a single battery. Full disclosure — there was only enough battery to cut the trunk to timber lengths rather than stove wood sections. I had to stop and pull the trigger again several times to get through the last large cut.

Maintenance

Cleaning the MSA 200-C is nearly identical to an MS 210 gas powered saw, including the chain tensioner system. Removing the housing and thoroughly cleaning is particularly important when brush clearing as small twigs, stems and even grass can bind the clutch.

Make sure to remove the battery prior to sharpening the chain. This prevents the saw from accidentally running while you are trying to sharpen the teeth. I simply recharged the battery while sharpening the chain. Even with the Stihl 2in1 Easy File Chainsaw Chain Sharpener, the exceptionally small chain has 1/4″ cutting edge which I found to be more difficult to keep aligned than the normal 3/8″ chains.

Conclusion:

While a single battery got me through a medium sized tree, it just barely made it. The MSA 200-C will not replace a large gas powered chainsaw or even my Stihl 361 for felling trees. Its reliability, great power to weight ratio and maneuverability make this an excellent choice for brush work. Its easy handling also means it will handle limbing like a champ. This might just be my second saw.

2018

October 2018

Monday, 22 October 2018

Lighten Your Brush Cutting Burden

Conservation Digest kicks off a new product review section of our website. People ask about the best choices for equipment, tools, planting materials and even herbicides. We listened and will showcase innovative products and best picks to help you manage your land.

First up had to be the revolutionary Husqvarna 14″ Battery Chainsaw 536 LiXP. Husqvarna wants you to rethink what you think you know about chainsaws. See how well a battery powered chainsaw can pull its weight in the woods.