In late October I loosed my barbaric yawp at the universe, declaring in emphatic song of myself that I would not take it anymore! Then I spent most of November and a good part of December collecting and shredding leaves from my Bigleaf maples, proving in actual fact that I WOULD take it, just a little bit more. Stupid universe.
However! As niftily foreshadowed in November, I did upgrade my leaf collection tool. There was not overmuch wrong with the one I had; but it did require a loooong extension cord, had a tendency to clog more and more frequently as the season progressed (wet leaves are harder to suck than dry), and the collectionbag had rotted through. These are problems of climate and leaf, however, and not an indictment of the tool or its late-night infomercial host.
But I needed something…more. It shoudn’t be a corded device, and it should probably be of commercial grade. Leaf sucker-shreddering tool research, which involved reading reviews on websites that sell such things, went something like this: ‘I used to have a Stihl, and I’m sorry I bought this,’ or “I tried using this twice, returned it and bought the Stihl.’ In fact, over half the user reviews I read used Stihl’s version of the leaf sucker shredder as the Always Superior Comparison. Soooo…I decided I needed the Stihl.
A secondary feature of the Stihl which I really appreciate is that the manufacturer only sells their tools through a network of authorized dealers, each about 25 miles apart from one another (there just happened to be one very close to my home). This philosophy holds strong appeal for the capitalist/libertarian in me, for having been an ‘Authorized Dealer’ of a number of things in my working life only to find there were dozens of other authorized dealers in the same freaking zip code, I endorse these small business owners’ ability to sell (and service) something, and do it profitably. Plus, you can go to your local tool shop, hang out and hyuck it up with cool guys who know how to do stuff. The ability to walk into the yard equipment store with your daughter and say, “I’m looking for a children’s chainsaw, preferably in pink!” and get a good guffaw is important.
So here’s the deets: The Stihl ShredderVac has over 40% more suction than my Worx TriVac. Boom. ‘Nuf said. This means that in late November or early December when my giant leaves are sodden or even frozen, the tool still pulled them in (also, two frogs and a panic-stricken little mousie–unavoidable collateral damage). Beyond the super suction, the Stihl has a STEEL impeller blade with a secondary, serrated blade in front of it: giant wet leaves are chopped into little teensy bits, even the looong woody stems Bigleaf Maple leaves that so hopelessly and frustratingly clogged the TriVac. Each time after using the Stihl for a couple hours I opened the impeller housing to clean it: NOTHING. There is no cord to ‘manage’ or get tangled in salal or my feet, and that–plus the extra suction–meant that I could vastly increase the area in which I collected leaves. Pulled them out of the underbrush, pulled them off the wet and/or frozen ground. The collection bag is twice as large as the TriVac’s, and instead of the moisture-hating lightweight canvas of the electric tool, is made of a Sunbrella-type poly material that actually drains any trapped moisture out, and is far less likely to decay. The tool isn’t as light as the TriVac, but is very well balanced; and between the shoulder strap and the two handles, I think easier to use (the TriVac only has one handle, which limits the angle at which it can be held and leads to fatigue in the wrist, hand, and forearm. Remember, I do this for hours and hours at a stretch).
The tool takes a custom fuel mix, but Stihl makes this remarkably easy by selling the blending agent in little travel-sized bottles: a gallon of gasoline in the can, add a bottle of mix, shake, done. The tank on the tool holds about a pint of mix, and it runs about 2 hours per tank. One-pull start, one-finger throttle, I friz-nackin’ love this thing, and it was on sale when I bought it. OK, it was still not inexpensive, not by a long stretch: I bought the tool a couple weeks before my birthday, and my wife told me I had to count it as my birthday present…and birthday dinner out with my family…and a Tuesday night and a Friday night bottle of wine. But WHATEVER. I will be spending about 40-50 hours each Autumn collecting leaves for as long as I live in this house. It’s worth it.
There is a permanent solution to the annual leaf problem, and it was sitting there at the Stihl shop: the forester’s. This is the kind of tool you see in those pickup truck commercials, the kind where the stubble-y and ruggedly handsome guy shows up at the jobsite with only one (very large and impressive) tool in the bed of his chainsaw with the 59 inch bargargantuan and extremely shiny truck. He lifts the tool from the truckbed with one sleeveless and oddly shiny arm, uses it once, and replaces the massive tool in the truck before driving off the jobsite. All the while, the chubby and hardhatted schlubs left behind regard him with a reverent awe, while somehow ignoring the fact that Handsome Guy only works about forty-five seconds a day. I too could have a chainsaw like this, for only about two thousand dollars; the notion occurs to me, however, that after cutting the dozen or so offending trees that while I’d never have to collect leaves again, I would then be stuck with a slightly used and WILDLY expensive chainsaw, minus the salt-and-pepper stubble and the super shiny arm. Still, I will admit to offering a long and smoldering stare at the chainsaw. The chainsaw returned my glance.