Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout...
(King Lear, Act 3 Scene 2)
So you've taken the plunge and invested in a leaf blower. Surely it's a doddle to operate, isn't it?
In the sense that you turn it on and start blowing, yes it is. But then it can get messy. And unless you bear in mind some simple tips based on others' experience and the advice of the manufacturers, you may never realize the full potential of your machine.
Consider firstly the weather conditions. Yes, of course there will be a tendency for you to use your new machine most in the Autumn (or the aptly named Fall), the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and on the whole a damp period. This does not help your cause. The ideal would be to blow your leaves into neat piles on a dry, windless day when the leaves will move obligingly and they will stay in pyramids long enough for you to scoop them up.
The reality is likely to be a soggy grey day with drizzle and gusts of wind. On such days you will need a powerful machine and one that can vacuum up leaves, if you are determined to try and collect them then and there (or of course if your job demands it). If plumping for an electric machine, you may be well advised to consider one like the Black & Decker that offers a scraper facility, a flattened bottom to the spout of its nozzle, which aids the removal of squashed leaf material, especially from hard ground.
Always adjust the telescopic nozzle (and if there isn't this facility, consider changing brands) to suit your height and reach so that the nozzle is close to the ground without the need for you to bend. And adjust the carrying strap to fit you properly. If you are a regular or professional user, you may well save up your pennies for a backpack machine. Finally in ergonomic terms, handheld leaf blowers with wheeled nozzle ends take the strain on the ground and permit more controlled sucking to take place: a good example is the GMC 30cc machine.
Remember that all but the hardiest, most expensive blowers are designed for intermittent domestic use. Try running an electric mains machine for hours on end and it will tend to overheat and prematurely wear out the motor brushes and maybe worse. Your ears and hands will take a pounding too, from noise and vibration, even with the proper protection (which you of course should wear no matter what the makers say about anti-vibration measures and reduced noise levels). Buy an approved, strong helmet/ear muffs/goggles or visor safety kit such as those available from Silverline, ideally adding ear plugs for better deadening: and a mask to protect your lungs from dust.
In the case of battery machines the running life is quite short and you will be forced to stop and start briefly, even if you are taking the wise course of keeping a spare battery pack on standby. These can take up to 3 hours to recharge, which is quite a drawback on short winter days when the light is failing and the weather drawing in...
Petrol machine owners have the reputation of being hardy souls who appreciate the great outdoors. They also should appreciate that 2-stroke motors respond well to a bit of TLC. Otherwise the spark plug will get carbonized, the carburettor will tend to flood when you over-choke it on start-up, and the self-same starting process is being hampered by uncleaned air and fuel filters. For the best results, follow the manufacturer's
service guide and keep your machine clean! Check it also regularly for all bolts and screws being secure.
If electing for petrol, you would do well to look into any assistance that the makers give you on the tricky business of pull-cord starting. Damp days, high altitudes, cold weather and sheer cussedness can afflict motors and if an easy start system is fitted you may soon be blessing your choice. Ryobi and GMC are among those who claim to have easier-than-usual starting arrangements. Or for bigger spenders the Ryobi backpack with electronic starting is very appealing, although it may not seem macho enough for certain users...
Another critical success factor, to use the jargon, is your accuracy in mixing 2-stroke fuel. A 50 to 1 ratio can be quite tricky to get right and many people dread this chore. Make it easier on yourself by investing in a proper mixing bottle with the right filling inlets and embossed measurement levels. Also have any different petrol (and diesel) in your workshop separated in colour-coordinated cans.
Vacuum devices have the added complication of a rotor blade to chop up and macerate the material, and this must be sharp or be replaced.
In addition to you and the machine, think about the terrain and in particular the sensitive plants near where you are operating. You may want to beautify a garden by removing leaf fall, but get too close to a delicate shrub with a 300 km/hr blower and you will cause the same damage as if a hurricane had hit it. Keep clear of plant beds and trunks: better still, use a blower/vacuum machine turned to suck mode and with an adjustable strength that is turned down low when in such sensitive areas.
This is one of the best examples of how a light touch is the best one when dealing with leaf blowers. They are immensely powerful therefore they need to be treated with respect and not (for example) damaged by working in vacuum on stony ground: or damaging others by blowing loose shingle into nearby windows or peoples' faces. So use carefully: follow the instructions: and get the best results.