Quacast Panther

by alan

Battery Power! Is it the future…again?

August 11, 2023 in Articles, Machinery

Battery-powered machinery has been hanging about in the horticultural machinery world for several decades. Probably the best-known machines with batteries as their means of power are lawn mowers, for instance, in the vintage arena are cylinder mower models such as from ATCO (in the 1960s and ’70s), also Qualcast (see the advert on the right for the 1967 Super Panther 12 volt battery electric), and the 2-speed battery mowers from Webb (1960s and ’70s). But in the eyes of the potential consumer who was looking to buy a new mower, these domestic battery models often straddled the gap between mains electric-powered and petrol-powered models, although in their lifetime the mowers did gain a limited (although enthusiastic) audience.

Battery models certainly have their merits: much quieter than petrol models, the convenience of not having to refuel with petrol (or a two-stroke mix), and no trailing cables or extension leads for electric models; simply plug the battery mower in for a hassle-free and relatively cheap recharge when finished.

Where battery power is really useful is with hand tools, these are mainly shrub and hedge trimmers, lawn edgers, and a few domestic lawn strimmers. Again, there have been models from different manufacturers over the decades but none have really captured the imagination of the public and the models have been reasonably short-lived (apart from the really useful Spintrim lawn edger). Machines have kept being designed, made and advertised over the years and, to name just a few, have included the aforementioned Spintrim lawn edger from Bob Andrews in the 1960s and ’70s; also in the 1960s and ’70s shrub trimmers from Wolf, Black & Decker and Wilkinson Sword (see the 1974 advert below), and Sandvic cordless grass trimmers in the 1980s, and battery trimmers from Flymo in the 1990s. As can be seen, the decades kept on giving cordless machines from many manufacturers.

1974 advert for Wilkinson Sword battery-powered trimmers for the garden

However, over the last twenty years or more there has been a development of 18 volt (and then increasing volts) garden machines with many strimmers, hedge trimmers, leaf blowers and small lawn mowers – many being generic designs or badge-engineered and originating from overseas. DIY superstores have certainly stocked quite a lot and sold them to gardeners across the land to keep their gardens tidy with less effort.

At this point, I confess that I have had two battery-powered Qualcast hedge trimmers for the last five or more years, I purchased them new. The 18 volt machine is fine for light work such as small shrubs where the going isn’t tough. By comparison, the 36 volt hedge trimmer is almost on par with a popular brand of petrol hedge trimmer that I have. But sadly the batteries don’t last forever and the 36 volt hedge trimmer has done a lot of work and mechanically getting worn.

I have now upgraded to 56 volt handheld machines for the garden. I am hoping these will be revolutionary and make technological leaps (I admit the 56 volt power is great) – but will they replace petrol? Remember, the vintage machines also had the potential to become the machines of the future and were not just there to fill a gap in a brochure or look pretty in a showroom, but petrol and mains electric were the winners – maybe better battery power will be triumphant in the 2020s?

Left to Right: new 56 volt battery; 36 volt Qualcast battery; 18 volt Qualcast battery; 1974 Wilkinson Sword 7.2 volt shrub trimmer with integral battery in the handle (it’s a dinky little trimmer!)

Back to mowers, and just having looked at Webb brochures, ‘The Space Age Mower’ was the futuristic (and perhaps optimistic) phrase that advertised the Webb 2-speed battery cylinder mowers in 1970. There were three models in the advert: a 12″ which could cut up to 800 square yards, 14″ that could do up to 1350 square yards, and a 14″ de-luxe that could cut up to 2200 square yards per charge (and work for a claimed 2.5 hours) – will all the battery mowers of today achieve that? Will any new mowers in the 2020s really be ‘The Space Age Mower’ that will be in all our gardens soon?

So, I wonder if the battery-powered machines on sale today will be a great stepping stone to a cordless-powered garden that, without fuss and endless recharging and swapping of batteries, will entirely replace petrol?

Year 2023 56 volt leaf blower shown with 2017 qualcast 18 volt hedge trimmer and 1974 Wilkinson Sword 7.2 volt shrub trimmer