The benefits of renting big tools
Doing things yourself is supposed
to save money. So starting
a job by spending money
on rental equipment might seem like a
step in the wrong direction. But before
you bypass your local rental center,
consider how much time and strain
you can save with the right tools. You
might find that spending $50 to avoid
10 hours of backbreaking labor is a bargain.
The right equipment also lets you
tackle jobs that you would otherwise
have to pay a pro for. And don’t forget
the fun factor. Some of the tools we
tried are more fun—and a lot cheaper
than an all-expense-paid trip to
Vegas or Disneyland.
We rented the most popular outdoor
power equipment and put it through its
paces so we could give you tips based
on actual experience. Overall, each
machine did its particular job as advertised.
Here are our favorites.
Boom lift - $200 per day
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Boom lift in action
A boom lift allows you to work on high projects faster. And it’s safer than a ladder.
A boom lift can take you to new heights
to trim trees, paint your exterior or
apply siding and soffit material. Even if
you climb ladders like a monkey, this
machine will still save you tons of
time. Plus, it’s much safer than working
on a ladder. If you rent it for a week,
expect to pay about $800. Make sure
the rental fee includes a safety harness,
or rent a harness separately.
A typical boom can hoist you 37 ft.
into the air and pivot 360 degrees.
Picking the right parking place is critical.
You’ll need firm, level ground, 20
ft. of clear overhead space to raise the
bucket and 5 ft. of clear space around
the sides for the outriggers. Since you’ll
be towing it into position with your
truck (it’s too heavy to move by hand),
plan your route to minimize lawn damage.
Then unhitch it from your truck
and drop the outriggers. Protect grass
or asphalt by placing large scraps of
wood under the outriggers. Hook up
your safety harness, hop into the bucket,
and take a few minutes to familiarize
yourself with the operating controls.
There are fast and slow icons on
the controls. You’ll want to use the
slow buttons until you get used to operating
the boom. The battery-powered
boom will run for about eight hours
before needing a recharge.
Be careful when using a chain saw from the lift.
Position the bucket so you don’t hold the saw any higher
than necessary or lean outward from the bucket. Cut
slowly and make sure that falling branches won’t land
on the machine or slide down the boom. Wear complete
protective gear, including hard hat, goggles, chaps, leather
gloves and steel-toe boots. If you’re unsure of how to trim
a tree, call in a pro. And stay away from power lines!
Posthole digger - $50 for 2 hours
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Power posthole digger
A one-person trailer-mounted digger is an easy way to drill holes for a person working solo.
Digging postholes for a fence or footing holes for a deck is
usually the most time-consuming, backbreaking part of the
project. The solution is a power posthole digger—but not
just any model. “Two-man” diggers that are supported by
hand are hard to handle. They toss you and your partner
around, especially in hard soil. A one-person trailer-mounted
model (shown above) is much easier to use. Just move it
into position, start it up and tip the auger into the soil. The
weight of the machine keeps it drilling straight down with
minimal guidance from you. But you’ll need extra muscle to
move it to the next hole, especially if you’re on a hill. Use
your lawn tractor or truck if you’re working solo. Or, remove
the auger to lighten the load and move it by hand. Always
block the wheels on hills before drilling. It takes longer to
move the unit than it takes to drill holes. If you’re drilling
on a flat surface, plan on eight holes per hour.
Power trencher - $100 for 4 hours
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Power trencher in action
A power trencher digs deep trenches quickly. But it may not work well in rocky or root-filled areas.
Digging a trench for cable or gas lines means hours or days
of hard labor. But a power trencher can do all that digging
for you in a fraction of the time. This trencher can dig
down 24 in. (other models can dig to 36 in.) and is self-propelled,
so you don’t have to pull
it. Steering it around curves is
still a workout, however. Also be
aware that rocky soil and tree
roots can jam the trencher and
cause the tires to dig ruts in the
grass. So don’t try to power your
way through a jam. Shut down
the unit, clear the jam and then
restart. On hills, start at the top and work your way down.
However, before you start ripping up your yard, call 811 to
get all the utility lines marked (go to call811.com for more
information). Be sure to call at least a few days ahead.
Reserve the machine
you want a few days in
advance. Popular equipment
is in scarce supply,
especially on weekends.
Backpack blower - $25 for 2 hours
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Backpack blower in action
A gas-powered rental blower will have at least 5 times the power of a typical electric blower.
A typical electric leaf blower throws out about 70 cu. ft. of
air per minute (cfm). A commercial-grade backpack unit
throws out an enormous 465 cfm. With all that extra
power, you can clear leaves faster, of course. But a backpack
blower will also do things a smaller blower can’t: It
will peel wet leaves off the ground, blast out debris that’s
stuck in cracks and move a mountain of leaves in one pass.
And with the gas engine strapped to your back, you can do
it all more comfortably than with a handheld model.
Stump grinder - $35 for 2 hours
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Stump grinder in action
Rental stump grinders will handle most stumps within two hours. Do it yourself and save the $150 it would cost to hire a pro.
There’s no need to pay a pro $150 or more
to grind out a stump. With a rented stump
grinder, you can do it yourself in a few
minutes. For a stump that’s no more than
18 in. in diameter, rent a light-duty grinder
that’s mounted on a trailer. For bigger
stumps, rent a heavy-duty self-propelled
monster like the one shown here ($80 for
two hours). Make sure you remove any
rocks around the stump to avoid breaking
the teeth on the grinding wheel (the rental
center will charge you big bucks for broken
teeth). Work the grinding wheel side to side
and advance slowly over the stump.
Then repeat the process, digging deeper
each time. In most situations, two hours is
plenty of time to pull the grinder home,
chew up the stump and return the grinder.
Walk-behind loader - $120 for 4 hours
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Loader in action
A power loader saves you tons of wheelbarrow loading and dumping.
A typical front-end loader makes quick work of moving
piles of gravel, sand and dirt. But it won’t fit through most
fence gates or other tight spots. Worse yet, the wheels dig
into your lawn every time you make a turn. Instead, rent a
walk-behind, track-style machine with a loader attachment.
Unlike other loaders, this one is easy to master—you’ll operate
it like a veteran after only a few minutes of practice. This
version (the Toro Dingo) fits through a 35-in. opening and
runs on grass-friendly rubber tracks. The bucket can move
tons of material in a four-hour rental period. Follow the safety
directions for the maximum bucket lift height, or the unit
can tip over (don’t ask how we learned this). The bucket is
great for moving gravel or soil but not for digging. If you
want to dig holes, rent a backhoe attachment instead.
Brush cutter - $50 for 4 hours
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Brush cutter at work
A brush cutter is the fast way to clear out overgrown areas.
If you’ve left “the back 40” unmowed for too long and
Mother Nature is taking over, don’t waste time—and possibly
wreck your lawn mower—by mowing down the
brush. Instead, rent a machine designed specifically for
clearing tall weeds and saplings (up to 1-1/2-in. in diameter).
This self-propelled monster knocks the brush over
and whacks it to bits with its machete-like blade. It moves
quickly, even at its lowest speed (1.8 mph), so you can
clear a large area in a few hours.
Pro-grade chain saw - $65 per day
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Fast work with a chain saw
A chain saw can cut up a tree fast. But be sure to work safely.
If you only have one tree to fell and cut up, it’s certainly not
worth investing in a $350 chain saw. And you’ll be sorely
disappointed if you attempt the task with a small, underpowered
chain saw. So rent a pro model for the entire day for
only $65. It’ll have more power, cut faster and tire you less.
Weed trimmer with a brush blade - $30 for 2 hours
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Brush blade on a weed trimmer
A weed trimmer can cut brush with a special blade.
If you want to cut saplings and brush without mowing
down everything else, rent a commercial-duty trimmer
with a brush blade. It will slice through saplings up to
1-1/2 in. in diameter. The shoulder harness carries the
weight of the gas motor.
Just tap the blade against the base of the sapling. Don’t
swing it like an ax—that can destroy the drive shaft. To
avoid bogging down the machine, make repeated jabs
rather than a single cut. If you have a large area to clear,
rent the trimmer for a whole day.
Get What You Pay For
You can rent most power equipment for two- or four-hour periods or by the day.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of the rental period:
- Ask about the cost of a trailer. It’s usually
not included in the rental price. If
you use your own trailer, make sure it’s
rated to handle the weight of the
machine and that your truck (and
hitch) can tow the load.
- Remember that the rental period
includes your drive time to and from
your project. If the machine requires a
trailer, also factor in time to unload the
machine and reload it when the job is
done. That can eat up 30 minutes or
more of your rental time.
- Ask about delivery services. Having the
rental center deliver and pick up the
machine may cost $85 or more. But
since the rental period won’t include
drive time, loading or unloading, you
have more time to actually use the
equipment. Delivery service may save
you money in the long run.
- Make sure the rental center staffers
show you how to start and use the
equipment. Then try it yourself before
you drive away. That way, you avoid
learning and making mistakes during
the rental period.
- Be ready to use the machine the
minute you get home. You can waste
a lot of money letting the rental
equipment sit idle while you mark
posthole locations or clear rocks away
from tree stumps.