Get the Most from Your Leaf Blower
by Dave Toht
Anyone who has spent a couple of hours dragging a rake across a leaf-covered yard knows how handy a leaf blower can be. The noise notwithstanding, a leaf blower almost makes the chore fun. Add to that its many other cleaning functions, and it’s clear why so many homeowners have a leaf blower in their arsenal of yard tools.
Choose the Right Power
Leaf blowers are powered by gasoline or by electricity delivered by either an extension cord or a battery. The right one for you depends on the size of your yard and amount of material you typically need to move.
Large lot. If you have a half acre or more, you’re likely to have enough leaves to require the extra power of a gas leaf blower, and you’ll go too far to be tethered to the extension cord needed for an electric one.
Average lot. For most suburban lots, a corded electric unit offers enough power. It also does the neighbors a favor by keeping the noise down. However, check that you can reach all areas with a 100-foot extension cord.
Small lot. Lucky you. A battery-powered unit might be all you need, and it’s relatively quiet and mobile. But if your lawn gets covered under a thick layer of leaves, you may need the power of a corded or gas-powered blower.
Leaf blowers are available with features such as vacuum tubes that deposit leaves in a shoulder bag. Some mulch the leaves to a fraction of their original volume, giving you a mulch to improve your garden soil while sparing landfills. Leaf blowers have some other uses too:
- Clearing leaves from gutters
- Vacuuming leaves and debris from plantings
- Clearing light snow
- Cleaning dust and cobwebs from screens
Know Your Blower
The owner’s manual for your blower might not make the New York Times bestseller list, but it’s a treasure trove of information about getting good results from your machine. If you don’t have the manual handy, you can download it here.
Before You Start
A lot of dirt and dust particles take to the air when you operate a leaf blower, so shut your home’s doors and windows to keep out flying dirt. Close car windows as well and, if your car is freshly washed, move it out of the way of settling dust.
Do a quick check for missing, worn or loose parts; replace missing or damaged parts before using the blower.
Make sure your machine shuts off quickly and easily. With gas units, start the engine and test the throttle. With electric units, test the on-off switch a couple of times.
Finally, accept that some days just aren’t good for leaf blowing. Postpone the chore if the leaves are wet, or there is so much wind that it will quickly undo your work.
Take Care of Yourself, Your Neighbors, Your Machine
Protect yourself. Wear hearing protection — even quieter models are still loud — and protective eyewear to block airborne dust, twigs and gravel. If you’re cleaning a dusty area or an enclosed area such as a garage, wear a face mask to avoid inhaling dust.
Don’t even think about working in shorts and sandals — protect yourself from flying debris by wearing long pants, long sleeves and close-toed shoes. But don’t wear rubber or insulated gloves, which can cause a shock from static electricity.
Don’t use your blower near open flames or hot embers, and don’t vacuum anything that could set the collection bag on fire.
Take the precautions associated with the source of power the blower uses. If it uses gas, don’t smoke while fueling and clean up spills. If it’s electric, don’t use it near water, in the rain or if the extension cord is damaged, and plug it into a GFCI outlet.
Before changing attachments, stop the engine.
Be considerate. Be considerate of people who like to sleep in on the weekends or who turn in for the night earlier than you do by operating the blower at reasonable hours only. Your town might have limit the hours that you can use a blower, so check your town’s website.
When running your blower, keep a good distance — at least 30 feet — from people or animals Turn the blower away from the sidewalk or street when people or vehicles pass — even if they’re far enough away that the blast of air won’t hit them, blowing debris could. Never aim a blower directly at a living creature.
Protect your blower. If you set down the blower when starting it or while the while the engine is running, put it on a hard, clean surface so the air intake can’t inhale grass, leaves, dust, gravel or other debris that cold damage the machine. Keep vents free of debris that can block air flow. If you’re vacuuming leaves into a shoulder bag, check the bag for kinks.
Develop Your Technique
Starting at one end of the yard and working your way across may seem like a sensible plan of attack, but you’ll quickly find yourself facing a mountain of leaves. Instead, conquer the lawn in patchwork fashion, blowing leaves on to a drop cloth. When the cloth is full, dump the load where you’re collecting leaves. For suggestions of alternatives to bagging leaves, see our article Six Leaf Disposal Tricks.
To reduce noise, start at a low speed and ramp up only as needed.
If leaves are compacted, use a rake or broom to loosen them before you start. Aim the nozzle above the leaves, and then bring it down into them, peeling off the top layer of leaves. If the leaves are deep, graze the edge of the layer, moving the blower extension back and forth as you work your way into the pile.
Direct the flow of air away from people, animals, walls and glass, to protect them from flying debris. If you’re blowing in a corner, start at the corner and work your way out, to keep debris from collecting in the corner and ricocheting at you.
When vacuuming, high throttle provides the best results. Keep the vacuum tube about an inch above the ground, moving it back and forth slowly over the material as you vacuum. Don’t force the nozzle into a pile, because debris could clog the unit. Don’t vacuum up small stones, broken glass or bit of metal, all of which can damage the impeller.
Dave Toht has more than 60 DIY books to his credit. Autumn is his favorite season, piles of leaves and all.