Hedge trimmers are terrific labor-saving machines. They make short work of shearing and shaping shrubs. The use of trimmers is a simple matter of learning how to handle the machine safely and efficiently; a balanced trimmer will save wear and tear on your back as well as your arm muscles. Used properly, these machines can do the job of pruners, shears and loppers. The only challenge these labor-saving devices present is when you catch a branch that's too large---or the power-supply cord---in the trimmer blades.
Choose the right machine. Trimmers come in varying sizes with single or double-sided blades. As the length of the blade end increases, the distance between teeth does, too. You might need only a 13- to 17-inch trimmer for a young hedges or small shrubs like flowering quinces. You'll need a larger blade for adult shrubs or long hedges; pole trimmers are made with 20- to 24-inch blades on long poles for tall hedges like Japanese yews.
Fill a gas trimmer only to the line on the tank and tuck the electrical supply cord through a belt or loop behind you to avoid having it fold over in front of you as you trim. Hold the handle firmly before starting---some trimmers have a kick. Gas trimmers require pull starts. Most trimmers have safety locks; either there are two buttons to push simultaneously or there is a safety release.
Oil trimmers according to instructions in the owner's manual. Gas trimmers designed for homeowners generally have 2-cycle engines requiring a mixture of oil and gas. Special 2-cycle oil is available at hardware stores, home centers and, often, gas stations. Many gas and electric machines require periodic engine lubrication, generally through a small access on the side of the engine casing.
Pick the trimmer up with one hand on the grip behind the shield and one on the handle with the controls. Hold with both hands to control where (and what) you cut. You'll need both grips to move the trimmer in a 360-degree range of motion.
Clean your trimmer before storage. Remove twigs and shredded plant material and wipe the shield and engine housing with a soft cloth. Clean and lubricate the blades with a bit of machine oil and wrap them in a piece of old bath towel or shop rag to protect them against humidity.