Leaf Vacuums and Big Ideas

Posted by Steve on Thu, 10/23/2008 - 12:06am

In my relentless quest to acquire every possible tool before I leave this planet, this weekend I picked up a leaf vacuum.

Thanks to my neighbor's regrettable decision to plant a bunch of poplars in his yard, all of which grew to over 60 feet in a few short years, my back yard maintenance has increased several-fold, especially this time of year. If you have any experience with poplars you know that they shed like sheepdogs. It was all the excuse I needed to invest in a new electric tool. No more acoustic brooms for me!

Lowes carried Black & Decker, Toro and Troy-Bilt. They were all 12 amps, all fairly heavy, all injection molded plastic and they're probably all made in the same Chinese factory. So I looked for details on the box to close the sale. The B&D had a "metal impeller". I wasn't sure what difference that made, but it was ten bucks more than the others so it had to be better, right?

I wanted to write a review of the Black & Decker but it died on me five minutes into its maiden voyage. The motor started making a clicking noise, slowed down, started smoking... I took that as a clue.

I've never had much luck with Black & Decker, from the toaster oven that caught fire to the power screwdriver than came apart in my hand. Okay, their stuff is pure crap. I mostly acquire B&D junk only by way of well-meaning gift givers. Folks, I have no product advertisers here for a reason.

Lowes took the return in good spirit. The nice lady at the return desk said, "Another one, huh?" I thought she was asking if I wanted to replace it, which I didn't. Instead, without looking up she pointed at the wall where there were two more expired B&D leaf vacs.

Maybe this was a pretty useful product review after all.

Undeterred, I took the cash from the return and bought the Toro.

The Toro was a bit easier to assemble and it managed to get through its first fifteen minutes of life without grenading. But, man, it was one of the most un-bloody-comfortable tools I've ever used. And I thought power post hole augers were torture. I just couldn't get the balance of the thing. My back and arms were so strained from wrestling with this tool that my hands were literally shaking.

In its defense, it did a good job. But, you know, it only has a PLASTIC impeller so I had to be extra careful about what it sucked up. The manual is very clear about that: no rocks, no pine cones, no twigs... no twigs?! When poplars shed they also shed lots of twigs. What am I supposed to do? Get on my hands and knees and sort through piles of leaves looking for lethal twigs before vacuuming?

Looks like the Toro was a bust as well.

You know what actually works pretty well? I've used it for the past three years to clean up the back yard so I know it's up to the task: my old Shop Vac. There are only two problems. One is that the nozzle tends to clog. The other is that the unmulched leaves fill up that five-gallon container quickly.

That set my inventive mind to work. Suppose there was a mulcher attachment for the Shop Vac? Basically, it would be a hose replacement. You'd have a little motor-powered mulcher that slides into the standard 2-1/2" diameter intake. At the other end would be a twelve foot 4" diameter hose.

That would be perfect! Of course it would have a METAL impeller.

My brother had ten US patents by the time he was my age. I need to get busy.


Posted by J. (not verified) on

So how messy are those poplars, truly? I've got an acre lot and read how they grow fast, which would be ideal. No waiting for shade. However, if they drop sticks after a wind storm, like a weeping willow, I might reconsider. My kids won't be in the house forever, and then I'd have to clean up the mess. Leaf pickup is no big deal, since all my other trees drop them. Also, how do they look? Are they attractive looking trees, or do they look like over grown weeds? Thanks!

Posted by Steve on

They also shed year around, often in little clumps of leaves attached to stems, which makes them even more obnoxious to clean up.

They have another problem in that, because they're a moist wood, termites love them. I had three poplars in my back yard when I moved in here. All of them had large termite colonies growing in them, which I didn't learn until I cut them down. I also had a historic termite problem in the house which went away when those trees, which were forty feet away from the house, were removed. Since my neighbor planted his poplars he too has begun to have termite problems.

Oh, and one more: they sent out runners. Every summer I have to pull new poplars out of my garden.

They look like tall weeds to me but I suppose that has more to do with the type of poplar. However if you're looking for a fast growing barrier plant the only thing I know that grows faster is bamboo.

Posted by J. (not verified) on

Thanks for the quick reply. I think bamboo would raise a few other problems... runners, would look rather out of place in upstate. Maybe I'll just close my eyes. A ready made barrier...