For a variety of reasons (poor outdoor storage, limited outlets, etc...) I do not want to get a gas or electric weed whacker, so I started to think of other options for maintaining the parts of my lawn that would normally call for a weed-whacker.

Presumably there was a need to whack weeds where a mower couldn't reach before the weed whacker was invented. What tool (or tools) fulfilled this purpose and are they still available?

(Note: a cordless electric weed-whacker is probably really my best option but I am curious as to other options out there)


14 Answers 14


We own a tool that looks just like the one on the right here:

hand tools for brush

I used it just last week - it's good for goldenrod, raspberries, oregano and the like. After a round with this the mower can handle it. Instructions for using it are at the American Trails site, among other places. We own a gas powered trimmer, but this is actually quicker (and lighter and quieter) when you want to do a fairly wide swath of clearing and you're not trying to be precise. As for sharpening, we've had it for over 20 years and have never sharpened it. One side is now easier to use than the other, so I'll think about sharpening it, but I really don't know how. I'm ambidextrous so I just give preference to the better side.

For precise work, like the edges of paths, we use the oversize scissors pictured in the other answer, or the aforementioned gas trimmer if things are really getting so overgrown that it's worth getting it out. We also pull up goldenrod, ragweed, and small pine trees by hand when we happen to be walking nearby.

  • In some parts of the U.S. the one pictured at right is known as an "idiot stick."
    – JYelton
    Sep 4, 2012 at 18:15
  • just picked up one of these - looks like just what I am looking for.
    – DQdlM
    Sep 5, 2012 at 19:42
  • I have the tool on the left. Works great. Mar 16, 2017 at 15:20
  • These tools have been referred to as “grass whip” for at least a century. Apr 11, 2020 at 0:03

Personally, I hate weed whackers. They're terrible at my house: the places I need to weed are either next to plants that can't get whacked, or they're next to wire fencing that chews through tons of string, or they're next to rocks that chew through tons of string.

My preferred tool for getting in next to the fences, lilies, and trees is a pair of manual hedge clippers, like these:

Hedge clippers oc

I think mine have somewhat larger blades. Keep the blades sharp and they work really well. (Sharpening the blades is less of a chore for me that re-stringing the weed whacker, not to mention gas & related maintenance.)

For more open areas where the mower can't go, I like one of these:

Eine Sense...

Once you get the hang of it, using a scythe is a pleasant way to knock down tall weeds. I also use it for knocking down cover crops like buckwheat or sorghum-sudangrass. Carry a stone in your pocket and keep the blade sharp.

  • Thanks for the answer! My neighbors already think I am crazy but I love the idea of trimming around my lawn with a scythe! Unfortunately I could only find the weed-whip in @Kate Gregory's answer at my local hardware store - so I am going to give that I try.
    – DQdlM
    Sep 5, 2012 at 19:44

Without question a scythe. They are by far the most elegant, efficient and pleasant tools to use. There is nothing comparable.

I had the same question and then one day it hit me. Life's been better ever since.

  • I should mention that I too tried a weed whip. Honestly if it's not too late, I'd save your money. It's not just that you need a larger arc to get it to work, it's that you'd have to sharpen the blade - something that's a piece of cake on a scythe.
    – ari gold
    Sep 12, 2012 at 3:57

When I was growing up on the farm, we used a long-curve-handled scythe for lots of weeding, but it was used by my great-grandparents for harvesting oats, barley, wheat, and wild hay before they could afford a horsedrawn reaper-binder. You can clear an acre of straight-standing weeds or grain in three hours.

For smaller jobs, use a hand-held curved sickle, if you can find one. I could not get one in my city hardware store, but I did get a hand-held one with a straight cutting head. I use it for weed control along a trail and creek. It is as fast or faster than an electric weed whip in lots of applications, with the benefits of no electrical/gas cost, noise, nuisance, or pollution, and it keeps one's arm in shape, with good, fluid exercise once you get into the swing of things (in the sense in which this phrase originated). Once you get into a rythm and your body is toned for it, you can scythe or sickle for hours with only a few stops to rest or mop your brow.


A goat. I knew a guy who never mowed his lawn, just let sheep or goats onto it for short periods of time. It always looked nice.


Hands are surprisingly effective for handling weeds around trees and landscaping.


I'm surprised no one has mentioned this yet.

Long-handled Grass Clipping Shears

They look like this:

enter image description here

There is another kind that uses a much bigger handle, where the entire shaft is 2 separate pieces that you can use to cut much thicker weeds.

Anyway, pros and cons of this:


  1. No gas, electric, etc. Never runs out!
  2. Long so you don't have to bend over.
  3. Pretty inexpensive
  4. Easy to store
  5. Good for small yards


  1. You will certainly tire out your hand if you have a large yard.

Another option, in addition to those mentioned are grass trimming shears. They are an oversized, spring-loaded scissors. That's what I remember my parents using.


I bought a swing blade (weed cutter, idiot stick?) at Home Depot for less than $20 2 days ago and within 25 minutes I had cleared a 25' sq space. This was with NO experience AND using it wrong. Apparently they work best LOW to the ground where you can swing with one hand. I held mine 8 - 10" to leave the clover. Within about 10 minutes I got the feel of it and it worked great. It seemed like I was at it for longer than I was. Worked up a little sweat and raised my heart rate a bit. Thought I'd be sore the next day but wasn't. Don't think I'll mow the back yard this year.


BCCO has many tools designed for clearing weeds, brush and trail maintenance based on traditional tools that have been used for centuries.

Specifically, this is the "weed wacker" which they call a weeding cutlass.

enter image description here



Well I use regular clippers, the ones that are about the size of scissors, hedge clippers for the thicker stalks, and a machete for the thickest saplings and bushes.

I really want a scythe or one of rake-shaped cutters to try.

Hope this helps.


The method I use is not found in any book or manual. I use a six foot long hedge cutter, or extendable cutter, I use my STIHL HL100 set it at 40° and let rip! I can cut down a field of nettles in ten minutes! would take a whole day or about an hour and a half if done with a strimmer (gets clogged very quickly) helps if someone's raking away from you at the same time and can be done when wet- came up with that idea when I had to clear a garden in camden town years ago covered in brambles, noticed that the same kit I used for the bbc many years later used the same technique with a similar mechanism for a push long grass cutter (had the same arrangement with the teeth)just watch out for stuff that shouldn't be there! the cutters blades will slice anything! so be aware of peoples movements around you and don't swing too high!


We used a "manual weed cutter" when I was growing up. It's like a safer version of a scythe. I still use one to harvest my clover and Timothy grass for feeding to my rabbits. If you Google the quotes, you'll see a picture of it.


In some areas, they burn the weeds instead of chopping/mowing them, but you obviously have to be careful about that, and it won't be suitable for every area. I'm guessing you might need to call your county and let them know you'll be burning before you do it.

Just look for a weed burner, or a blow torch for weeds. Some products might be unsafe, however (so be sure to investigate; I'd probably recommend buying from a reputable vendor). You can use at least some of the same torches to melt ice on the driveway, too, I've read.

This method might also kill some weed seeds.

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