Combining unrivalled ease of use with quiet, efficient trimming in a neat and fabulously well-engineered package, the Stihl FSA 56 Cordless Grass Trimmer is a true 5-star performer available at a great price.
- Lightweight and extremely well balanced
- Very easy to use
- Great strimming performance
- Good run-time
- Excellent value
- Doesn't have a rotating head
- Review Price: £199.99
- 36-volt power
- 280mm trimming circle
- 20mins run time
- 80mins charge time
- Low noise
- Adjustable length
- Bump line feed
- AK10 1.5Ah battery
- AL101 charger
What is the Stihl FSA 56?
At just 3.2kg (including battery), the Stihl FSA 56 Cordless Grass Trimmer is the company’s super lightweight and very quiet take on a cordless grass trimmer. It packs in a height-adjustable shaft, easy-adjust handle position and potent 36v performance from its rechargeable battery.
One of the lightest and best-balanced trimmers we’ve used, the FSA 56 is a star performer on the lawn thanks to its 280mm trimming circle, solid 20-minute run-time and effective bump-line feed. It’s remarkably hushed for Sunday strimming, is solidly built and, at under £200 including battery and charger, is outstanding value too.
Stihl FSA 56 – Design and features
The FSA 65 is a battery powered grass trimmer, part of Stihl’s Compact Cordless series of garden machinery designed for home use in gardens of medium size and upwards. The strimmer tested here is available as a bare tool, or comes packaged with the basic AK10 36v battery promising up to 20 minutes’ run-time and the entry-level AL101 dock charger. At under £200 in this kit form, Stihl is offering a whole lot of machinery for the money here.
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There’s no shortage of handy features on offer with an adjustable height shaft, adjustable loop handle and a soft-grip main handle with well-placed lock-release and trigger. The battery inserts in two stages into the rear-end of the machine. The first position holds the battery securely, but ensures it isn’t connected to the motor for safety while transporting the strimmer. Push it further and it clicks firmly into place ready to go.
Down at the business end, the motor sits directly above the cutting area, offering a good-sized 280mm trimming radius. A flip-down metal guard helps protect uprights if you’re strimming close to delicate garden ornaments or borders. It’s easily robust enough to double as a hanging loop, albeit this isn’t specifically recommended by Stihl.
The orange debris deflector has a solid line limiter blade to trim the line to length. It’s a simple screw-on fit so can be easily removed to sharpen or replace. The mowing head and line offer a bump-feed, promising to feed out more line when you bump it on the ground. From our experience, these rarely work well – but the proof will be in the bumping.
The supplied line is a semi-beefy 1.6mm in diameter on a 4-metre line-feed spool. Replacements include the spool so you simply swap out the whole unit as opposed to wind on loose line to your old spool. For heavier work, a 2.0mm diameter line spool is also available for the FSA 56.
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Stihl FSA 56 – Battery, charging and run time
In standard compact kit form as tested, the FSA 56 comes with Stihl’s AK10 1.5Ah battery and the AL101 charger offering a 1.6Ah output. The charge will take the AK10 from flat to 100% in around 1hr 20mins and deliver 20 minutes’ run-time. However, for larger lawns you have numerous options. The AK20 is 3Ah battery doubling the run-time to 40 minutes and the AK30 is a whopping 5Ah pack with an hour’s cutting time.
Charge time goes up commensurately, and while the AL101 could definitely be quicker, it isn’t the slowest charger we’ve tried by a long margin. If you plan to strim and park-up until the lawn needs attention again, the battery can be left in the dock indefinitely. As such, charge time is perhaps academic for most home users.
The brick-like battery slots in and out of the charging dock with ease and four green LED indicators count up as its charges. The same indicators show battery charge level in four segments, counting down when you press the bubble-button to the right of the LEDs. The whole battery and charging ensemble is well designed with exceptional fit, and clips to keep everything secure. But does it deliver?
Oh, yes. On many timed runs, we managed to get a very consistent 19-20 minutes run-time from a fully charged AK10 battery pack. If you tend to do stop-start trimming, around flower beds or spot trimming, for example, the total run-time is actually a little longer as the battery keeps cooler. We consistently got up to 21 minutes during start-stop trimming.
While 20 minutes doesn’t sound like a lot of run-time, you’ll be amazed at the amount of trimming you can do with the FSA 56 on a single charge. This is ostensibly due to its exceptional cut performance and perfect balance, which makes endurance trimming in 20-minute sessions a breeze.
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Stihl FSA 56 – What is it like to use?
Having been through a ridiculous number of grass trimmers over the years at the farm and through testing for Trusted Reviews, the FSA 56 comes as something of a revelation. It’s very light in the hand and the balance proves absolutely perfect.
The adjustable shaft height means just about anyone can get that balance just right, with the battery weight at the rear perfectly countering the motor at the cutting end. Being cordless, there are no cables to drag around or heavy petrol engine under your armpit. That all adds up to making the FSA 56 feel like a fairy wand; it’s so remarkably easy to hold and use.
There’s nothing lightweight about its performance, however. The 28cm trimming circle rips through tall, wet grass with ease and even had a good attempt at heavier scrub using just the supplied 1.6mm line. Spin speed is high enough to deliver a very clean grass cut and there’s very little slowing when the going gets heavy. The wire guard works well for keeping away from borders. Flip it up, and you can get in really close to edges.
This model doesn’t have a rotating head, which makes it a little trickier to use for lawn-edging duties. As our lawns are mostly edged with gravel, any rotary edging tool is a recipe for disaster anyway, so this wasn’t an issue for us. Thankfully, the FSA 56 is light enough to simply flip over if you really need to edge with a strimmer.
Even the bump-feed was a testament to Stihl’s engineering. We rarely get bump-line feed mechanisms to work after a few runs, since the system clogs up with wet grass or plastic clips on the spools wear out. Not so with the FSA 56, which kept on feeding line on every bump. Swapping out the whole spool, rather than just replacing the line, definitely helps here. While that’s a little more expensive than buying a loose line, it should keep the bump-feed running indefinitely.
Most noticeably, all this easy-to-use performance comes without the weight, noise, heat or smell of a similarly sized, two-stroke petrol strimmer. We measured the FSA 56’s noise output at just 80dB running free (ear height above cutting head), rising to around 85dB when cutting long grass. That’s the best part of 15dB quieter than our old petrol strimmer, making ear-defenders purely optional.
Why buy the Stihl FSA 56?
Several weeks on test and the FSA 56 remained nothing but thoroughly impressive. Its combination of light weight and balance is unrivalled among trimers we’ve tested, and the adjustable-length shaft makes sure anyone can achieve that perfect balance.
Cut performance and handling are first class, the bump feed worked flawlessly, and the AK10 battery delivered on its promised 20 minutes of operating time, time and time again. There are plenty of other Stihl battery options and even heavier gauge-line spools available for larger lawns and tougher jobs too.
To top all that, the FSA 56 is one of the quietest grass trimmers we’ve had the pleasure to use, and comes in at a very attractive £200 or less for the complete kit. That’s thoroughly outstanding all around.
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