STIHL (actually pronounced "steel" or "shteel" if you're European) has introduced the new FS 56 RC-E, the top model in its new Homescaper line of straight-axis trimmers. The Stihl FS 56 RC-E trimmer features the company's new full-crank Easy2Start system with a semi-automatic choke to ensure starting doesn't become a strength training exercise. It's encouraging that the industry is responding to consumers who don't like the idea of ripping off an arm in a typical man vs. machine struggle – or whatever you want to call it to start a typical 2-cycle masochistic motion engine. With the Easy2Start system and semi-automatic choke, Stihl has taken the hassle out of it and delivered a product your wife and/or mother can use.
Editor's note: Check out our best gas line trimmers article for our top recommendations.
Stihl FS 56 RC-E Trimmer Build Quality
We received a fully assembled Stihl FS 56 RC-E trimmer from a local dealer. Dealers offer customers the unit "repaired," meaning it's fueled, fully assembled (including handles), and ready to go. STIHL does not retail boxed products. The trimmer weighs 12-1/2 lbs, which is about average for an engine of this size. Speaking of the engine, Stihl did a thorough job wrapping the entire front of the motor right down to the throttle in a nearly one-piece gray ABS plastic casing. It covers all motor components except the separate sections for the air filter and choke assembly. The plastic cover does a good job of protecting you from the heat of the engine if you accidentally touch the side closest to the spark arrestor. It does, however, be a bit bulky, giving the trimmer a rather imposing look.
On the rear of the engine, we notice a full crank system that also features Stihl's Easy2Start spring-assisted pull starter. Unlike some other brands, the fancy starter doesn't seem to add much weight or bulk to the trimmer and blends in nicely. The orange back cover, like the rest of the trimmer, is perfectly molded to protect the parts while giving the FS 56 RC-E a streamlined shape. The 50:1 oil-air mixture is easily poured into the translucent tank while the trimmer rests on the ground – no need to turn it over. I appreciate the reversible half-moon handle, which makes removing the gas cap super easy. We found the starter bulbs to be easily accessible, and all the fuel lines are well protected under the motor housing.
STIHL FS 56 RC-E Maintenance
Maintenance of the STIHL FS 56 RC-E seems to be very simple. Cleaning the air filter requires only a star bit driver, and removing and replacing the spark plugs requires pulling off the molded cap and guard, which are then removed using a standard spark plug socket. The carburetor can even be adjusted by turning the high and low idle screws located next to the semi-automatic choke. Like most trimmers, the Stihl FS 56's drive shaft uses a centrifugal steel-on-steel clutch to engage the rotating trimmer head. So it's important to make sure the head doesn't spin when the throttle isn't engaged (i.e. the trim doesn't idle too high). Our factory configuration is perfect. All throttle cables are fully enclosed.
The flex cable drive shaft is fully lined and straight – this is great for tall people and people who want to be able to access tight areas like decks or stairs. Stihl is a company that caters to both consumers/homeowners and professionals, but tends to implement as many professional features as it can squeeze into lower-end models. As a result, you won't find a single model with attachment capabilities, which pros generally avoid like the plague because it gives the trimmer a specific point of failure.
TapAction convex head
We generally avoid bumps like the plague, and Steele reinforces a number of reasons for this. Their distinctive head-banging style is called a "tapping motion," but we found it more like a high-speed repetitive hit to concrete . No matter what we did, getting this trimmer head to release the cord was not an easy process. So far we've only found one or two impact heads that we really like, for the Stihl products we'd just recommend you go out and buy their FixCut 25-2 head (or aftermarket equivalent) which uses two fixed 8 inch rope for quick and easy loading.
Another thing we quickly noticed was that the 0.095" Quiet Line strings that come with the trimmer have very specific grooves. These reduce noise, but pretty much push the trimmer strings to break as often and as quickly as possible. I've run through more strings with this trimmer than any other trimmer I've used in a comparable amount of time. Loading the trimmer is easy in theory, however, the graphic instruction sheet provided by Steele is difficult to follow. In short, you can reload the rope by emptying any remaining rope in the cutting head, then:
- Align the arrow on the drum with the point on the spool
- Insert both ends of the cord (up to 26 feet)
- Tighten it by turning the boss clockwise
- Cut off the middle of the remaining connection string
Even after we reattached the rope it snapped easily and we were able to wrap the rope around some bushes which really held things together. Bottom line, as with most trimmers, the fixed-string pro head is really the way to go, will provide a great experience and allow the use of thicker strings.
Using Stihl FS 56 RC-E Trimmer
Starting this trimmer is a breeze. The semi-automatic choke is a stroke of genius. From a cold start, you simply set the choke, start the bulb, and gently pull the starter wire. Once the engine fires (usually a few pulls at most), you depress the interlock switch and pull the throttle trigger. This automatically disengages the choke and revives the engine. Stihl recommends letting the engine fill up three tanks of fuel before turning it on all the way.
Aside from our bump head and cord shenanigans, the Stihl FS 56 RC-E trimmer is pretty darn good at cutting grass. Since it uses a two-stroke engine, it easily doubles as an edger when turned 90 degrees. We also like the fuel line and filter arrangement because the trimmer never stalled when used this way, even when we didn't fill up the tank.
Reviewer's Note: Please see our article on 2-Stroke vs. 4-Stroke Engines .
large quantities welcome
We used this trimmer to mow a sample quarter-acre of land several times during the review period and found it did a decent job. Strings break easily and often, and we recommend purchasing better quality 0.095" strings than the ones that come with this model. Vibration is above average for this model, and we quickly discovered that gloves are highly recommended. Just start the unit on the ground, and it vibrates just enough to move on its own – very similar to the feel of a 4-stroke engine, but with a little more intensity.
Another thing to note is that this trimmer comes with a handle assembly that fits flush with the plastic housing for the throttle control. We found this to be too close—at least for people over 5'8"—and caused the trimmer to balance awkwardly. When we first used the trimmer, it felt very heavy, and the right-to-left movement was difficult to guide smoothly compared to other trimmers we've used. After we slid the handle forward a few inches, the balance felt better and the overall weight of the tool seemed to lighten slightly. Stihl anticipates that each user will customize the handle position to their needs for optimal balance and comfort.
Noise output at idle measured a reasonably quiet 83 dB SPL, but at maximum throttle it put out 104 dB SPL. We definitely recommend the ear protection, and the local Stihl rep actually gave me a free pair when they dropped off the tools.
The Stihl FS 56 RC-E Trimmer will definitely get the job done. It has plenty of power, doesn't slow down even through dense grass, and works well as a trimmer and makeshift edger. It comes with a two-year (consumer use) warranty and has great build quality and an easy-to-start motor. Additionally, Stihl complies with current EPA requirements, making it a reliable product for any consumer application. However, its chunky feel and sub-standard TapAction bumper means some users may want to shop around before deciding to buy this particular product.