Stihl FS 56 RC-E Trimmer Review
STIHL (which is actually pronounced “steel”) has introduced the new FS 56 RC-E, the top of the line model for its new Homescaper Series of straight shaft trimmers. The Stihl FS 56 RC-E trimmer features the company’s new full crank Easy2Start system and semi-automatic choke to ensure starting doesn’t become a strength training exercise. It’s encouraging to know that the industry is responding to consumers who don’t relish the thought of ripping their arms off in the quintessential struggle of man vs. machine – or whatever you want to call that masochistic exercise involved in starting your typical 2-cycle engine. With the Easy2Start system and a semi-automatic choke, Stihl eliminates the hassle and delivers a product that your wife and/or mother could use.
Stihl FS 56 RC-E Trimmer Build Quality
We received our Stihl FS 56 RC-E trimmer fully assembled from a local dealer. Dealers provide customers with a “serviced out” unit, meaning it’s fueled, fully assembled, including handle, and ready to go. STIHL does not retail products in a box. The weight of the trimmer is 12-1/2 pounds, about average for this size of engine. Speaking of the engine, Stihl does a thorough job encasing the entire forward part of the motor up to the throttle in an almost unibody gray ABS plastic enclosure. It covers all the motor parts, save for a separate section for the air filter and choke assembly. The plastic cover does a great job at protecting you from the heat of the engine, should you accidentally touch the side nearest the spark arrestor. It does, however, come across as a bit bulky and gives the trimmer a rather imposing look.
On the rear of the engine we noticed a full crank system that also featured Stihl’s Easy2Start spring-assisted pull starter. Unlike some other brands, the fancy starter didn’t seem to add a ton of weight or bulkiness to the trimmer and blended in well. The orange rear covering was, like the rest of the trimmer, molded perfectly to protect the parts while delivering a streamlined shape to the FS 56 RC-E. The 50:1 oil-gas mixture could be easily poured into the translucent fuel tank while the trimmer is resting on the ground – there was no need to turn it on its side. I could appreciate the flip up half-moon handle which made removing the gas cap quite easy. We found the priming bulb easy to access and all of the fuel lines were well protected underneath the motor housing.
Maintenance for the Stihl FS 56 RC-E seemed very simple. Cleaning the air filter required only a star bit driver and removing and replacing the spark plug entailed pulling off the molded cap and boot and using a standard spark plug socket to remove it. The carburetor can even be adjusted by turning the high speed and low speed idle screws located just adjacent to the semi automatic choke. Like most trimmers, the Stihl FS 56 uses a centrifugal steel-on-steel clutch for the drive shaft to engage the spinning trimmer head. As such, it’s important to ensure the head doesn’t spin (i.e. the trimmer doesn’t idle too high) when the throttle isn’t engaged. Ours was configured perfectly from the factory. All of the throttle cables are fully enclosed.
The flex cable drive shaft is fully lined and straight – which is excellent for both tall people and those who want to be able to get under narrow areas, like a deck or stairway. Stihl is a company that caters to both consumers/homeowners and professionals, but tends to implement as many of its pro-line features it can squeeze into the lower end models. As such, you won’t find a single model with the capability for attachments, something that pros typically avoid like the plague since it provides a specific point of failure for trimmers.
The TapAction Bump Head
We typically avoid bump-heads like the plague and Stihl reinforced the many reasons why this is the case. Their particular flavor of bump head is dubbed TapAction, but we found it to be more of a Repeatedly-slam-it-onto-concrete-at-high-speed Action. No matter what we did, getting this head to release string was not an easy process. To-date we have found only one or two bump heads that we really liked, and for Stihl products we simply recommend you go out and purchase their FixCut 25-2 head (or an aftermarket equivalent) which uses two fixed pieces of 8″ string for fast and easy loading. The other thing we quickly noticed was that the 0.095″ Quiet Line string included with the trimmer has very specific grooves which are designed to reduce noise, but almost encouraged the trimmer string to break as often and quickly as possible. I went through more string with this trimmer than with any other trimmer I’ve ever used in the same comparable time. Loading the trimmer was easy in theory, however the graphical instruction sheet Stihl provided was extremely confusing to follow. In short, you reload string by emptying the cutting head of any remaining string and then:
- Line up the arrow on the drum with the dots on the spool
- Insert both ends of string (up to 26′ in length)
- Wind it up with a clockwise rotation of the bump-head
- Cut the middle of the remaining connected string
Even after we reloaded the string, it broke easily and we were able to wrap the string around some bushes which really tangled things up. The bottom line is that like most trimmers a fixed-string pro head is really the way to go and will provide a great experience and allow for the use of thicker string.
Using the Stihl FS 56 RC-E Trimmer
Starting up this trimmer was a breeze. The semi-automatic choke is a stroke of genius. From a cold start you simply set the choke, prime the bulb and then gently pull the starter cord. Once the engine fires over (typically after a couple pulls at most) you can depress the interlock switch and pull the throttle trigger. This disengages the choke automatically and brings the engine to life. Stihl recommends running the engine through three tanks of fuel before opening it up all the way.
Aside from our bump-head and string shenanigans, the Stihl FS 56 RC-E trimmer was quite good at trimming grass. Since it sports a two-cycle engine, it easily doubles as an edger when rotated 90 degrees. We also liked the placement of the fuel line and filter since the trimmer never once stalled when used in this way, even though we hadn’t topped off the tank.
Reviewer’s Note: Please see our article on 2-cycle vs. 4-cycle engines.
We trimmed our sample quarter acre lot several times with this trimmer over the course of the review period and found it to do a decent job. The string broke quite easily and frequently and we’d recommend purchasing some better quality 0.095″ string than what comes with this model. Vibration was above average with this model and we quickly found that gloves are highly recommended. Just starting this unit on the ground, it vibrates enough to practically walk around on its own – very similar to the feel of a 4-cycle engine but a tad higher in intensity.
Another thing to note is that this trimmer comes with the handle assembly mounted flush against the plastic housing for the throttle control. We found this to be too close – at least for anyone over 5′ 8″ – and resulted in an awkward balance to the trimmer. The trimmer just felt downright heavy when we used it the first time, and the right to left motion was difficult to guide smoothly when compared to other trimmers we’d used. After we slid the handle just a couple inches forward, the balance felt better and the overall weight of the tool seemed to decrease slightly. Stihl anticipates each user will customize the handle position as needed for best balance and comfort.
Noise output during idle measured 83 dB SPL, which is reasonably quiet, but at maximum throttle it outputs a full 104 dB SPL. We definitely recommend ear protection, and the local Stihl rep actually handed me a complimentary pair when he dropped off the tool.
The Stihl FS 56 RC-E trimmer definitely gets the job done. It has ample power, doesn’t slow down through even heavy grasses and works well as a trimmer and makeshift edger. It has a two year (consumer-use) warranty and has an excellent build quality and easy-to-start motor. Add to that the fact that Stihl meets current EPA requirements and this is a solid product to use on any consumer application. Its hefty feel, however and the substandard TapAction bump head means that some users may want to shop around before deciding on this particular product. We gave it a value rating of 5/10, feeling that it provided an average value compared to similarly-priced trimmers on the market. Our pro rating also garnered a 6/10 as the FS 56 RC-E felt heavy and left much to be desired with respect to its bump head. For some, this will be a non-issue and we definitely encourage you to head to a local dealer and try out the Stihl Homescaper series for yourself.