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Miniature Figure blowing leaves

How Do Leaf Blowers Work?

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Leaf blowers have been a mainstay in homes and commercial environments since the 70’s. When it comes to moving large amounts of organic debris fast, there’s no better gadget for the job. Motorized leaf blowers, though inelegant and noise at times, are powerful and very efficient. They can save us hours of time which would otherwise be spent manually raking and moving leaves or other debris.

With little more than a powerful jet of air, a leaf blower pushes fallen leaves in whatever direction the user chooses. By maintaining control and using the jet to force debris around the outdoor space, it’s easy to move an entire yard’s worth of leaves to the sides or to a location where it can be collected and discarded. This is the primary purpose of a leaf blower: to aid with the collection of waste and debris.

Vacuum CleanerGetting to Grips with the Basics

From a technical perspective, the leaf blower is the vacuum’s opposite. In fact, you can buy specialized leaf vacuums for the outdoors. Additionally, some leaf blower products are even dual purpose and function as both blower and vacuum. Where the vacuum sucks in air (and dead leaves along with it), a blower forces air out at high speed so it’s powerful enough to lift and push leaves without touching them.

Contemporary leaf blowers are powered by electric or gas with the former becoming most popular in recent years. While it is true gas-powered machines are more powerful overall, concerns about environmental impact and convenience mean gardeners are prioritizing electric blowers. The downside of electric blowers, of course, is their shorter use time.

Whether they have a rechargeable battery pack or an electric cord, they must be kept reasonably close to a power source. Whereas a large gas-powered leaf blower could be used for long periods and farther away from electric outlets. The reality is both gas powered leaf blowers and electric leaf blowers come with their own unique strengths and benefits. The right choice for you will depend entirely on your needs.

The Technology That Makes a Leaf Blower Blow

Both electric and gas-powered leaf blowers use centrifugal force to move debris. Inside a blower, you’ll find a motor and a fan contained in a plastic shell. This fan has multiple spokes or ‘blades’ and, when turned on, they get pushed in circles by the powerful motor. This allows air from outside to be sucked into the fan, spun around inside the blower, and ejected at force from the opposite side. As this ejected air gets forced out through a narrow cylinder, it can be manually directed and used to target individual leaves or piles of leaves. Some blowers can reach speeds as high as 250 mph because this centrifugal force increases pressure and, in turn, the power of the air flow.

Normally, a two-stroke engine is used in domestic leaf blowers whether electric or gas powered. There are several reasons why this is the preferred way to build these machines. Firstly, two strong engines are very light as they do not contain a valve. Maneuverability is extremely important for leaf blowers because most are handheld. They need to be lightweight enough for a gardener to carry, move and direct for prolonged periods.

In addition, two stroke engines fire just once for every revolution of the fan. This allows them to create twice the power in the same amount of space. Finally, a two-stroke engine is much better at working in tight angles and smaller, cramped areas. Overall, two stroke constructions offer better performance and improved ergonomics for users.


Air Speed

The maximum air speed any leaf blower can reach depends on the power output from its internal motor and fan. It is normally calculated using miles per hour (mph), though some older models may still use meters per second (m/s) for this. The former (mph) is a calculation of how many miles the air could travel in sixty minutes if held at a specific velocity.

When looking for a powerful leaf blower, it’s important to consider both air speed (mph) and cubic feet per minute (cfm). Blowing machines with a high reading for both (mph AND cfm) are among the most powerful and efficient on the market. If you need a device with significant clout, keep these two measurements in mind.

Selecting the Right Type of Leaf Blower

Choosing the right type of leaf blower depends on a variety of factors such as garden size, budget, local terrain and the needs of the actual user (older, less physically able, etc.). Here are some of the most common types and why they might be the best choice for you.

Corded Electric Leaf Blowers

Corded electric blowers (must be plugged into a power source) are normally very lightweight and typically come in at under 8lbs or less. This makes them suitable for ‘super mobile’ one handed use in some cases. While they offer an impressive amount of blowing power, the downside is they must be kept near power sockets. This gives them a much smaller range (typically, within 100 feet) than cordless machines.

Cordless Electric Leaf Blowers

Cordless electric blowers tend to be more popular than their corded cousins for obvious reasons (see our Makita XBU02PT1 18V cordless leaf blower review). They provide similar blowing power, but they aren’t limited to the length of a power cord. Users can maneuver these lightweight machines with little effort and easily move them around a large area (without any thought for power cord placement). The downside to this, of course, is an integrated battery makes the blower slightly heavier and it may only last 30 mins – 1 hour before needing a recharge.

If you’re interested, you can find our comparison of the best battery powered leaf blowers here.

Gas Powered Handheld Leaf Blowers

Gas powered handheld blowers are probably the most traditional version of a domestic leaf blower. They never need to be recharged – only refilled – and can generate impressive amounts of power. Contemporary products still manage to be very lightweight, even with a two or four stroke engine, which is important for those with large yards and lots of ground to cover. The downside to these blowers is they tend to be loud and emit smoke. You may even need to use hearing protection while the machine is operational.

Gas Powered Backpack Leaf Blowers

When designed to be worn on the back, gas powered leaf blowers can be exceptionally powerful and easier to carry. These versions don’t need to be as lightweight as the others so fan and engine components can be bigger. This gives a blower more pushing power and, because it gets carried across the back, it is easy to transport to any part of a yard. Do be aware these larger backpack style leaf blowers are often the noisiest of all options.

Gas Powered Wheeled Leaf Blowers

If you’re looking for the biggest and strongest leaf blower available, you might consider a gas powered blower on wheels. Ordinarily, these super powered machines are used by professional landscapers or gardeners with very large estates. They are, unsurprisingly, the strongest and most effective versions. However, their size can make them difficult to maneuver for all but the fittest, strongest users. In recent years, wheeled blowers with four stroke engines (instead of two) have appeared on the market and made these machines quieter, more reliable and easier to refill.

The Final Word on Leaf Blowers

These days, modern leaf blowers are very impressive machines. Gardeners no longer need to choose between blowing and vacuuming or buying separate devices for both because combination vac blowers are widely available. Vac blowers work in much the same way as traditional leaf blowers, but they have a containment box at their back or base.

First, a user operates the blowing device to move leaves and organic debris to a designated part of the yard. Then, with the flick of a switch, they can turn off the blower and activate the vacuum part of the machine. It’s just a matter of placing the device over the leaves and sucking them into the containment device where they are stored or mulched for later removal.

Whether you prefer a fancy combination device or a traditional two stroke leaf blower, there are lots of great machines on the market. By considering how each works, you can choose carefully and make sure your leaf blower is a match for your backyard.