Tools and machinery
Table of Contents
The very first tool I knew I'd need was a good ride on mower. I wanted a zero-turn with hydraulic drive, there's just something about that spec that says it's seriously built for the purpose.
By chance I came across a mower service shop in Canberra that was selling a secondhand Walker zero-turn with grass handling system (catcher) and a small 36 inch deck. I wanted a catcher system because there's nothing worse than long-haired dogs and grass clippings. It was working and usable but I had not come across the Walker name in my casual searching up to that point. I researched the brand overnight and went back the next day and bought it.
It was blowing some oil smoke so the Kohler engine may need attention sooner rather than later.
Over the first 12 months several minor faults appeared, which as a secondhand machine I expected to have to deal with, most of which were electrical and easily fixed with a little diagnosis with a continuity meter. The main ignition switch was replaced, and the PTO and forward drive safety switches were simply cleaned and adjusted. The later two switches failed at the same time so the problem wasn't immediately obvious. The engine does burn a lot of oil, which I've been managing so far without major overhaul. I check frequently and replace the spark plug in the offending cylinder with a cleaned plug every couple of hours and the problem doesn't appear to be getting any worse.
1. Can't wait to put it to work
Given the number of features embodied in the unit it is still quite low and compact and extremely easy and agile to maneuver.
The steering levers are uniquely one-handed fingertip operation that is ergonomic and very relaxed, yet precise. The out-front floating deck is also the foot-rest, so I feel every pitch and roll. I really do feel that the machine becomes an extension of myself when I'm in the seat.
The deck and blades are driven by a shaft drive-train rather than belts, which allows the blades to cross paths without risk of colliding, that is, because there is an adjustment in the drive-train that does not change over time. This is not possible with belt-drive systems due to the risk of belt-slip, and so belt-driven decks cannot therefore align all their spindle centres on the line perpendicular to the centre line of the mower (normal line of travel).
The deck's rear feed to the grass handling system means it is symmetrical and therefore able to work around obstacles from either side. Most other ride-ons with a catcher, usually connected to a side chute on the deck, cannot do this. The catcher can also be left open while mowing if I want to spread the clippings over the paddock as mulch, which I do in paddock 2 to save time.
Being able to lift the deck to the vertical position for maintenance or for clearing wet grass build up while in the field is also a big plus.
2. I've since bought a small trailer for the mower, which is useful for small loads.
Four years now and the mower is still doing the work. I managed to destroy the PTO uni joint through neglect and hard work, but it was easily replaced. Still cleaning spark plugs and adding oil every couple of hours. A year ago the engine started to backfire but some new spark plugs fixed it.
Ten years now and the mower electrics have died suddenly and I've decided to retire it. It's done some hard work beyond what it was designed to do, like slash very tall rough grass and win arguments with rocks and very uneven terrain.
After a lot of research I've decided on a new Kubota Z412 to replace the Walker I've had for ten years now and which is over twenty years old.
From that research the following requirements emerged:
Zero turn again
Larger deck (48"), three blades, at least 5 inches depth
Petrol engine (Kawasaki)
Commercial grade hydraulic drives
Easy deck height adjustment
5/8 inch deck drive belt as minimum
Towing capacity of greater than 100kg to be within both the hitch loading and maximum machine weight (includes operator) specification
3. New Kubota Z412
There were features that I had to get used to not having unless I pay at least twice the $$ for a new or near new Walker:
Low height getting under trees, so extra pruning will be required
Symmetrical moveouverability around obstacles
Out-front independently suspended deck
Integrated grass handling system, better dispersal of cuttings when used in that mode, and leaf vacuuming
I tried hard to justify an all-electric machine but decided that the battery technology at this price point is not there yet and my one hectare of grass is at the limit of the claimed run-times, meaning I would soon, within a year with degrading batteries, not be completing the job without recharging. Also, three years seems to be the best one can expect as a useful lifetime before the batteries need replacing, preferably all at once to avoid other issues. That would mean AU$000's each time.
I looked at Husqvarna, Toro, Hustler, Gravely, Ferris, BBT, John Deer and some others. All of their models at the Kobota's price point use residential grade Hydro-Gear drives (Z2800 or lower cf the Kubota's Z3600 drives). The residential class drive specs give the machines very little to no towing capacity and lower top speeds. The Hustler was also eliminated because it's transaxle mounting tends to fail and in my opinion the upgrade kit doesn't fix the root cause, which is the geometry. It merely beefs up the mount components to better resist the forces magnified by the geometry.
So far I'm very happy with the Kubota Z412. The deck can be raised and lowered on the run. I'm getting three full mowings per tank and the total mowing time has been cut from roughly 4 hours to 1.5 hours. The seat with inbuilt suspension is comfortable.
There are a couple of down sides compared to the Walker, a couple of which relate to the conditions here:
It's a heavy machine, about 100kg heavier than the Walker and most of the other machines looked at, so I need to be more careful around saturated ground.
The suction generated under the deck by the standard blades is fierce and will quickly denude bare or sparsely grassed dry ground.
The rear drive wheels (cf the central drive wheels of the Walker) and the higher weight can rip grass out a lot easier.
The deck is suspended under the completely rigid frame so doesn't follow ground undulations as well as the Walker did.
I would need a medium chain saw. I also bought a brush cutter with multiple additional attachments including a small pruning chain saw attachment, blower, hedge trimmer, and rotary hoe. All of these have been invaluable.