This $750 snow blower is so fun to use and easy on my back, it actually has me looking forward to heavy snowfalls
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- A high-quality snow blower is easy on your back, can handle several inches of heavy snow, and works on a variety of surfaces.
- I liked the Toro SnowMaster 24-Inch Single-Stage Gas Snow Blower because it's self-propelled to match my gait, the joystick discharge chute control works smoothly, and it could handle my gravel driveway and city sidewalks.
- Though it is more expensive than most single-stage throwers (currently $749 at The Home Depot), it clears a wider path and is backed by a three-year limited warranty.
Thanks to years of skating in one direction while playing roller derby, my back is perpetually in pain. Every few months, it gets to the point where I'm laid up for a week or so. Anything can aggravate it. So, shoveling snow is out of the question. Fortunately, snow blowers provide an excellent way for me to clear snow without helping to fund my chiropractor's next Caribbean cruise.When it comes to snow blowers, one of the top names in the industry is Toro.
For over a century, this Bloomington, Minnesota-based manufacturer has made top-of-the-line turf maintenance and irrigation equipment for residential and commercial purposes. In the '70s, they entered the snow thrower space and have been a major player ever since.
Toro recently sent me their SnowMaster snow blower to test. Here are my experiences with it.
My first experiences with the Toro SnowMaster snow blower
This single-stage snow blower utilizes the "Personal Pace" self-propel drive system that senses your preferred walking pace and adjusts to match it, which is nice since the thrower weighs 125 pounds. The "Quick Stick" chute control works like a joystick to allow you to put show where you want it. The helical-shaped auger moves at high speeds to break up snow and throw it up to 40 feet through the chute in one motion.
The clearing width of the blower is 24 inches, and Toro says it can clear snow up to 16 inches deep. Toro backs the quality of the blower with a three-year limited warranty with the chute, deflector, and lower chute covered by a lifetime warranty.Delivery of the Toro SnowMaster had to be coordinated with a local freight company. A big 18-wheeler parked in the center lane of the busy street outside of my house, and the jolly driver unloaded it with a pallet jack and brought it to my shed.
The box had helpful unboxing instructions on it. The snow blower comes with the handle folded down, the discharge chute detached, and the chute controls disconnected. With the Ikea-like, picture-only directions, the entire process of unboxing, assembling, checking the oil, checking the tire pressure, and adding gas took about 30 minutes. For assembly, you do need 3/8 inch and 7/6 inch wrenches. I used my socket set to make quick work of the nuts.
How the Toro SnowMaster performed
I usually like to test out products a few times before I write reviews about them, but we have had a relatively mild winter here in Michigan so far. So, I've only been able to take the snow blower out once. I wanted to share my experience with you when it's most useful - in the early winter.
In general, you only want to use a snow blower when you have at least two inches of snow on the ground. I got my chance right after Thanksgiving when we were blanketed with five inches of heavy, wet snow.
I have two flat driveways: one gravel and one concrete. I started with the gravel driveway and adjusted the skid plates as low as possible to allow for the most auger clearance. In general, you shouldn't use single-stage snow blowers on gravel because the auger makes contact with the surface and can easily throw rocks. This is why it's important to put the skid plates as low as possible.
And, as I was warned, the SnowMaster did indeed pick up and toss a few rocks harmlessly into my yard. I'll have to keep a look out for those when it's time to mow, but otherwise, the rocks didn't appear to cause any damage. When I felt like I was hitting the gravel, I simply tilted the auger up slightly by pushing down on the handle.
The self-propelling function worked smoothly for the most part, though there were some jerky moments. I was trying to go as fast as possible while still doing a decent job of clearing all of the snow.
On the city sidewalks, I got going a little too fast and the discharge chute clogged up. When this happened, I would push down on the handle and pull back up quickly to bump the front of the machine on the ground. Or, I could sometimes rotate the chute and that would loosen the snow up. If that didn't work, I had to stop the snow blower entirely and use a stick to loosen it up.Never try to clear the chute while a snow blower is running, or you might lose a hand. The chute only clogged a couple of times, and I'm pretty sure it was because I was moving fast and the snow was heavy and packable.
The joystick Quick Stick chute control took me a couple minutes to get used to, but once I had the hang of it, it was pretty simple to use. I liked that I could easily adjust the angle at which the snow came flying out so I wasn't nailing cars trying to navigate the already-slick roads.
I only recently moved to Michigan, and having lived in a temperate climate for most of my adult life, I don't have much experience with snow blowers. Consequently, I committed a rookie error: I flooded the engine. To my credit, the directions are picture-only and somewhat ambiguous. The problem occurred when I stopped the engine to talk to my wife - the snow blower is quite loud. A couple of minutes later, I used the same directions I used to start the snow blower to restart it. Nothing.
After some online research, I discovered that there's no need to use the choke when the engine is warm. I waited about 15 minutes to allow the engine to unflood and simply pulled the cord. Voila!
Overall, I had so much fun using the snow blower that when I was done with my driveways and my corner-lot sidewalks, I went ahead and cleared off my neighbors' walks. This all took me under an hour and less than a tank (about half a gallon) of gas.
Some concerns about the snow blower
I like the idea of the MyToro app, but it seems like they need to devote more resources to improving it. The coolest function is it can automatically track how many hours you've used your Toro equipment and let you know when to perform maintenance. Unfortunately, for this function, you have to spend an extra $20 to buy the Portable Usage Calculator (PUC). I understand that not everyone is interested in this function, but if you're spending $750 on equipment and are trying to get people to use your app, throw the PUC in for free, Toro.
Without the PUC, you can enter your usage into the app manually, which is still helpful. I've had a pleasant - if not limited - experience with this, but it appears I'm in the minority. In the Google Play store, the MyToro app currently has a two-star rating with numerous complaints about the PUC failing and the app erasing manually inputted data. You might want to stick with good old pen and paper to log your maintenance information until Toro works out the kinks.
I was kind of bummed that the snow blower didn't come with the operator's manual. Instead, you need to download it from Toro's website (or The Home Depot.) I understand that this is better for the environment, and I do appreciate that, but I'm still a paper-in-hand style reader.Lastly, I'll give you some tips.
If you have the skids on the lowest setting, you probably won't clear all of the snow. I recommend sprinkling some ice melt to get the rest. Also, I suggest buying some fuel stabilizer to mix in with your gasoline in case you end up like me - going more than a month without any significant snow. The stabilizer will keep the gas fresh for up to six months or even longer.
The bottom line
I looked at early November's first flakes of snow with dread. But, now that I have the Toro SnowMaster Snow Blower in my shed, I find myself excited for the snow.
With the Personal Pace self-propel system, easy-to-adjust discharge chute controls, and the ability to handle heavy snow, clearing the driveways and sidewalks is actually enjoyable. If you have snow you need to clear from your property and want to save your back, I strongly recommend picking up the Toro SnowMaster before the next winter storm.
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