In the autumn of 2019, Husqvarna released their new battery powered grass and clearing saw, the equivalent of a saw in the 35cc class. The name is 535 iFR, and in this article we will take a closer look at the product and make a statement after Forestry.com has tried it out.
Combi for the self-employed forest owner
The 535 iFR has been developed by Husqvarna mainly to offer a combined machine for self-employed forest owners who prefer battery operation. You can switch between a saw blade, trimmer head and grass cutting blade with relative ease. The idea is that the product should be able to perform both light pre commercial thinning in the forest and grass cutting.
New with the 535 iFR is that Husqvarna delivers its large, detachable, BLi 300 battery along with the unit. Although the 535 iFR also works with back-pack batteries, the clearing saw is adapted to run with the largest detachable battery of 9.4 Ah and 36 volts from Husqvarna. As a result, Husqvarna has decided to use the rig and angular gears of the petrol driven saw 535RXT/336FR, and to place the electric motor at the rear, together with the battery. This is a big improvement. The balance is fine, the weight is low, yet the BLi300 has almost as much capacity as the small back-pack battery despite its weight and dimensions. If you buy 3 BLi 300, you get almost as much capacity as the large back-pack battery, but at a lower cost.
A step forward for batteries in the forest
It seems that Husqvarna has now found a battery-powered system that can truly work, one that can be further developed in the future, both for grass and forest clearing. It’s all about efficient batteries that are attached to the saw, and that can replace the gasoline engine with an electric motor and the battery. Simple, cordless, better balance and lighter than the gasoline counterpart.
Husqvarna strongly believes in the 535 iFR and claims that it has twice as much power as their old 520 iRX, which is also battery powered. The Stihl equivalent is called FSA 130 and has been on the market for just over two years. If you compare the two with the largest detachable batteries, the new 535 iFR has about 20% more battery capacity (BLi 300 compared to AP 300 S from Stihl). In terms of performance differences, we cannot say anything about it yet as we have not yet tested the FSA 130.
Focus on grass, but what about the forest?
The 535 iFR is marketed as a combined machine for forest owners who are both clearing vegetation in the forest and in the yard (grass). There is no doubt at all that this is an effective grass trimmer. We have tested it both with the trimmer wire and grass blade as both come with a Scarlett cleaning blade when you buy the saw, and it does its job very well. But since we are Forestry.com, we will focus on forest clearing/pre commercial thinning. Husqvarna claims that the 535iFR should be the equivalent of their 35cc clearing saw 535RXT/336FR. So how well does it operate in the forest?
As it turns out, it’s actually really good in early forest clearing, at least as good as any 535RXT/336FR and probably even a 545. It may even be that it is better. The reason is that it weighs so much less than a 545 or 555. Without a battery in the saw, the 535 IFR weighs only 4.5 kg. With a BLi 300 battery of 1.9 kg, the total weight at start-up is ~6.4 kg. That’s about two kilos lighter than a 545 and about a kilo lighter than a 535RXT with a full tank.
How long will a BLi 300 battery last?
According to our tests, a fully charged BLi 300 battery lasts for about 1 hour and 15 minutes in light young forest clearing, at a medium pace. Light grass clearing without interruption, about 1 hour. The same goes for hard pace clearing of medium rough vegetation. At full power on heavy grass (real hard driving) it lasts for about 30-35 min.
We also tested the saw on medium vegetation where it worked together with some 545:s in a clearing team. The battery ran out at about the same time as the gasoline ran out of the 545:s. Now, this depends on who is clearing and what kind of clearing we’re talking about, but we have tested it in a few different ways and reached these results.
How does the 535 iFR compare to the 545 RXT Autotune or Stihl 460?
What happens if, perhaps a little unfairly, you compare the 535 iFR with the popular all-purpose 545 from Husqvarna and 460 from Stihl (which are both gasoline saws).
Well, as said, when applied to easier forest clearing it keeps up. If the stock becomes a bit coarser, that is vegetation that has been left untouched for a few years, it doesn’t. There is a difference with the thicker stems as you have to adapt the cut, which takes longer. The reason for having to adjust it is that otherwise the saw stops if there’s too much resistance, in comparison with for example the 545. A subjective assessment is that it’s about 20% less efficient in heavier terrain. It works, but not as efficiently as with a larger gasoline saw. One thing to keep in mind is that the 535 iFR angle gear has a grass angle. There is some difference in the type of vegetation being cleared, and you’ll have to adjust accordingly.
We have not tested on even heavier vegetation. We guess that you should not enter such terrain at all with this saw. Only the largest gasoline saws are effective here, or perhaps even a chainsaw.
Since you do not have to buy gasoline and can work with relatively cheap electricity, it’s all about putting the cost of batteries in relation to the gasoline purchases you would otherwise do over time.
535 iFR costs ~6000 SEK (Swedish Krona – ~585 USD) including VAT. A BLi 300 costs ~3000 SEK (~290 USD) incl VAT. A charger is between 1000-2000 SEK (approx. 100 – 200 USD) depending on how powerful you want it to be.
A reasonable assumption might be that you need 4 batteries to cope with a tough day in the forest. It may then correspond to up to 5 hours of effective work, and most people won’t do more than that per day. The total investment is around 20 000 SEK (~1 950 USD) including VAT for a set where you can probably spend a whole day working only with electricity, and then charge when you get home. Electric power is (in Sweden) 98% cheaper than with Aspen (SEK 0.5/hour compared to SEK 25/hour for Aspen). With this into account, you have a payback period of about 130 clearing days in the forest. After this, it is pure profit on the investment.
This calculation is based on complete “professional days” in the forest (prices and conditions as in Sweden). If you clear a tank every now and then, you may be able to cope with 1-2 batteries. The use is individual and electricity prices differ between different countries. It’s up to you to make your own calculations on whether it would be worth investing in this or not.
Those who have been part of the testing of the 535 iFR are all struck by how powerful and effective it is. The maximum speed of the blade is 8200 RPM which can be compared to the 545 Autotune which has a maximum speed of 8800 RPM. The BLi 300 battery stores 9.4 Ah and this equates to ~0.34 kWh at 36 volts. It’s unbelievable that it can at all be compared to for example the 545 Autotune with its power of 2.2 kW. If you look at the energy value of gasoline, with the 545 Autotune consuming 1 liter (1 tank) in an hour, it’s about 1.36 kWh (15% efficiency and 9.1 kWh per liter of gasoline).
According to Husqvarna, the 535 iFR has “around 1.5 kW” in power on the shaft. In comparison, the 545 FXT has 2.2 kW. Thus, the 535 iFR has 28 % less power, but since the electric motor has a different characteristic of torque, the feeling is that the efficiency is better than with a gasoline engine.
The Husqvarna 535 iFR has three power modes that you can choose from on the handle. If the task is young forest clearing, then it works great with the lowest power position. As a result, the saw may add ~5 minutes extra on a single battery. When we tested it on heavier stock as mentioned above, the maximum position applied.
Things to watch out for
One disadvantage of battery-powered products in general is that they are “deadly silent”. The lack of idle noise must be noted. If you need to sharpen the blade, the saw MUST be turned off and the battery removed. This is very important because if you press “ON” it will immediately start working (it has no starter cord).
When storing the battery saw, the battery must be removed and preferably stored away from the saw. Just think about what can happen if children start playing with the it.
One thing that can be perceived as a little annoying is that the 535 iFR is a bit slow at the start. The blade jerks somewhat before kicking in. If you are in a real “flow”, this is a bit annoying. Husqvarna is aware of this and can provide software updates to the series to improve this. This is great, even if it is not a huge thing (if you have a constant spin on the blade you will never notice). The 535 iFR has Bluetooth connectivity and through their free app for smartphones you should be able to make software upgrades on the saw in the future. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to test the app at this time.
Something else that was pointed out by experienced clearers during the test is that the saw is not delivered with Husqvarna’s best harness, the Balance XT. It’s one of the best harnesses out there today, and along with Stihl:s the “de-facto standard”. The simpler one that comes with this machine does the job, but it doesn’t have the same ergonomics as the Balance XT.
The 535 iFR is a positive experience and a step in the right direction when it comes to battery operated clearing saws. The weight is low, the power is good and the battery lasts as long as a tank on a gasoline powered saw.
It’s much quieter than a petrol machine, although there is more noise in the blade than one might think. You should wear hearing protection, goggles and a helmet with visor as well. It doesn’t smell of gasoline and it’s quiet when idle. In addition, you do not need to start it up again after a break, which might be worth something.
For forest owners it can be tempting to both clear and trim with this machine, but it is a bit annoying to switch between tools. This can be done relatively quickly when having done it a few times, however.
One target group that may appreciate this product is older forest owners. The weight you need to carry around becomes increasingly crucial as we age. It’s also very much appreciated that you don’t need to start the saw with a starter cord.
The saw is IP rated according to IPX4, which means that it’s water resistant. The test for this is carried out by spraying 10 liters of water per minute over the test object for 5 minutes, with a pressure of 80-100 kPa. We have not tested the saw in rain but have no reason to think that it will not be able to do this. Forestry’s tests were also conducted during the summer, so we can’t say anything about how well it works in snow and cold conditions.
Even if the 535 iFR does not reach the level of the more powerful all-purpose machines (eg Husqvarna 545 Autotune), the performance is high in light conditions. This may lead to more of these popping up as professional contractors choose to invest in this system. It’s probably not wrong to be able to offer “fossil-free forest clearing” considering today’s environmental debate. Maybe it’s even worth paying a few extra bucks for the client?