I tested the Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher on my front lawn. I used both the scarring and the dethatching cylinders, to remove the thatch on my lawn. I adjusted the height setting to suit my lawn. The trick is to remove the thatch, while digging a bit into the soil, but not ripping your entire yard up. Along with testing its detaching power, I wanted to see how well it sucked up the grass, and if I would end up raking up the grass anyway.
Dethatching your yard is an underutilized and underrated way to maintain and promote a healthy lawn. You might be asking, “what is a dethatcher used for?” Well, all of the little blades of grass that you mow that don’t make it into the lawnmower bag, as well as dead grass, and other outside debris, start to form a layer above your soil called thatch. Some thatch is good - it helps protect your grass and helps it hold nutrients in. But a thick layer of thatch does the opposite. When there’s too much thatch, fertilization and watering doesn’t reach the roots of the grass, and puts the health of your lawn in jeopardy. Below you’ll see an example of too much thatch on a lawn.
When I bought my house, the previous owners had stopped taking care of the yard for some time. It was in bad shape. In my beginning efforts to re-establish a healthy lawn, I decided to dethatch the lawn manually, which meant raking the heck out of the lawn by hand. I’ll never do that again. It took forever. It was way too time consuming and exhausting. It’s been a couple years since I attempted detaching again, and with fall approaching, now was a perfect time to try again. But this time, using an actual dethatcher. A dedicated dethatcher, like the Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher + Scarifier that I tested, makes detaching the lawn far less time consuming, and far more efficient.
After putting the Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher + Scarifier to work, it certainly has its pros and cons. Read on to see how well it worked, and if it's worth getting one for your next lawn project.
Jonathan Knoder is a freelance writer and editor and covers a variety of topics from tech to lifestyle, but he has a special affinity for audio gear and smart home tech. In the smart home space, he’s tested and reviewed everything from smart locks, and home security cameras, to robot vacuums and air quality monitors. His writing has been featured in Top Ten Reviews, Tom's Guide, SPY.com, Security Sales and Integration and Salt City Hoops. Outside of work, Jonathan is usually playing guitar and drums, at the park with his dog, or pretending to be a golfer at his local golf course.
Jonathan tested the Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher on a section of his front lawn. He ran six passes of about 30 feet each on his front lawn. Three of the passes he used the scarring cylinder and three using the dethatching cylinder. He tested how well each cylinder removed thatched from the ground, how well the machine moved across the yard, and how well it picked up (sucked up) the thatch into the trimmings bag.
Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher: key specifications
|Power||12 amps (corded)|
|Cutting width||13 inches|
|Number of positions||5|
Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher: first impressions
I’ll admit, as I was piecing the Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher together, I was sceptical on how well it would actually work. The product is lightweight, even though it's about the size and shape of one of the best lawn mowers. The main body, and wheels, are made entirely of plastic. The only metal pieces are the handles that you need to assemble, and the cylinders that do all of the thatching. The whole thing looked and felt a little flimsy.
The installation was simple. There are four metal handle pieces. The first two slide into the main body of the machine. You’re supposed to screw those in, but I found that the screws wouldn’t go in far enough to make a difference. It was kind of a pain. The other metal pieces attach with convenient hand-crank style connectors. No additional tools needed. The bag to catch the thatch quickly attaches and detaches to the back of the engine the same as any lawn mower bag. Overall, the assembly only took about 5-10 minutes.
The Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher is electric. There is a warning label tied to the handle informing the user not to use longer than a 100 ft extension cable because the machine could overheat. My front yard is about 100 feet long. And I have an extension cable that is 100 feet. I didn’t experience any trouble or overheating, but something to keep in mind if you have a very large yard.
On the left hand side of the handle is the lever to power the machine. To start it though, you need to push in the safety button. The safety button is in a funky place in relation to the handle. It’s not the most comfortable thing to push in the safety and hold the power level down with the same hand. Also, the power cable (where you plug the extension cord in) is on the same side. I found myself fumbling with the power cord, to get it out of the way, and awkwardly pressing the safety in and holding the level just to get it to go.
Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher: price & availability
For the price, you get the detacher that comes with two cylinder attachments – the scarifier and dethatcher. You’ll need to buy a extension cable to plug into a wall outlet separately.
Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher: Design
As I previously touched on, I wasn’t really expecting a machine that tears into your soil to remove thatch to be made of plastic. For something that looks and is shaped like a lawn mower, I thought that the Sun Joe AJ801E would be constructed like one as well. One area that I especially saw the overuse of plastic was the handle to adjust the height of the cylinder (or how deep it digs into your soil). The big green handle and the peg that inserts into the grooves on the body was comprised entirely of plastic, stiff, and difficult to move. You have to sort of pry the handle away from the main body of the machine to make adjustments, and it feels like with too much effort something could break. Adjusting the height was a bit of a pain because of the stiffness of all the plastic, but nothing broke in the process.
The power lever and the safety button are made up entirely of plastic as well. Like I said before, it just felt flimsy. For a power yard tool, I was expecting something more heavy duty in terms of weight and feel.
Swapping out the cylinders underneath the hood was easy though. There are two bolts you’ll need a socket wrench to undo. After those are loose, you simply pull upwards on it and the cylinder pops out on the other end. Then you just slide the other cylinder in, and reattach the bolts. Simple process overall.
One piece that wasn’t plastic (thankfully) was the scarring cylinder underneath the hood. That looked and felt exactly how I expected, and I anticipated it would do the trick, that is, if the machine had enough power to propel the cylinder through the ground. And with all of the plastic, I was sceptical of that.
Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher: performance
I plugged in the Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher + Scarifier, held down the safety, pulled the handle and I was off. Unlike a lawn mower, that has powered wheels that propel the device forward, this works more like a power tiller. The cylinder digging into the ground is actually what pushes the device forward. So, if you hear the cylinder going, and you aren’t moving anywhere, there’s a good chance the cylinder is too high off the ground. I was pleasantly surprised by the torque displayed by the dethatcher. I could certainly see the thatch it was taking up, as well as the grooves in areas of the soil that were more exposed and moist. It was doing exactly what it was supposed to do, and it was way less effort than raking up the thatch manually.
The scarring cylinder certainly took up more grass compared to the dethatching cylinder. The scarring cylinder, even though I had it placed higher on the ground, still dug deeper. The dethatcher cylinder I used closer to the ground, but took up less grass, but still did its job. The scarring cylinder should really only be used if your yard has an abundance of thatch, and to really remove it and get to the soil. Either way, both cylinders did exactly what they’re supposed to do, but if you’re unsure where to start, start with the dethatching cylinder.
That being said, the Sun Joe AJ801E doesn’t do a great job of hoovering the thatch into its small bag. It’s so small, in fact, that after about three passes of roughly 20 feet or so, the bag was full. Had I detached my entire yard, I’m guessing I would have had to empty the bag over 20 times, and that’s not an exaggeration. The bag also fell off a few times from being too full, which was annoying. Since the dethatcher wasn’t doing a great job at hoovering debris into the bag, this meant there was plenty of thatch left behind. You can see the piles of dead grass I had to rake up following dethatching my yard.
As mentioned before, this is a corded device. And since you have to go back and forth in a zig-zag pattern, like you would with a lawn mower, the cord does tend to get in the way. When you’re heading back towards the way you just came, if you’re not mindful and strategic about the cord, you’ll be doing a lot of stopping and moving the cord out of the way, like I was.
All that being said, overall, I was impressed by how much easier it was to dethatch the lawn with the Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher compared to raking it out manually, even though there was still some raking involved.
Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher: how does it compare?
If you’ve never thatched your lawn before, and hardly ever raked, you might want to consider something like the WEN 16.in 15 AMP 2-in-1 Electric Dethatcher and Scarifier, compared to the Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher. The WEN has more power and has a bigger mouth translating to fewer passes over your lawn.
The LawnMaster GVB1216 is 13 amps compared to the Sun Joe’s 12 amp power load, and like the WEN, has a bigger 16 inch mouth. The LawnMaster also features a 12 gallon bag compared to the the eight gallon bag of the Sun Joe Detacher. Again, fewer passes to dethach your lawn, and fewer trips to empty the bag.
The Blit Hard Dethatcher most closely resembles the Sun Joe Dethatcher in power, shape and size. It has a cutting width of 13 inches, same as Sun Joe, 12 amp motor, and a scarring and detaching attachment. The Blit Hard is about 40 dollars cheaper though.
Should you buy the Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher?
|Price & availability||As expensive as more powerful models||2 / 5|
|Design||Lots of plastic and a small bag||2.5 / 5|
|Performance||Dethatcher and scarring work great, but bag fills up quickly and leaves a lot of grass behind||3.5 / 5|
Buy it if...
You have a small yard
The Sun Joe AJ801E has less power and a smaller mouth than other dethatchers. Plus, you can’t use an extension cord longer than 100 ft, which limits your mobility.
You’ve never thatched your lawn before
As someone who has done this process manually, this made it much easier than doing it by hand.
Want a machine that stores away easily
You can easily detach the handles and bag, making it small enough to easily store away in your garage.
Don't buy it if...
You have a big yard
My front yard is over 100 ft wide or long. That’s right on the cusp of it being too big of a yard for this dethatcher.
You don’t want to deal with a cord
After zig-zagging back and forth, the cord definitely gets in your way from time to time. It is a hassle winding the cord back up after you’re all done.
Looking for a heavy duty machine
The Sun Joe Dethatcher is mostly plastic. It does feel a bit less sturdy than other lawn tools.
How I Tested the Sun Joe AJ801E Electric Lawn Dethatcher
I tested the Sun Joe AJ801E by running it across a section of my front lawn. I took three passes of about 30 feet each on my front lawn with the scarifier and another three passes of 30 feet with the dethatcher. I took into account how much grass it sucked up into the bag and how much I had to rake up afterwards. I also took into account the detachers ability to propel itself through the lawn and how convenient the machine was to power and operate.