Concrete finishers usually know what they want in a power trowel, says Greg Fricks, of The Fricks Co., Fort Worth, Texas. They know whether they want a walk-behind or a ride-on, and whether they want a 24-, 36-, or 48-inch rotor. However, beyond that, there are still a number of variables that can affect the ultimate buying decision. Engine size and type, steering mechanism, and other features can be important in choosing the right power trowel for your needs. The following tables can help when it's time to make that choice.

Ride-on power trowels

For ride-on machines (see click here to see comparison of ride on trowels), steering is one of the primary features to consider, and the options are essentially manual and powered. Ride-on trowels from the very beginning were steered by brute force. Moving around the slab was done by mechanical levers to adjust the rotors (not unlike a helicopter) to move the machine forward, backward, left and right. Over the years, companies developed power-assisted models—such as Allen Engineering, which features hydraulic steering, and Wacker, which offers electronic steering. These powered models, though more expensive, are easier to maneuver and don't wear out the operator.

Table 1: Ride-on Power Trowels
Table 1: Ride-on Power Trowels

However, that doesn't mean the end of manual machines. They still are found a little down the price scale. In addition, some craftsmen—such as Greg Fricks—prefer the manual machines with manual blade pitch control because they give the finisher a closer feel for the work.

The power-assisted systems also frequently come with torque converters and variable speed clutches, allowing the operator to work at slow panning and high-speed burnishing with the same machine.

Table 2: Walk-behind Power Trowels
Table 2: Walk-behind Power Trowels

Engine or motor type is also an important consideration when buying a ride-on trowel. The primary choice is between gasoline and diesel. Gas engines tend to be more common, though diesels have a few advantages that make them worth considering. Diesel engines give you more power for more torque, and they last longer than gasoline engines. Diesels also can be used in enclosed spaces, though “using a trowel indoors or in an enclosed area is best avoided,” says Multiquip's concrete product manager Warren Faler. “We do not recommend it due to the health and safety risks. But, if a job must be completed in those environments, adequate ventilation is a must. Contractors should use diesel-powered trowels fitted with a catalytic converter since they are cleaner burning than their gasoline counterparts.”

Again, as seen in the tables, manufacturers offer a range of engine sizes from as low as 20 hp to turbocharged models with 40-, 50-, even 87-hp engines.

Another feature available on ride-on power trowels is overlapping rotor models. These used to be more common, though the popularity of float pans is making them less so. Those who really want an overlapping trowel, though, need to go to the larger manufacturers, such as Allen Engineering, Multiquip-Whiteman, or Terex, to get it. The bigger guys also offer larger rotor sizes, up to 60 inches in diameter. This provides a finishing width of as much as 10 feet with each pass. These bigger models come with 5- and 6-blade rotors.