Review of the Northern Tools NorthStar 3-Pt. 55 Gallon Broadcast and Spot Sprayer — Two stars out of Five

This is a first, a product review on our blog.

The reason is that Northern Tools rejected (actually didn’t even have the courtesy to respond) my less than favorable review of their sprayer I just purchased for the ranch, so problem solved.  I’ll simply publish my own review.  Since Northern Tool didn’t like my review, you have to wonder how many other unfavorable, honest reviews also went on the chopping block.  I am now very suspect of their preponderance of favorable product reviews.

Bottom line: I would not recommend this product to a friend unless improvements are made.

On to the review..

Even with our diminutive ranch (by Texas standards) there are lots of weeds and undesirable flora to control and it has turned out to be way too much acreage for spot spraying so hence the need for a larger sprayer that’s tractor mounted.  Not wanting to spend $1,200-1,500 on a larger PTO driven boom sprayer, this product caught my eye at the Northern Tool website.  It seemed to be just what I needed and at a fairly decent price (although it has a 12 volt pump and not a PTO driven pump which means less output), so order placed and sprayer delivered by truck freight a few days later.

Assembly went quickly, you just have to add the legs, a few miscellaneous parts, the

Way too short power cord

Way too short power cord

hand-held spot sprayer and you’re ready for business. It became very obvious almost immediately that the included 12V cord (on-off switch and alligator clips to clip to the battery terminals) was way too short to use with a real tractor.  The battery in my Kubota is all the way forward so the cord was about six feet (yes, six) feet too short.  Apparently the product brain trust at Northern Tool thought the 12V cord that worked for their ATV and lawn tractor sprayers would work for this product.  Uh, fellows, did anybody actually think this through?  It doesn’t work for a real tractor.  So I had to add about six feet of 14 gauge wire before I could make the product operational.

I mounted it to the Kubota’s 3-point hitch, added a few gallons of water and tested it for function and leaks.  It seemed to work fine and didn’t have any leaks so the next morning it was time to spray Grazon PD on our thistle and other undesirables.

A side note when you’re figuring out your application rate and driving speed to get the right amount of herbicide applied: the little 2.2 GPM pump will only produce about 35 PSI of pressure so the only line in the application rate chart that’s used is 35 PSI.  The broadcast spray nozzle has to be 36″ off the ground for the full spray width and for the chart to be valid.

After I got everything figured out, I started spraying.  Well, almost started spraying.  I immediately found a leaky fitting that I could not completely stop from leaking.  That’s just great, my expensive chemicals leaking on the ground and no easy way to off-load the 30 gallons of product so I could leak-chase. I decided I had to live with the leak and started spraying.

While spraying I discovered a design flaw (first of several.)  The pressure gauge is mounted way too low for it to be easily seen from the operator’s seat.  It’s important to

The difficult to see pressure gauge

The difficult to see pressure gauge

keep an eye on the gauge to be certain you’re at the right pressure and that the spray nozzle hasn’t packed up, so I was constantly craning my head and twisting my body to get an occasional glance at the gauge.  When I did manage to see the gauge, I discovered the pump was cycling and off – it should have been operating continuously at 35 PSI.  Great – what now.  After removing various fittings (while losing more chemicals) I traced the problem to the broadcast spray nozzle filter screen insert – it was almost completely blocking the product flow.  Why I have no idea, there was zero detritus caught in the filter.  Solution, remove the filter and spray.  Then things started to finally go my way 🙂 .

Ye Olde Missing Drain Bung

Ye Olde Missing Drain Bung

After spraying my 30 gallons of Grazon, it was time to clean up the sprayer.  At that point, I discovered serious design flaw #2.  Northern Tool was too cheap to install a one dollar drain bung in the tank!  There is no drain bung.  What?! The product designer/planners must not have ever used a large sprayer before, I suppose they think you can clean out and drain a 55 gallon tank by crawling under the sprayer and unscrewing a little 1/2″ hose fitting.  To put it mildly, I was astounded at this oversight.

While I’m ripping into the product, there is another area for improvement.  As they have it

Where they expect you to drain the tank

Where they expect you to drain the tank

plumbed, the spot sprayer (the hand held wand) is always active, i.e., there is no three-way valve to throw to select either broadcast spray or hand-held wand.  I discovered this when I saw one of the hose clamps on the spray wand leaking.  This was an easy fix fortunately.  On the positive side, I really liked the spray wand although it needs to be a foot or two longer.

Where to from here, or after a complete re-work, turning this Two Star sprayer into a Five Star sprayer….

I’m going to completely re-plumb the sprayer with 3/4″ hose, change the little 2.2 GPM pump for a 5.5 GPM (I already have the pump), add a three-way valve to either select  broadcast spray or the spray wand, replace the spray wand with a better model and replace the short PVC hose on the wand with a 25′ rubber version.  I’ll weld on a bracket for the pressure gauge (I’ll look for a larger diameter gauge while I’m at it) to bring it up to operator eye-level.  If I get industrious, I might also make a couple of spray booms for it.  The big issue with a single broadcast spray nozzle is chemical drift if there’s much wind blowing – the nozzle is 36″ off the ground which is actually quite a bit.  Boom sprayers are much less sensitive to this problem because the nozzles aren’t nearly as far from the ground.