Are you tired of raking the yard all day long with nothing to show? Come fall, is your lawn covered with piles and piles of leaves, and you’re not quite sure what to do about them? Worse yet, there are always twigs and limbs that somehow seem to only grow the way you don’t want them to grow, so you have to either cut them or watch them fall in winter. On the one hand, you could burn it, but that’s more than likely forbidden by law. On the other, you could pile it up and wait for the city’s sanitation department to take it away.
The downside is that you’ll get a dead spot on the lawn wherever the pile was, as the decomposing organic material burns the living grass stalks. So, the idea is to get it away as quickly as possible, and as cleanly as possible. Luckily, there’s a solution – a chipper-shredder machine.
The chipper shredder will not only take care of the organic debris that’s cluttering up your yard but also enable you to reduce, reuse and recycle it in a way that’s good for the environment and for the wallet, being “green” in more than one way, so to speak. Whether you’ll dispose of the mulch or use it for composting, it’s up to you and your garden to decide.
What Is a Chipper Shredder?
So, what is a wood chipper shredder? In a nutshell, chippers, shredders, and combinations all have one thing in common – they cut, chip, shred and grind organic material, such as branches and leaves, to reduce it in volume and make it easier to handle for later mulching or composting. Most residential machines will be a 2-in-1 combo – chipper and shredder. To do this, these machines use sharp blades for cutting wood, as well as semi-sharp hardened flails for shredding attached to a heavy flywheel that can be powered either by gasoline or electric current. They will, like as not, have two separate chutes – the wider for loading the machine with leaves or grass, and a side chute that will be narrower, for admitting stalks, branches, and limbs. More high-end models will have downward facing hopper so you can rake in the leaves directly, without having to lift pile by pile with a shovel or bare hands. There’s also a third chute, this one for discharge, where you can either attach a collection bag (more often than not comes with the purchase), or just set it to spew out the mulch all over the lawn.
There are a few things to look out for when considering buying a chipper shredder, most important being the engine horsepower, chipper capacity, and reduction ratio. Depending on your preferred criteria, once you hit the trifecta, take the machine no matter the price. Usually, what you want to have is an engine capable of achieving at least two HP, and for heavier, thicker stuff, don’t go under six. As far as the chipper capacity goes, there are chippers that go up to four inches, but you’re more likely to find one that maxes out at three inches. Most, however, will achieve best results with green wood no thicker than two inches, while anything coming close to the max width will take some finagling (usually cutting to shorter, more manageable chunks and feeding them slowly one by one). Finally, the reduction ratio refers to how efficient the shredder is – for example, most machines will have 10:1, and great ones 20:1 reduction ratio, meaning they can take ten or twenty bags of organic debris, respectively, and reduce it to a single bag of mulch which you can dispose of as you like.
Why Buy an Electric Chipper Shredder?
Now, there are two types of chipper shredders, and depending on your own personal preferences, there are two ways to go – gas or electric. For the time being, we’ll discuss the electric-powered variant, but seeing it’s impossible to discuss one without comparing it to the other, there’ll be a mention or two of the gas-powered ones. These machines do exactly what it says on the tin – they chip and shred organic debris using an electric-powered rotary system of blades (knives), hammers, lines or a combination thereof. The differences, beyond the obvious one, are evident in that electric ones are silent, while gas one are loud; electric are smaller, gas bigger; the former are usually more lightweight, while the latter might even require a cart or a lawn tractor to tow them around; ones are less expensive, but also less mobile, while the others are a tad more expensive, but much more independent of the power source. In a nutshell, the electric chipper shredders are probably better suited for smaller yards, up to an acre, while their gas-powered counterparts come into their own on larger surfaces and in more wooded areas where there’s more heavy work.
Most electric chipper shredders are well able to handle sticks and branches up to inch-and-a-half in diameter, though some might require the user to cut the down to size. Tomato and cucumber vines should be no problem, nor beanstalks and cornstalks, although they will choke on the cobs. Even harder stuff that doesn’t exceed the recommended width will give them a pause, simply because they are not powerful enough to chip it. Shredding, on the other hand, and mulching are entirely within power limits. Electric chipper shredders are designed for light yard work, and if you need some serious power, you’ll sooner find it with gas-powered types. However, there’s at least one electric model that comes close to the power output of a gas chipper shredder – the Patriot Products CSV-2515. With a powerful 14-Amp engine that’s worth 2 HP (horse-power) the CSV-2515 is able to reduce anything up to 2½ inches in diameter into so much mulch, and still remain relatively silent.
Electric chipper shredders face one other difficulty – cabling. They, and by extension, the user, are limited by the power source and the length of the cord. Most manufacturers recommend heavy-duty 12-ga. cords no longer than 100 feet, so that’s pretty much the max radius. Still, it’s more than enough for smaller yards. Now that the drawbacks are done, let’s turn to advantages.
For one, electric chipper shredders are much “greener” than their gas-powered counterparts, as their carbon footprint is almost non-existent. Almost, because there are still some ways of producing electricity that are less than clean; otherwise, the machine itself spews out no noxious fumes (unless it shorts out, but that’s highly unlikely with proper maintenance). Moreover, these variants are incredibly silent (speaking in relative terms, of course), so you won’t have to wear ear mufflers. Protective goggles and gloves are, however, highly recommendable.
Furthermore, speaking of footprints, most electric chipper shredders are relatively small, pretty much the size of a regular garbage can (appropriate, don’t you think?), so they move easily and store efficiently, more efficiently than some other models that we’ll leave unmentioned for now. Given that they are recommended for smaller yards, the fact more or less implies occasional and not regular work, so efficient stowing does play a part. A perfect example of this is the Eco-Shredder ES1600, a 3-in-1 combo that measures pitiful 24 x 22 x 22 inches and weighs just over 70 pounds. Still, despite being compact, the unit is fairly powerful thanks to its 14-Amp motor capable of chipping branches and stalks of about inch to inch-and-three-eighths in diameter. The reduction ratio is 10:1, so if you feed it ten bags of leaves and brushes, you’ll get a single bag of mulch or compost. The power and versatility, coupled with more than approachable price, make the ES1600 one of the better bangs for the buck out there.
On a glimpse, the major advantage of the electric chipper shredder seems to be only it’s eco-friendly, but that’s barely scratching the surface. True, it’s much better both for the environment and your lungs to favor it over the gas-variant, but there’s more to it. On a balance, there are plenty of reasons to go for one – the (relatively) silent operation, small size, light weight, affordability, to name but a few. These translate into making yard work a less taxing chore, ease of storage, ease of portage, and less of an impact to the budget, respectively. Putting “green” back in “green thumb” is just a perk.