Whether you live in a heavily wooded area or have less than an acre or backyard, you’re bound to be cluttered with leaves in the fall (very appropriate, come to think of it), or, alternatively, fallen branches in the spring that couldn’t bear the winter snow and ice. Seeing that burning the debris is illegal, and that most municipalities frown upon disposing of it in landfills, there’s a need for a quick and easy way to get rid of it.
Sure, the traditional raking and manual mulching is always a possibility, but it’s also time-consuming. You could also just pile it up on a compost heap, but the downside of this approach is that the decomposing organic material will burn a spot in the living grass, meaning you’ll have to say goodbye to that piece of the lawn.
For big homesteads, this makes little difference, but for those with comparatively small yards and limited space, this is far from acceptable. However, there’s a way to turn this tiresome chore into an almost pleasant activity by investing into a piece of machinery that will probably pay for itself in a season or time given the time you’ll save by using it – the chipper shredder.
The chipper shredder is not only able to make short work (yes, pun intended) of the organic debris that’s making a mess in your yard, like leaves, brushes, bark, twigs and an occasional limb, but it will also allow you to take this material and reduce, reuse and recycle it in an eco-friendly, as well as budget-friendly manner. What you decide to do with it once it’s all mulched up and ground down, it’s up to you.
What Is a Chipper Shredder?
So, what is a wood chipper shredder? In a nutshell, this is a combination of two separate machines – a chipper and a shredder. Most, but not all chipper shredders will have one added feature for reducing leaves and other smaller and softer organic material to nutritious goo – a mulcher. In the briefest terms possible, a chipper uses sharp knives and/or hammers to cut and chip stalks, branches and limbs of up to 3 inches in diameter, though there are some heavy-duty dedicated chippers that can tackle even 4-inch thick stuff.
Conversely, a shredder will make use of semi-sharp hardened steel flails to, well, shred softer organic material, such as leaves, smaller branches, twigs, potentially even vines (though this depends on the manufacturer and the model). Additionally, a shredder can take care of the chips a chipper produced and reduce them further, whereas a mulcher does exactly what it says on the tin – it takes the soft organic material, usually just leaves and cut grass, and breaks it down into useful and nutritious mulch for your lawn or garden.
As already noted, a chipper shredder will combine the features of the first two, and often the third machine, and serve the combo in a nice and compact unit. Usually, it will feature two separate chutes – a narrow side chute for chipping wood and harder materials, and a wider hopper for loading smaller, softer and easily scattered stuff like leaves and cut grass. Some models might feature a downward facing hopper that lets you rake the stuff directly, like a hoover. Finally, there’s a discharge chute designed to either accommodate a collection bag (more often than not comes with the purchase) or face outward and strew the mulch all over the lawn directly.
Now, the holy trinity of a good chipper shredder is constituted by the following: the engine horsepower, the chipper capacity, and the reduction ratio. It would be a good idea to look first to these three, and only then check out the price and warranty, even if you’re working on a budget (or especially then). For some seasonal light work, you’ll need at least two HP (horsepower). This should be enough for smaller yards where leaves and twigs are the biggest problem, but for thicker branches and limbs and daily use, you’ll be better off with 6+ HP.
When it comes to the second criterion, the chipper capacity, most dedicated chippers and chipper shredder machines will not go beyond three inches in diameter, while some may only go as far as two. Also, most manufacturers recommend cutting the limbs short and as straight as possible, so as to reduce jamming the chute and chipping mechanism. Finally, speaking of the reduction ratio, it’s worth noting that not many chipper shredders will go under 10:1, while most will be in the range between 10:1 and 20:1. This means, in a nutshell, that if you have a reduction ratio of 20:1, you can take twenty bags of organic debris and reduce the whole lot to a single bag of mulch or compost, which you can dispose at leisure.
Why Buy a Wood Chipper Shredder?
There are essentially two types of chipper shredder machines – electric-powered and gasoline-powered ones. Depending on your personal preferences and what you specifically need for your yard, you can go either way. Usually, people with smaller yards go for electric chipper shredders, while folks with bigger tracts opt for the gas ones. The primary interest of this article lies with the gas-powered chipper shredder machines, but seeing it’s nigh impossible to discuss one without mentioning the other, both will get some space here, and the drawbacks and advantages of the gas ones will be more often than not explained in contrast to their electric counterparts.
It was already mentioned that chipper shredder machines work by using a rotary system of blades, hammers, flails, lines or a combo thereof to chip and shred organic material into more manageable chunks. Beyond the obvious difference in the power source for the reduction system, there are some other differences – gas machines are louder, but more powerful, while electric ones are less loud, but also a less powerful; gas chipper shredders are also heavier, and some bigger models may require a tractor to tow them around, while electric ones are lighter; both, however, are well balanced; also, gas chipper shredders allow you more mobility, as they’re independent of any power outlet, while electric ones either need to be placed near a power source, or use a heavy-duty extension cord; gas ones, although independent and more puissant, are also less “green” than their electric counterparts.
As already noted, the main drawback of a gas-powered chipper shredder is that it’s loud even idle, so you need to wear ear mufflers in addition to protective goggles and gloves. Additionally, it needs to be stressed that these machines do leave a carbon footprint, though not as nearly large as cars. Depending on the size of the machine and motor power, it ranges anywhere from comparable to a leaf-blower to a small vehicle. As far as the ignition goes, most gas-powered chipper shredders are started by pulling the ignition cord (similar to a saw), but there are models that have ignition switch or button for easier start-up.
These chipper shredder machines are also a good deal heavier than their electric counterparts, which, on the one hand, means more problem when it comes to moving and positioning them, but on the other, they are a lot more stable, giving you a solid platform for finagling in thicker and drier limbs than you could otherwise. Luckily, most models are very well-balanced, so tilting and lugging them manually shouldn’t be much of a problem. Additionally, if the machine is too heavy, it will often feature a tow bar to allow being pulled around by a lawn tractor or whatnot,
Still, despite the drawbacks, the gas-powered chipper shredder has one enormous benefit – it’s powerful as Sam Hill, so to speak, allowing you to make short work of even three-inch thick limbs, branches, cornstalks, bamboo, or what have you, though some, like the Earthquake 14267 will have a sweet spot for branches between one and two inches in diameter. Thanks to its powerful 212cc 4-Cycle Viper Engine, it can reduce an entire buckthorn tree (branches, twigs, leaves, berries and all) to thumbnail-sized chips, with a reduction ratio of 20:1.
Additionally, gas-powered chipper shredder machines get a much better mileage than their electric counterparts, in a manner, as they’re independent of wall sockets or extension cords. Moreover, the ruggedness of these models allows them to sit comfortably on any manner of surface, giving the user a solid, stable platform to work on.
Moreover, the awesome power of gas engines allows the shredder to self-feed without clogging. For example, the 212cc Viper Engine of the Tazz Chipper Shredders K32 allows the user to take the optional vacuum kit that features a unique air gate and largest-in-class rotor, producing 20% more vacuum than similar chipper shredders. What’s interesting is that this model, not unlike many electric chipper shredders, has a humble footprint, measuring only 25.4 x 29.9 inches, so it fits quite nicely in any garage or shed.
There’s not much left to say other than reiterate that gas-powered chipper shredder engines are quite a powerful and economic tool for keeping the yard clean of organic debris. The greater mobility and engine power make them particularly suitable for wooded areas or large surfaces where there’s the need for daily yard work, or heavy-duty chipping and shredding. These models rarely feature incorporated mulchers, but the substantial shredding reduction ratio works well in its stead.