With such a range of wood chippers on the market today, it can be difficult to understand which best suits your needs and pocket. I’ll look at the sizes, capabilities, and prices of wood chippers currently on the market and make recommendations to guide you in your buying decisions. I’ll also give you a quick update on how they work and safety precautions to observe for those new to such equipment.
I owned a 40-acre small-holding for seven years, with 20 of those acres covered in trees. With a huge wood chipper powered by a diesel truck engine capable of chipping 8-inch diameter logs, I can assure you it got a lot of use. I also learned many tips and tricks for using a wood chipper, so stay with me for the next few minutes, and I’ll run you through what you need to know to make the right buying choice.
What Are Wood Chippers And How Do They Work?
The principle behind a wood chipper is a motor that drives a large, heavy rotating mass, on which hardened and sharpened blades are attached. The motor can be electric, powered by gasoline or diesel, or through a powered takeoff (PTO) which uses a tractor to power the blades. The last of these is normally used on larger acreage.
The blades are angled to shear off small wood chips when a branch is guided onto them. The woodchipper designer provides a feed chute angled to guide the branch onto the spinning blades at the optimum angle for cutting.
The large spinning mass maintains the inertia of the blades allowing them to chew their way through the branch. The blade’s rotation then throws the chips through a chute to be captured in a bag or form a pile on the ground.
Over time, the blades will become dull from use, requiring removal and sharpening. Some woodchipper designs have double-edged blades that you can reverse to allow greater cutting times before sharpening is required.
You will read a lot about the so-called reduction rate of wood chippers. The reduction rate measures how small the chips are as a ratio, with 8:1 being coarse and 20:1 being fine. Frankly, I don’t place a lot of store by this figure. Those figures are generally a by-product of motor power, how large a bite the blades take from the branch, how sharp the blades are, how hard the wood is, or whether there are secondary hammers to reduce the chips further. If really small pieces are important to you for compost, go for a greater reduction, and if you want ground cover, go for less, but it simply doesn’t matter for most of us.
There are some important precautions to observe when using a wood chipper:
- Always ensure the woodchipper is on stable flat ground before use.
- Wood chips and dust can be produced in large numbers and move at high speed, and branches can flick back at you. Always wear eye protection and gloves when using a wood chipper.
- Never place your hands into the feed chute for the chipper. If something gets jammed, ensure the woodchipper is turned off and the blades have stopped revolving before attempting to clear the blockage.
- Never feed in branches larger than the maximum capacity of the machine.
- Don’t force too many branches in at once, and do allow the blades to regain their speed between branches.
I’ve segregated the selections into three groups:
- Small backyards
- 1/2-acre to 3-acre properties
- 3-acre properties and above
Within those groups, I’ll identify a couple of price options to help you find a wood chipper that suits your wallet and your wood chipping needs.
Best Budget Buy – Sun Joe CJ601E Electric Wood Chipper/Shredder
This model is the basic offering from Sun Joe. It’s rated for sticks up to 1-½ inches; however, it will struggle if you have dry sticks that size. If the sticks are still green, it’ll manage, but you’ll need to be patient and allow it to spin up again between sticks. If you’re only doing branches around 1-inch diameter, this model is fine.
It has a 14 amp electric motor which will cope as long as you don’t overload it. You will also need to place a bucket under the outlet, as it doesn’t come with a catcher. You do receive a paddle with which to push the sticks through the machine, so avoid putting your hands in the hopper.
If you’re only doing small sticks, brushes, and leaves, this model will be fine for your use.
Best Performance – Sun Joe CJ603E 15-Amp 1.7-Inch Cutting Diameter
Manufactured by the same company as our best budget buy, this model has more power, a larger cut capability, and comes with a catcher to collect the chips.
This model has a more powerful 15-amp electric motor, and the design of the cutting mechanism is different from the smaller Sun Joe models. Owners report that this model is less likely to jam and clog up than the earlier designs, so it appears Sun Joe has got the design right.
The CJ603E takes almost 1-3/4 inch branches, but with all maximum figures for wood chippers, try to avoid anything that large unless it’s green. Dry branches that size will test the unit and more quickly blunt the blades.
Half-acre to 3-acre properties
Best Budget Buy – SuperHandy Wood Chipper 7HP 3-in-1
This gasoline-powered model offers three different operations to chip, shred, or mulch. It’s rated for sticks to 3-inches, which go into a special slanted chute on the side of the unit. It can also take material up to 1/2-inch into a large hopper on top, ideal for leaves, foliage, and twigs. As an optional extra, you can purchase a vacuum kit, which allows you to suck up leaves directly from the ground for mulching.
Fitted with a 7-horsepower, 4-stroke engine, you’re untethered from the main’s electricity, allowing you to travel around your property to where the chipping and shredding are needed. While you can easily maneuver this unit by hand, there is also an optional tow-bar kit should you wish to move it with your lawn tractor or ATV. Depending on which state you live in, it’s worth noting that the engine complies with emission requirements, being EPA CARB certified.
Best Performance – Champion Power Equipment 200905 3-Inch Portable Chipper-Shredder
While this Champion chipper offers the same specifications as our best budget buy, it’s an overwhelming plus that for about $100 more, you get almost twice the horsepower. You learn rapidly with these specifications that although a manufacturer will tell you its product can handle up to a certain size branch, some of them operate at their very limit when you try to chip that diameter. This unit has power in reserve. I also like that it has a rubber screen over the stick feed chute to restrict material kickback.
This unit takes up to 2-inch twigs, foliage, and leaves in the top chute or sticks to 3-inches diameter in the side chute. The only small gripe I have is that while the wheels on this unit are a good diameter; they’re a bit thinner than I’d like. This may or may not be an issue for you, depending on your terrain. Given that engine power, I can forgive the wheel issue!
3-acre properties and above
Best Budget Buy – All Power America APWC460E w/Electric Start
The APWC460E is listed as a budget buy simply because there are a few points about it I’d like to see improved. Nonetheless, it has an electric start, is rated to chip 6-inch branches, and judging by some owners’ feedback, it’ll chip whatever branches you throw at it.
With a powerful engine, that by my calculations comes in around 27 horsepower, this chipper is ideal for slightly larger properties. Given that it weighs over 400-pounds, it has a towbar for tractor or ATV use, as this is not a unit you want to be manhandling. It also has reversible blades to double the time needed between sharpening.
Now for my gripes. The wheelbase is quite narrow for a machine with a reasonably high center of gravity, and I’d have preferred it to be wider for easier towing. I’m also not impressed with the location of the emergency stop button, as owners report how easy it is to push it when feeding the brush.
That aside, it’s a powerful little unit that’ll do what it says on the tin, so given the caveats mentioned, I feel it’s well worth the outlay.
Best Performance – NorTrac PTO Chipper – 5 1/2-inch Chipping Capacity
Just in case you aren’t sure what a PTO is, it’s a power take-off. This means that this NorTrac chipper requires you to own a tractor of at least 20 horsepower that can power it.
This chipper sports a large 75-pound flywheel and is ideal for those with larger branches to chip. Rated to chip up to 5-1/2 inches, I suggest you use anything larger for firewood. It has the mounts for the tractor 3-point hitch and a couple of legs, so you don’t need to operate it while suspended, and you can easily disconnect and store it when not in use. Because you’re using a tractor, you have power to spare, so this chipper will handle everything you can throw at it, and more.
The blade on the flywheel is reversible and is easily flipped over when one edge begins to need sharpening. The large bearings supporting the flywheel have easily accessible zerk fittings for regular greasing.
This chipper is a simple and robust piece of equipment, and if you have a property that demands a chipper of this size, I highly recommend it.