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Everything You Need to Know About How to Use a Wood Chipper

Picture this – it’s late summer or early fall, and you’ve spent the day cleaning your yard of all the debris and unwanted remains that keep the grass from staying green through the end of the season. While today, you’ve probably packed it all up neatly in bags, let’s pretend it’s thirty years ago, and you’re simply burning it in your backyard.

It’s a bonfire, complete with food and drink and friends and family. But those days of celebration are gone, with too many rules and regulations. So, you’ve instead spent hours stuffing bags with the debris and are too tired to cook out after all that work. And you still haven’t tended the flower beds! It’s exhaustive work when you have to do it by hand. But what if there was a way to make cleanup easier and, at the same time, care for other parts of your yard? This could be a great time to consider a wood chipper.

It may sound a bit outrageous, but there are plenty of ways having a wood chipper can come in handy around the home, especially when it comes to taking the ‘work’ out of ‘yard work’.

What is a Wood Chipper?

A wood chipper is a great solution to the messy yard work that leaves a lot of leaves to clean up and dispose of. Basically, the power tool consists of an engine and ‘teeth’ – razor-sharp blades – that chew up the various leaves, twigs, and other debris that’s left behind after you trim the bushes, rake the yard, and mow the lawn. With a wood chipper, you avoid the trouble of having to gather all of that debris into bags and place it for pickup, or the necessity of finding somewhere to take it and dump it when pick up isn’t an option.

Chippers and wood shredders, similar items, can run on electric or gas power, and they come in various sizes and abilities. Many professional services use them, but they can be an excellent addition to your personal property and tool collection that saves you a lot of trouble and time. Because they don’t have a lot of parts, there is minimal maintenance compared to many other power tools, so the time you spend taking care of the machine won’t add up to negating the time you save on your yard work and cleanup.

How to Use It

When it comes to using a wood chipper, the instructions are pretty self-explanatory, with a few variations, depending on the type of chipper or wood shredder you choose to purchase. However, this simple, quick use guide can really make it easy to get acquainted with and use your wood chipper safely, even if you’re a novice at the practice.

  1. Start by placing your wood chipper on level ground. You don’t want the machine to move, tilt, or fall over while in use, as this could be a very dangerous situation. If there is a slight incline to the spot you need to use, make sure the chute through which the product is expelled faces downhill or downwind, away from where you’re feeding the material into the chipper.
  2. Most chippers for wood have a deflector, and most chutes are adjustable. Make sure both of these are set to control the direction and speed in which the chips and mulch are released. You don’t want them landing too close to the machine and creating a hazardous mess, but you don’t want them flying erratically all over the yard, either. The point of having a chipper for wood is to reduce mess for cleanup later. You should also assure that the deflector keeps any debris from blowing upwind into your face to avoid injury or compromised the clarity of vision.
  3. If you’re hauling your chipper with another piece of equipment, set the parking brake to assure that piece of equipment (such as a tractor) doesn’t move, either. Most of the chippers for wood for personal use won’t be large enough, however, to warrant another machine to haul them around.
  4. Check your power source. Assure that any gas-powered engine has enough fuel to complete the job, and check the cord on an electric wood chipper to assure it’s not crimped, damaged, or unplugged prior to operation.
  5. Assuming you have the proper garb in place, start the chipper. As you start to feed the power tool, use a long stick to push any material that seems hesitant to go through. Never feed anything larger than recommended into your chipper or it might back up and spit the material back at you, causing blunt force trauma or a flurry of dangerous chips that could scratch and cut you. Also, be sure that any twigs, branches, and small logs you feed into the machine go in blunt end first. This makes wood chips more consistent and allows the wood to feed more easily through the chipper.
  6. Feed a mixture of dry and green leaves through the wood chipper rather than separating the two. Using green leaves with the dead ones will help lubricate so that the dryness doesn’t make the work more difficult for the chipper. By the same right, adding dry leaves to green ones will assure that the moisture doesn’t become too much and end up clogging the machine. A mixture of the two will also keep the blades within the chipper cooler rather than becoming hot and dangerous to use.
  7. Always stand to the side rather than in front of the hopper, where you feed the material in. This can help avoid serious injury in case some debris escapes forward or the machine becomes stuck and launches material forward.

Following these directions can make operation easy and safe so that you quickly get the job underway. Eventually, you’ll become more familiar with the use of a wood chipper, and it will be automatic practice to operate according to specifications. However, always be sure to read the full operating manual for any wood chipper or other power tools to assure you know everything about how to use them properly since no two machines are exactly the same.

Safety Practices

As with any power tool, wood chippers require careful attention to safety when using them. There are a number of dangers you can easily avoid by working properly with your wood chipper.

Clothing and Attire

First, you want to make sure any clothing you wear is tightly fitted, with no loose ends or baggy part. Make sure your shirt tails are tucked in and that you don’t have any strings – like on a hoodie – hanging that can be grabbed by the teeth of the chipper. Wear safety gloves to avoid any scratches or nicks to your hands, steel-toed shoes or boots so that any falling debris doesn’t cause injury to your feet, and safety goggles so that pieces that may fly out of the wood chipper don’t scratch your eyes or damage your vision in other ways.

Operation

When feeding debris into the chipper, use a long stick or pole (such as a broomstick or long twig) to push the material into the mouth. This will avoid the possibility of a sleeve getting caught and keep hands and fingers a safe distance from the blades. In addition, make sure that the wood chipper is on a flat surface or that the expulsion is facing downhill and downwind to avoid the wood chips and other mulch from flying back at you. Always turn the machine off when not directly in use, such as between feeds and loads. Keep the wood chipper away from high traffic areas and avoid using it with other people around for best practices.

Cleaning and Maintenance

To make sure the area is clear and safe, clean up after yourself. Make sure the area around the chipper is clear and clean before using, and take the time to clean the power tool with each use since filters can clog and blades can get backed up with bits of wood and debris. Also, follow a maintenance schedule so that the machine continues to operate properly without risking damage to the wood chipper, you, or others.

Careful Attention

Never get distracted while using a chipper. You should have nothing else to catch your attention while the machine is in use, since it is just as hazardous as any power tool, especially with the sharp blades that can draw you in and keep chomping. Like a chainsaw, a chipper for wood without careful attention to what’s going on with the machine – and what’s going on around you – can result in serious and even life-threatening injuries.

Maintaining Your Wood Chipper

While practicing safety and properly operating your wood chipper is essential, some of the biggest detriments come from not properly maintaining power tools, and your chipper machine is no different. In fact, dirty oil, clogged filters, corroded spark plugs, and dull blades can all lead to the machine not functioning properly and getting damaged, or worse, causing injury to you as the operator.

Create a routine you follow every time you use your chipper for wood, as well as for regular annual maintenance, to assure that your power tool is always in good working order. Start by draining the oil and replacing it with fresh, clean oil at least once a year (for gas-powered wood chippers). Draining can take some time, so while that’s going on, you can take additional steps for maintenance.

You’ll want to check the air filter, which can get clogged over time with so much use. You’ll have to take the filter out to look at it. if it’s mostly clean, you can simply dust it and return it to a position. If it’s fairly dirty, you have the option of cleaning it or replacing it. if it can be cleaned and you choose to do so with water, you don’t want to replace it in the wood chipper until it’s completely dry, as a wet filter will clog easily.

You should also inspect the spark plugs, looking for corrosion on the wide end. If they look good, you can simply put them back in place. If you see any evidence of corrosion, they should be replaced. Remember that these are inexpensive parts, and it makes sense to spend the small amount of cash to replace them if there’s any question as to whether or not they are still good.

Once you’ve finished this, the oil should be fully drained, and you can replace it with a fresh batch. Make sure to add the proper amount to mix with the gas so you have the right fuel for operation.

Most importantly, check the blades. You may need to sharpen or clean them, since debris can get stuck in the teeth and, with a great deal of use, they can dull easily over time. If you’ve used your wood chipper for 10 to 15 hours, it’s probably time to either sharpen or replace the blades. You can sharpen them yourself with a wet grinder, or you can take them to a machinist to have it done if you’re not comfortable with the particular angles and nuances of sharpening the blades.

Air Filter

Spark Plug

Wood Chipper Blade

Why Have a Chipper for Wood?

Yard work is hard enough without the cleanup that follows. If you’re lucky enough to have debris pickup where you live, you have to spend hours cleaning the debris from your yard, stuffing into lawn-sturdy trash bags, and piling it at the curb to be hauled away. However, this isn’t a legal practice in many areas, which means you have to then find a place where yard waste can be dumped and haul it away yourself.

Even in areas where burning your lawn debris isn’t restricted (and it is in most areas these days) you often have droughts and other conditions, such as heat waves, during which there are burn bans, so you’re still prohibited from burning the debris and saving yourself a lot of trouble. Having a chipper machine reduces the work you put into the cleanup effort and slashes time off the chore of caring for your lawn. Rather than packing and tying off bags and hauling them, you can simply rake your debris into small piles and bring the wood chipper to the localized stack, feeding the material in and producing wood chips that are much easier to bag.

In addition, those wood chips can be used as mulch, something that’s a great addition to areas of your lawn and garden. You likely have shrubs or flowering plants where mulch is necessary for aesthetics as well as keeping your soil moist and insulated through the year. Rather than tossing your lawn debris and wasting it while spending more money on purchasing mulch, you can recycle your own materials through a chipper, making your own mulch product to better other parts of your lawn and garden. This makes a wood chipper one of the most valuable additions to the power tools you keep for yard work.

Mulch

Choosing a Type of Chipper

Wood chippers come in various types, sizes, and power sources. Choosing the right one for your application and needs is important since you want it to last and perform the jobs you require.

Some wood chippers are electric, with cords that plug into the wall. These can be advantageous for several reasons:

  • An electric wood chipper is often more cost-effective. They are more affordable to purchase from the start, and they don’t require an additional fuel source, so you don’t need to purchase gas every time you want to use them.
    · Because they are smaller and don’t have the added weight of fuel and large engine parts, they are lighter and easier to move around.
  • Electric wood chippers are also less maintenance, making them easier to maintain for your use.

However, you’ll also find that electric wood chippers are less powerful, and they don’t handle larger jobs. Therefore, you have to avoid feeding them large branches that they can’t handle. In addition, because they have to be plugged in, the range of motion is much less, always needing to be close enough to an outlet for the cord to reach.

By contrast, gas-powered wood chippers are more mobile because they don’t have a cord, even though they tend to be heavier. Because they use fuel, they also pack a bigger punch when it comes to power and capability, handling larger loads and bigger pieces. While they tend to cost more and require more maintenance, they also are sturdier and often last longer, with parts able to be cleaned and reused, requiring less replacement need.

Choosing the type of blade you want is also important. Different types create different sizes, shapes, and consistencies of wood chip product. Some are more uniform than others, and you’ll find that some wood chippers have the capability to adjust the output, with multiple options for blades offering larger or smaller wood chips. Do your research so you get the mulch and wood chips you want as a product of your work.

Keep in mind, too, that smaller is better if you’re inexperienced. You don’t want to take on a big machine if you’ve never used a wood chipper or are a novice at the practice. You can always upgrade later, if you like, assuming you have a large yard with lots of debris, a yard that endures harsh weather and ends up with a lot of material to be chipped, or lots of trees and bushes that require frequent trimming.

Electric Wood Chipper

Gas-powered Wood Chipper

Conclusion

Having a chipper machine for your wood debris makes taking care of your lawn much easier so you have more time in the future to take care of other things or simply enjoy the result of the chore. You’ll have more time to relax and use your yard, especially if you’re aware of proper operation and safety practices.

Your lawn is your outdoor space, and you should be able to take advantage of your work at your leisure. Without a wood chipper, you may find yourself working so hard you’re too exhausted to relax outdoors. Purchasing a wood chipper and knowing how to use it are important steps to creating a beautiful space that doesn’t take up all your spare time.

About The Author

Candace Osmond

Award Winning Designer, Candace Osmond has been in the industry for over a decade. She studied Interior Decorating & Design and is also an accomplished writer and multi-published author. When she's not typing away from the comforts of her desk, Candace can be found travelling to warm destinations, tending to her garden, or enjoying the outdoor haven that is her backyard. Candace currently resides in the breathtaking Maritimes of Eastern Canada with her husband, two beautiful kids and one slobbery bulldog.

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