The trick to finding the right size wood chipper is to categorize the material you plan on chipping based on type and diameter. The type helps determine whether you need a shredder, a chipper, or a model that has both shredding and chipping features. The diameter helps calculate the feed capacity requirements for the chipper.
In this article, we discuss each of these steps in-depth to help you find the right size machine for your needs. We also recommend reading our wood chipper buying guide. In the guide, we review the best chippers for the money and provide a comprehensive analysis of important considerations when buying a wood chipper.
The following steps can help you find the right size chipper for your needs. In the first step, we'll help you categorize the type of material that you plan on shredding or chipping. In the second step, we'll help you calculate the diameter of the material that you want to chip. After you go through both of these steps, you'll know exactly what size chipper you need.
Some of the types of material that you might want to chip or shred include:
If you plan on chipping more exotic materials, then be sure to check out our list of things you can put in a chipper.
The season of fall is beautiful but it also brings a sense of dread with all the leaves to rake. It's a lot of work to rake leaves and the worst part is that leaves continue to fall for several weeks. So it takes a couple of weekends to finish the job.
So what do most people do?
The two good options are using a lawn vacuum or using a shredder. A lawn vacuum is expensive (usually $1,000 or more) so unless you have money to burn, a leaf shredder is the better choice.
Usually, a standalone shredder (one without a chipper) costs less than $200 and can reduce the leaves down from 15 bags to 1 bag. You can even use the shredded leaves as compost for your garden and landscape. If you don't have a garden, you can spread the shreddings on your lawn as fertilizer because of its high nitrogen content.
A wood shredder uses claws (which look like the opposite side of a hammer) rotating at a high speed to shred the leaves and other material. The design of the hammers allows the machine to reduce the organic material down to a very fine consistency. A standalone wood chipper (without a shredding feature) can't do this because the leaves will clog and jam the machine.
The next type of yard work that homeowners deal with is trimming bushes and shrubs. It takes hours every year to trim your roses, shrubs, and other plants for the spring. But what should you do with the clippings? Now be honest... have you ever just mulched over the stuff you cut off?
Instead of mulching over top, the better way to deal with landscape clippings (and also small twigs) is to use a shredder or a chipper. Either machine will work because they can both handle this type of material. Just be aware that a shredder will do the job easier because of the lack of guard flaps on the input hopper. You will also get much smaller pieces when you use a shredder, instead of a chipper.
Another type of material you might deal with on your property includes branches and small tree limbs.
You could end up with branches on your lawn in various circumstances:
The final type of material is invasive brush that you want out of your property. If you have a couple of acres, then clearing out brush is an annual chore.
One way to get rid of yard brush is to burn it in a fire pit or bonfire. But the downside to burning is you'll lose all the valuable organic material that could feed your landscape. The alternative to a fire is chipping the brush and using it as compost or free mulch for your plants.
In this instance, if you have a constant supply of brush, then a standalone shredder will not work because most brush exceeds its shredding capacity. We'll talk more about this in step 2 below.
The second step to finding the right size wood chipper is to calculate the diameter of the material you want to process. Once you know the diameter you need, then you can choose a wood chipper capable of handling that size.
In general, most standalone shredders can shred material up to 1/2" in diameter. If the majority of the organic material you need processing is leaves, twigs, and small branches, then you can probably get away with just a shredder.
As we move beyond half-inch material, a standalone shredder becomes less viable and you begin to need the features that a wood chipper offers. A chipper has one or more blades (different from shredding hammers) attached to a heavy flywheel which are designed to handle larger diameter material such as branches and tree limbs.
A non-commercial chipper is generally designed to handle material up to 2.5 inches in diameter. Unless you purchase a higher-end model, continually feeding branches greater than two inches wide could prematurely dull or deform the blades.
The final category is wood chippers designed to handle 3-inch to 4-inch branches (anything above that size constitutes a commercial tree chipper which you might want to rent). But... this is where it gets a little dicey. Some manufactures claim their machines can handle 3-inch branches, but to reduce costs, they use thinner blades which can prematurely dull with extended use.
So if you can't always rely on a manufacturer's claims regarding cutting capacity, what should you do? The trick is to compare the cutting capacity to the engine's horsepower. In general, a 10 horsepower engine is the minimum needed to effectively chip 3-inch diameter branches and 14 horsepower is preferred. Why is this? Because a more powerful engine is designed for larger branches and probably has thicker and more durable blades.
At this point, you should know what size chipper you need. But we have a few extra sizing tips that we want to share with you.
The ultimate chipper would be awesome, right? It could shred leaves all day long and chip anything up to 4 inches in diameter. It would also come with a fantastic warranty, a name brand professional motor, and have heavy gauge steel with solid construction. What's the downside? You're going to pay for all the bells and whistles.
So let's be realistic. What exactly do you need in a wood chipper or a shredder? You should look at your seasonal and yearly requirements and determine your average needs. Here are some examples of what we’re talking about:
If your material is 75% leaves, 20% yard clippings under 1 inch, and 5% yard clippings over 3 inches, then maybe save the money and just buy a standalone shredder. You can figure out another way to dispose of the larger diameter branches as they only take up five percent of your total.
If your material is 15% leaves, 15% yard clippings under 1 inch, and 60% branches over 2 inches then you obviously need a chipper but your leaf problem could go either way. You could buy a machine that has a shredder and chipper combined or you could just start out with a chipper and see if you want to buy a standalone shredder in the future.
In general, the quality, price, and capability of a wood chipper all increase relative to each other on a linear scale. This means that you really do get what you pay for.
Factors that influence the cost of a wood chipper:
What should you do if you don't want to break the bank? Easy. First, follow what we said in our first tip regarding sizing the chipper based on your average needs. Second, understand that a high-quality chipper can last you a lifetime, but maybe this isn't important to you? It's going to depend on your present and future needs.
Last but not least, you should always remember weight and maneuverability when choosing the right size wood chipper. How do you plan on moving it across your land? If the particular model has a tow-bar do you have a vehicle that can maneuver it where you need it? If it doesn't have a tow-bar, are you strong enough to pull it on the ground? What about across the grass?
Here is a handy cheat-sheet you can refer to when researching the perfect size chipper for your needs:
Finally, if you opt for an electric chipper shredder to save on weight, you need to keep a power source in mind. A chipper with an electric motor requires a nearby power source and you'll need either a long extension cord (depending on where you use it) or a portable generator. A chipper with a gasoline engine doesn't have the same power considerations as electric models, but it has its own considerations including spark plug replacements, gas, and oil changes.
Are you shopping for a new wood chipper? Here are some of our favorites that we want to share. Also, if you need some help, then be sure to check out our detailed buying guide. It explains some of the important considerations when shopping for a wood chipper.