A wood chipper or shredder is a must-have tool for many homeowners who have a lot of yard waste. It allows you to repurpose yard waste into useful mulch or compost, or make it take up less space for disposal purposes. But what can you put into a wood chipper without harming yourself or the environment?
I will explain the difference between chippers and shredders, how to use them, how to keep them sharp, and what you can safely put in these machines. I’ll also explain why I think it’s worthwhile to have a chipper and which models are best for home use.
- Chipper Vs Shredder
- How to Use a Chipper Shredder
- How to Sharpen Wood Chipper Blades
- What Can You Put In a Wood Chipper?
- Are Chipper Shredders Worth It?
- What Is the Best Wood Chipper for Home Use?
- Final Thoughts On What You Can Put in a Wood Chipper
Chipper Vs Shredder
What’s the difference between a wood chipper and shredder? A chipper primarily processes wood while a shredder can handle all the material from a cut tree or bush, including leaves.
A chipper can process some green materials. However, it is not able to do it as efficiently and quickly as a shredder can. You may find that too much greenery clogs up your chipper.
Chipper blades rotate and cut wood as it moves through the chipper. However, a shredder has a robust system of hammers, knives, and open blades that pulverize anything that moves through it.
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How to Use a Chipper Shredder
To use a wood chipper, you need to read the manual, take safety precautions, and feed branches into the machine slowly and loosely.
Here are the steps to follow to operate a chipper shredder safely:
- Wear protective ear equipment, protective eye equipment, and gloves.
- Place the chipper shredder on soft, level ground.
- Turn on the chipper shredder.
- Stay in the designated safety zone.
- Loosely feed branches into the machine at the rate the manufacturer suggests.
- Keep your arms at a 90° angle to the hopper.
- Avoid adding rocks or other hidden debris that can dull blades or spit out and harm you.
- Don’t clean out the machine until it comes to a full stop and you have unplugged your chipper (electric) or removed the spark plug (gas).
How to Sharpen Wood Chipper Blades
To sharpen your chipper blades, you should remove the power source, open up the machine to access and remove the blades, and sharpen the blades with an appropriate tool.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on sharpening chipper blades:
- Unplug your chipper (electric) or disconnect the spark plug (gas).
- Remove the top hopper to access the chipper blades.
- Remove the housing. You will need a socket wrench to loosen the nuts.
- Loosen the bolts securing the blade. You will need a hex key or Allen wrench.
- While wearing safety gloves, carefully remove the blade.
- Sharpen the blade to the manufacturer’s recommended angle with a disc sander, wet wheel grinder, or belt sander. Alternatively, you can take your blade to a professional sharpening service.
Read your manual for sharpening information specific to your chipper. Large or commercial-grade chippers may have additional features that don’t quite match these instructions.
What Can You Put In a Wood Chipper?
Wood chippers can handle small branches, large tree limbs, yard debris, hedge trimmings, and dry leaves. However, if you want to process green waste, it’s best to choose a chipper with a shredder feature.
Here’s a list of items that you can put in a typical chipper shredder:
- Dry wood
- Wet wood
- Fresh limbs
- Pine cones
Avoid putting these items into a chipper:
- Pinewood with sap
- Woods that are high on the Janka scale
- Pressure-treated lumber
- Coconut shells
- Long vines
- Palm branches or fronds
- Animal feces
- Butcher waste
Will a Wood Chipper Shred Paper?
A chipper with a shredder can shred paper. However, adding paper to a machine without a shredder will cause the chipper to clog and jam.
You should only add a small amount of paper to the machine at a time. Don’t add a stack of papers more than about 1 1/2 inches thick. You will want to allow the chipper to grab the paper rather than trying to shove it through.
Can You Put a 2×4 in a Wood Chipper?
No, you should not put a 2×4 into a chipper. You should never put pressure-treated lumber into a chipper because it is too hard for your machine and may contain toxic chemicals.
Most commercial lumber is harder than untreated wood, which can damage your chipper and void your warranty.
Additionally, older lumber from before 2003 may include chemical pesticides like chromated copper and arsenate (CCA). The EPA deems these chemicals as potentially toxic to inhale.
Can a Wood Chipper Shred Plastic?
In general, it’s best not to risk putting plastic into a chipper. You can shred smaller, softer pieces of plastic, however, bigger pieces of plastic can damage the machine. Even with thinner pieces of plastic, there’s still a risk of blocking the machine and damaging the blades.
Can You Put Bamboo in a Wood Chipper?
You should never put bamboo into most chippers. Bamboo is especially hard and can cause damage to your machine.
Treated and processed bamboo can become even harder than some Brazilian hardwoods, with some bamboo flooring reaching a Janka Hardness Rating of 5000.
Most consumer chippers cannot handle extremely hard materials. However, some commercial-grade chippers for harder woods may be able to chip bamboo.
Can You Use a Wood Chipper in the Rain?
Yes. However, it is not as efficient to chip wood in wet conditions. Wet brush and wood is heavier, so the chipper may struggle more. Wet greenery and chips can also stick to the discharge chute.
After using a wood chipper in the rain, be sure to unplug it (electric) or disconnect the fuse (gas). Then, put on heavy gloves and dry the blades to remove as much moisture as possible to prevent rust.
Can Wood Chippers Shred Leaves?
Yes. However, wood shredders do a better job with leaves than chippers. Shredder blades have a greater ability to pulverize leaves, and the leaves are less likely to clog the machine.
The easiest way to shred leaves in a chipper shredder is to pile the leaves as high as possible on the top of the machine. The leaves will slowly fall down into the hopper on their own.
It’s fine if some of the leaves have attached twigs. Just be sure not to scoop up rocks with the leaves.
What to Do With Your Chipper Waste
Many people use their wood chipper waste around the yard for landscaping or compost. You can also use it as animal bedding or for fire-related purposes. Alternatively, you can dispose of it following your city’s green waste requirements.
Here are some waste repurposing ideas:
- Landscaping mulch
- Specific wood flavors for grilling and smoking
- Pathway material
- Animal bedding
- Play area cushioning
- Fire tinder
- Erosion control material
- Raised-bed gardening
- Mushroom-growing substrate
- DIY wood briquettes
Are Chipper Shredders Worth It?
Most chippers are worth it if you have a lot of yard debris that needs disposal. A chipper can make unwieldy wood and brush easier to transport, dispose of, and use. It can also save you money.
Wood chipper shredders are also a great tool if you like the idea of using yard waste to make your own landscaping, gardening, animal bedding, and fire-related resources. They can save purchasing these resources commercially.
Being able to condense yard waste into chips can also save money on bulky yard waste disposal fees or hiring someone to remove the yard waste for you.
How to Choose an At-Home Wood Chipper
When you look for a wood chipper, you should consider how you plan to use it. Choose a model based on how much power and capacity it has for your normal chipping needs, how portable it is, how much it can reduce your yard waste, and what features it has.
- Feed capacity: indicates the largest branch diameter it can chip
- Energy source: electric is easier to crank, but gas is more portable and usually more powerful
- Power: the greater the horsepower, the more power the machine has
- Reduction ratio: ratio of how many bags of yard debris to bags of chipped material
Some features you might want to consider include:
- Chipping vs. shredding: chipping wood vs. shredding additional yard waste
- Tow bar or trailer hitch: to connect to an ATV or riding lawn mower
- Tilt-down hopper: allows you to rake leaves or yard waste into the machine
- Self-sharpening blades: simplify maintenance
What Size Chipper Should I Get?
The feed capacity is one of the most important considerations when deciding which model to get. Consider the average size of the branches you will normally need to feed into the machine to determine which size is best for you.
The chipper or shredder size you need depends on the diameter of most of the wood that you need to chip:
- Less than ½ inch: most standalone shredders can process small twigs and yard debris
- 1 inch to 2.5 inches: non-commercial chippers can usually handle wood up to 2.5 inches in diameter
- 3 inches to 4 inches: you will need a chipper with at least 10-14 horsepower
- More than 4 inches: you will need a commercial-grade machine
What Is the Best Wood Chipper for Home Use?
The best wood chipper for home use depends on your needs and budget. Whether you decide to rent or buy a chipper, you need to decide if you want electric or gas, small or heavy-duty, and if you need a budget machine. Check out the two articles linked below to learn more about various styles of shredders. They are sure to give you some great insight and ideas it what type of chipper is right for you!
Final Thoughts On What You Can Put in a Wood Chipper
Wood chipper shredders are great tools to help with outdoor home maintenance. They can condense most yard waste into mulch for disposal, or the many other uses for wood chips around the yard, such as compost or even animal bedding.
Choosing the best equipment for your yard waste, putting the right things into your chipper, and keeping the blades sharp will keep your investment working for years to come.