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Gardening Articles: Care :: Tools & Equipment

Chipper Vacs Make Fall Cleanup a Snap

by Bill Crosby

How much do you hate raking? You might think this is the only question you need to ask if you're contemplating buying one of these combination chipper-and-leaf-vacuum machines, called chipper vacs. But you may want to consider several other criteria that might make your love/hate relationship with Mr. Rake pale in comparison.

Do you need a compost pile? Do you have to keep a compost pile now that your local collection service has stopped taking green waste? Is your compost pile too big or too cold, and thus too slow? A chipper vac starts looking like a pretty wonderful machine when the answers to those questions come back affirmative.

In one relatively easy operation, a chipper vac lets you clean up your garden, shred the waste into a fraction of its original volume, and bag the resulting mulch. It's not much more complicated than mowing the lawn.

Make no mistake: You'll still do some raking. It's often easier to pull leaves that are stuck in a border or around tree roots out onto the lawn than to make the switch to the chipper vac's hose attachment. And all but the biggest machines have some trouble with wet leaves and uneven terrain, so you have to do some fluffing to make sodden mats easier to pick up. But if you have lots of trees and lots of lawn, you might even start to enjoy the little bit of raking you'll be doing.

Chipper-Vac Basics

All chipper vacs have a flywheel that's mounted either vertically or horizontally. On most of these machines, the fan blades on one side of that big chunk of spinning metal create the airflow that sucks up lawn debris. Leaves shred as they pass through the flywheel housing. A combination of fixed or swinging knives or hammers mounted on the blades and/or the housing (depending on the model) chops up the debris.

Material stays in the housing until it's reduced enough to be blown out the discharge chute; on some models (the Troy-Bilt model, for instance), you can put different-sized screens in the housing to create mulches that range from finely shredded to coarsely chipped.

Most chipper vacs also have a chipping knife (some have two) mounted on the other side of the flywheel. The knife chips small branches and limbs; models with big engines usually have a slightly bigger chipper capacity: Their engines are capable of chipping hefty branches, if the knives are sharp.

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