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which to buy: wood chipper vs wood chips  RSS feed

 
Posts: 18
Location: Skagit County, WA
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I'm guessing plenty of people will say don't buy either of these things, but I'm not able to take advantage of chip drop (my land is semi-remote and I'm unwilling to leave the security gate down 24/7). So that leaves three options: buy in wood chips, rent a chipper and make my own wood chips, or buy a chipper and make wood chips forever (or until it breaks down). There is a 4th option, cut and inoculate with mushroom spawn and spread the spent wood after it has broken down - I'm looking forward to being able to do this in 3-10 years, but I want a chip supply sooner as well.

My research so far:
* Purchased chip prices vary, but generally fall $10-$30/yard and a ~$80 delivery fee (low end is mystery chips mixed with some sawdust from the local mill, higher end is from a landscaping nursery place that will guarantee the tree in the mix).
*$500-$1500 to purchase a chipper that can handle up to ~3inch diameter branches (the price range is vast, lower end is harbor freight, higher end is craigslist and other stores)
* $140/day to rent a 4 inch diameter capacity chipper locally ($560/week)

And of course the bigger chippers are *way* more expensive, I'm seeing used ones on craigslist for upwards of $3000. That said, I'm not interested in a big chipper, they're just too dangerous for my liking. Not that I wouldn't treat the smaller chipper with healthy respect, but the smaller ones aren't capable of eating an entire person the way the big side loaders are (sorry for the morbid imagery).

I think that I could chip just my branch fall with one of the ~3 inch capacity ones and get all the chips I could ever use, but of course then I have to go out and gather and chip them, I enjoy walking the woods anyway but I shouldn't discount this time spent when figuring out my math. Then thinking of time spent gathering materials I circle back to the convenience of delivery - how much is it worth for the wood chips to just show up? I'm not sure yet.

Anybody else who went through this thought process I'd love to hear what you decided on! I'm leaning toward buying a small capacity chipper, but trying to make sure I don't waste the money and haven't missed some obvious alternative.
 
ashley bee
Posts: 18
Location: Skagit County, WA
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Oh geez, I should have searched better before posting! I was immediately pointed toward this similar thread: https://permies.com/t/63272/Wood-chipper-advice

If a mod wants to delete this feel free, I may do so myself in a bit if nobody else has any suggestions.
 
pollinator
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I probably expressed my dissatisfaction of a bought chipper that should handle 3" sticks. It didnt. It wasn't an off brand either. I would accumulate and rent a big one in the future, but i usually get access to tree trimmer chips.

 
master steward
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Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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There might be another option.  Do you have the means to haul a trailer behind your vehicle?  I go to a nearby town and get wood chips from them for free.  Twice a year they go around collecting leaves and branches and they chip the branches and dump them in a huge pile.  I just need a trailer, truck and a pitch fork and I have unlimited chips.  Some work required...
 
ashley bee
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Location: Skagit County, WA
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Thanks Mike! I do actually have a small trailer, I don't know if my neighborhood has a free pickup option like that but I'll look into it!

I'm also feeling thoughtful after reading through Paul's post on the other thread (https://permies.com/t/63272/Wood-chipper-advice#539940), I had not considered trying to use clippers to make my mulch - it seems like it'd be pretty laborious but I'll certainly give it a try this weekend.
 
pioneer
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I bought one.  It's makes chips that are much,  much better than the ones you get from the city or from a tree service.  The chips are much smaller and I chop young living trees in areas that need to be thinned as well as from trees i choice just for making wood chips.  Since the chips are smaller and I'm chipping them with leaves and green bark, they break down until good soil more readily.  They also keep weeds down better because the air gaps are smaller.  The drawback is that it takes a lot of time and material to make a lot of chips.  If i run out of small material to chip, i get a couple truck loads of chips from the city. I run them though my chipper to get the smaller better chips and mix green material in with them.
 
Posts: 626
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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I have finally been overwhelmed in the Maintain Little Engine category, and am just done with that!  

All engines need to be turned on at least once a month and run for 10-15 minutes to keep them in good shape.  

All of them need logs showing how many hours they were on.  

Small engines need the oil changed, and air filters cleaned at 50-100 hours depending, and that can be often for some engines during the time of year they are used most.  

Where is it going to live, and is it going to take up precious space, or space that makes taking out the often-used machinery a real pain in the neck?

Is it annoyingly loud while running?

How much extra gas and oil needs to be stored, in addition to the other machinery?

My dad, who was raised on a self-sufficient ranch,  always said don't wear gloves when working with machinery.  If the machine catches the tip of the glove it will pull your hand/wrist/arm right into it.  It's a pretty tough job feeding a bark chip machine without gloves.


I've got a ton of pine trees that the bark beetles have made pretty quick work of even if they die upright.  Once they falls over ,they continue working on them, then the dead trees are easy to pull apart.  All of those branches/trunks can be soaked in water/nitrogen and buried in a Hugel trench, filled over with native soil,  then planted on.  I've always been able to use the pithy dead wood for the garden in that way.  

I don't like bark chips for mulch because nitrogen dissolves in water, and when the bark chips absorb that water, they get the nitrogen that should have gone down into the soil for the plant roots.   I know, I know, there's always a bark chip debate, but after 30 years of doing it this way, with the least amount of work and great results, either hauling bark chips or using a machine to make them seems like unnecessary work.

 
pollinator
Posts: 288
Location: South of Capricorn
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Ashley, I'm in the same boat as you. No chip delivery, and where I live there is no chipper rental. I bought a little chipper (maybe 2" diameter branch-capable) and I love it. That said, most of what I am chipping is plants i rip out of my garden or branches I prune off my fruit trees. Also mulching leaves, bean hulls, sugarcane bagasse, the stalks of the plants that the rabbits won't eat, etc. It is a fabulous little tool. The bigger branches I can't run through it get used for something else or buried in the current hugel (I live in an urban area and burning for biochar gets my neighbors mad). Generally I let the stuff pile up and run it every other month.
Like Trace said, with the leaves it makes great mulch. And it is electric, so less hassle with fuel motors. I'm glad I got it.
 
pioneer
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I wouldn't pay for either to be honest. There are other ways to achieve the same goals.

Someone has suggest a trailer, and I think that would be an excellent and much more versatile investment. Get a relationship going with a nearby tree surgery and ask if you can drop your trailer with them when they are nearby worksites to load into. Then just haul the trailer home at the end of the day (need good security - multiple wheel clamps etc?). Trailer would also let you haul other items.

Personally our heavier woody waste now goes for biochar making if it is too thin for actual firewood.
 
gardener
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Location: SoCal USA
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If you are able to control the source of the wood, you'll be sure that it isn't contaminated with persistent herbicides or other chemicals you don't want to import which you may get from purchasing chips. While the option of burying into hugel mounds or burning into charcoal/biochar is great, since your goal is wood chip as mulch I would go with either a trailer and a source you can trust, or purchasing/renting a chipper as needed. Renting one for a day once a year (or two) to process your materials, plus perhaps some neighbors you know aren't using chemicals, might be a good balance. No need to store the machine or the fuel, no big investment. You might only rent it 5 times over 5-10 years, and by then as you said you you could be recycling inoculated logs.
 
pollinator
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Perhaps another option would be to re-fence your property so that people would have access to an area directly off the road in which to dump wood chips, but they wouldn't be able to go any further onto the property.  Basically, create a chip drop-off lot.  Ideally, wood chips should sit for some time before you use them, so it would be the best of all worlds.  You could just leave them there in a pile while they season for a year or two, and then scoop them up and use them on projects as needed.

Create a big sign on a half-sheet of plywood: "Clean wood chips wanted.  Dump here for free."   On the back side of that same sign: "No more wood chips needed right now."  

For the cost of some additional fencing and a gate, maybe $1000 if you do the work yourself, you might be able to have all the chips you'll need and someone else would be paying to chip them and deliver them.
 
pollinator
Posts: 364
Location: Ashhurst New Zealand
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My experience with chippers is that the small, household-sized ones are not worth the trouble. You're better off piling brush and branches with leaves and grass, then coming back to them 6-12 months later and shoveling out all the fantastic compost that builds up at the bottom.

If you want to make serious amounts of wood chips, you need a serious chipper. We solved this problem here by forming a cooperative with about ten households, and purchased a lightly used Hansa machine. We take turns using it and contribute toward whatever maintenance is required (to date that has been just oil changes and blade sharpening, which I do myself).

I can easily feed 75 mm limbs through this and it chews them right up. In terms of throughput, it's great...once or twice a year I gather up all the stuff that I don't want to burn for biochar and run the chipper for a couple of hours to reduce it to a nice pile of mulch.
 
Posts: 18
Location: Northwest Missouri
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I rented a pull-behind 6 inch limb chipper last Saturday. The thought was "I'm going to pull downed branches out of the timber and make a TON of nicely partially composted mulch for my forest garden!"  Reality was much more harsh. Myself and 2 helpers fed that machine all day and were AMAZED by how LITTLE it produced. I had a vision of a huge pile... it turned out about a foot tall after a full day of work. But I did have just enough to mulch the new trees and shrubs, just not the space between them.

My intention is to finish the job by renting a dump trailer soon and get it filled at a local landscaping nursery. That way I know I can specifically buy hardwood mulch and won't be left to whatever random stuff might get dropped off by a tree trimming company.  
 
pollinator
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Matt,
I have to agree wholeheartedly with you that if you really want to produce a lot of chips, a 6” chipper is likely too small.  I used to rent a 6” chipper each year to do some cleanup and maintenance, but the chipper kept breaking half way through the project.  I was feeding it limbs of fairly soft wood in the 4”-6” range, but it struggled even with branches in its rated range.  Last year I switched to renting a 12” diesel powered chipper and it was vastly more productive than the 6” and never broke down.  

My rule of thumb now is that you need to have a chipper that is rated to twice the size material you are going to chip.  I just can’t tell you how incredibly easier it was to use the 12” chipper over the 6”.  It was faster, and I could stuff a lot more material in the feed tray than otherwise.

Ashley,

You have a tough situation, but if I were to be in your shoes I would probably rent a chipper and chip up my own material.  You say that you have 3” material to chip, so I would suggest using a 6” chipper at the smallest.  Further, I would strongly suggest using a chipper that has a hydraulic in-feed tray.  The in-feed tray makes for easier lifting and even loading into the actual chipper.  It is not exactly light work, but if you can get a little help you should be able to go through your chipping in about a day.  Make sure to cut your wood and gather your pruning and limbs into a single area next to where your chipper will be, preferably arranged so that the chipper exhausts directly to where you want your chips.

I am now doing a once-per-year chipping and using the chips as a basis for my raised garden beds.  I am sure you have your own plans.  These are just my thoughts and do what you think is appropriate.  

I hope this helps,

Eric
 
Posts: 2
Location: Currently Maine heading for Tennessee
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When I owned a 1/4 acre property in Utah, I had a TroyBilt chipper/shredder that paid for itself many times over.  Paid $900 for it in 1997 and sold it for $500 in 2001 after shredding tons of brush, hedges, bushes, rose garden, cedars and junipers, and a few small trees around my house and yard.  Lined my raised beds with wood chips covered with top soil,  laid about 6" of chips on pathways between my raised beds,  and used shredded leaves for mulch, composted both chips and leaves with horse manure and garden waste.  Worked well and added a lot of humus to my mostly clay soil.  Today I regret selling it when I moved to NV but just too much stuff to pack up and haul 400 miles.  Anyway, my vote is for buying rather than renting.
 
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