Chipper/shredder quandary.

linnea2(z5 NY)March 10, 2012

Hi all,

I've been reading hundreds of posts on this subject here and still can't make up my mind.

I have a five-acre property with 1+acre gardens.

Up til now, I've been tossing large weeds, brush cuttings and such off the edge into a swamp area,

but I grudge not getting the material into my compost.

I also have a fire pit where some of it goes, weather permitting.

An item that can cost $90-$9,000 is notoriously hard to decide on.

The make most seem to agree is the best is MacKissic.

At a minimum of $700, plus maintenance and storage,

I'm wondering if I wouldn't be better off just renting one once or twice a year.

Most of what I'd like to compost is large, rangy weeds, both fresh and dry,

and consensus seems to be that they clog the machines up.

If anyone has one more thing to say about this, I'd be very happy to listen. Thanks!

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Steven Laurin & Company


My property is about 20% the size of yours, but has lots of trees and several good size vegetable and perennial gardens. Therefore, I also am faced with what to do with all the branch trimmings and garden debris produced each year.

The solution of course, is to break them down for use as mulch and compost material. Rather than rent a unit twice a year, I enjoy the convenience of having my own chipper/shredder . . . although the neighbors probably hate me for the noise it creates.

After reading hundreds of reviews and reports on the web and assessing my budget limits, I decided a 8 hp Gardenway Troybilt Tommahawk would be a decent rig to own. Patiently, I scoured craigslist and other online sources, inspected 5-6 machines until 3 years ago, found a c.1989 gem for sale in an rural barn - where it sat unused for ten years.

It obviously saw very light use prior to then with all decals intact and flail hammers and paint in near-new condition. I hauled it away after negotiating a $300 sale.

Rebuilt the fuel-caked carb with a kit for $25, replaced the starter solenoid and drive belt for a few dollars more and have never looked back. I really enjoy the dependability and ruggedness of this hefty tool - use it regularly for processing compost, branches and seasonally for shredding leaves in the Fall.

The later MTD/Troybilt units are toys compared to this so avoid them at all costs. It's never failed to start and makes quick work of most tasks. For what it's worth, I also found a '91 5 hp Troybilt Pony, elec start, in even better shape with Maintenance is no big deal at all - maintaining these small engines is easier than the one on your lawn tractor. My recommendation and humble opinion, is to search for one of these older models - TB or MacKissic . . . with luck you could find a keeper.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 2:58PM
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25 years ago I worked for a company that manufactured a commercial chipper among other items.

Question you need to answer is what quality of mulch you want to make to recycle. That will give you a spending direction I would think.

At my current 5 acre property I had thought about buying a small chipper. I was only looking to reduce some bulk so decided to just build another simple unit for myself out of scrounged parts as that's all I really needed.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 3:59PM
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linnea2(z5 NY)

archdiver, thanks. Is this the item?
It's about 1 1/2 hrs away...

Just passed Lowes and saw the new troybilts, 800 with tax now.
Not tempted.
I have no time or ability to work on machinery, but I do have a good guy who repairs my mowers who could.

cadmanjwm, it's about reducing bulk. It doesn't have to be powder; -some air is good in the compost, just not 12 foot mugwort.

Question: Does the machine suck in the material when it connects, or do you have to push it in?

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 5:10PM
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Steven Laurin & Company

That looks similar to mine - although perhaps a bit older and somewhat weathered. Could be it spent much of it's time exposed to the elements, or placed by the compost pile all season. Mine stays in the garden shed - with the integral wheels, it comes out only when I need it.

The machine doesn't exactly suck loose material into the top shredder hopper; I typically need to push the stuff down with a small log or branch. The chute opening only allows a controlled amount at a time to prevent jamming. But, once the flail hammers grab onto branches up to 2" in diameter, or clumped material - it's quickly pulled into the throat. You do need to wear eye + ear protection, long sleeves and heavy gloves and keep your forearms clear once it grabs - received a few scratches the hard way at first.

Branches up to 3-1/2" go into the chipper chute.

Don't have any photos of it, but I do have full owner's/parts manuals and the original sales brochure. Here's a snapshot of the brochure cover:

Here's a photo I took of the Troybilt Pony tiller. The condition of the chipper/shredder is similar, but paint finish is a bit more faded.

The tiller is great - came with a hiller/furrower attachment, unused still in the box.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 10:26AM
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linnea2(z5 NY)

Thanks for the pics! I'm going to call the rental place tomorrow and see if they have one I can pick up myself
so I don't have to pay for delivery,
try it out and see how I like it.
If it seems like I could live with one, I'll find one and buy it.
I'll post later when I've had a go; -there must be others who have the same situation.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 9:00PM
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Hi linnea2,

I had the same rent-or-buy decision to make several years ago. It is a lot of work to take a shredder-chipper from the rental place to your worksite and then back to the rental place. When we lived in Maine, my worksite was down a slope in a wooded area. Moving a machine back and forth from the rental place would have involved more effort than the actual use of the machine.

I purchased a Mackissic 12PT9 and a fitted weatherproof outdoor cover for it and just parked it at the worksite where I used it for several years. I had a "farm" of up to four big compost piles around the worksite.

Because of the uneven terrain there in Maine, it was much easier to drag old limbs to the machine, instead of pulling the machine to the brush piles. Since we have moved here to Kansas, the opposite has proved to be true. This property is relatively flat and it is convenient to keep my Mackissic parked in the protection of the garage and to pull it, like a big kid's wagon, to any site around here.

My first big project here was to process an enormous brush pile, including many weeds and even small trees that had grown up in it, into compost material for the garden. This is a picture of my 12PT9 at that site in a "mission accomplished" moment after that pile was completely processed and that large area was ready for tilling to form another garden. The pile of "product" in the picture was only a small part of the mountain of material that was produced from the brush pile. I moved the product from the site to the backyard garden and my compost piles at the end of each day of processing, using my wheelbarrow.

I replaced the two back wheels with a couple of wheels from an old garden "wagon" because the orginal tires had gone flat and lost their seal in the years that it was parked in the outdoor site in Maine.

The "glory" of the Mackissic 12PT series is the versatile range of screens that are available for it, ranging from one-quarter inch up to a wet materials screen with oblong openings as large as three inches the long way. I purchased nearly all of the optional available screens, and haven't regretted that. You can select how fine or coarse you want your product to be by selecting which screen to use. The one-quarter inch screen can produce a very finely "ground" product, with incredible surface area, and I have been putting an old compost pile through it and spreading it on the garden.

The advantage of a hammermill type shredder is that you can put nearly anything through it, including the "dirt" in the compost pile.

(not associated with any product or vendor mentioned or linked)

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 11:43AM
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linnea2(z5 NY)

The smallest thing the rental place has costs $200/day plus $30 insurance plus $75 delivery/pick-up.
So that's out.

The Craigslist Super Tomahawk came down to $300, it's also much closer than I thought.
I'm going to look at it Wednesday.

My mower maintenance guy says: Get a Mighty Mac
with electric ignition ($1,800-ish).
You may well be right zenman and archdiver.

I may still start with the Tomahawk and see how I even like
having such a thing around. Worst case, I'm out 300 bucks
and one-up on the rental place.

Thanks all of you for kicking this around with me, I'll post the outcome.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 8:29PM
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linnea2(z5 NY)

Well, here it is. 4 hours away.
not sure...

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 12:03AM
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Well, that is in the 12PT series, but before mine. My 12PT9 has a 9-horse Briggs & Stratton. I would guess that one to have an 8-horse Briggs & Stratton. That's fine, the lower horsepower just won't process material quite as fast. The current model comes with a 10-horse B&S. The claim that it "easily handles 3-4 inch saplings" isn't exactly right. The chipper will accept limbs up to 3.5 inches in diameter. That is pretty big, though. I consider anything bigger to be firewood, anyway. The $800 price is probably fair, although I think that it went for about $1200 brand new. But prices on everything have gone up. It will probably accept the currently available 12PT screens. It probably has a "standard" 1-inch screen, but I would be very surprised if the currently available screens didn't fit it. The mere fact that it isn't an electric start is no big deal -- mine usually starts on the second pull anyway, and on the first pull if the engine is still warm.

(not associated with any product or vendor mentioned or linked)

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 5:11PM
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I have the 12pt9 also. It is a fine machine. I'm not sure that the posting on cl couldn't be a 9 or 10 also. It looks like either of ours and I would consider it to be a very good deal.

Considering that you would pay $200 + per rental, I would say go for it. Before I heard the $200/rent I was instead going to suggest the rental route because even the McKissic doesn't really eat stuff like a professional unit would. Although many years ago I did rent a fairly large unit that still needed a lot of feeding.

I am sure that as long as there is one screen for the McKissic, YOU will be happy since you are after compost.

Even the McKissic has another issue however. It is low to the ground and I have to keep moving it around to get clearance. This creates a low narrow pile. I can usually manuver around and create multiple strips but it is a pain.

By the way, you asked about feeding. There was a nice pic above of a guy feeding a troybuilt chipper. He is wearing gloves as he should. Sometimes you have to feed the branches, but either immediately or at some point, the branches will catch and be yanked from your hands at an impressive speed. Ungloved hands would loose an impressive amount of skin.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 1:15PM
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linnea2(z5 NY)

The rental with delivery, ins. and tax is actually $330.
I'm going to look at the Tomahawk tomorrow.

Thanks for the warning about the accumulation/clearance problem chas.
That would definitely be an issue and I wouldn't have thought of it.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 3:15PM
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Steven Laurin & Company


The Mighty Mac does look like a fine machine and that CL posting seems like a great deal. The TroyBilt unit you're inspecting tomorrow may also be a good deal - if it has been maintained. My concern with any older machine, especially for someone who is not mechanicaly inclined, is the frustration which goes along with basic operation + maintenance. Assuming you fit that category (since you have a hired guy to do these things), you may experience some issues with either choice, the Mac or the Tomahawk.

That said, your repair guy should have a full maintenance and parts manual for whichever machine you settle on. They are available online for free downloading/printing.

Regarding screens - my Tomahawk II came with two screens - a composting design with open bars and a smaller mesh for general shredding. I use them both for different tasks. They're also very easy to change - as illustrated from the images below, cropped from my manuals . . .

Also, as I previously mentioned, and as chas accurately noted, the flail-hammers will quickly grab whatever you are feeding into the hopper with incredible force. You must have skin protection and learn when to let go. I've been fortunate, but imagine many users must have received some serious injuries though lapses in judgement.

Best of luck with your inspection tomorrow.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 7:11PM
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linnea2(z5 NY)

Okay, I looked at this thing, pretty beat-up and rusty. The owner couldn't get it started.
After a dozen tries, fiddling with spark plugs, starter flud, etc. it started and stopped
as soon as he touched the choke. The wife got some branches.
After another six repeats of this and doing some serious thinking,
I decided I didn't care to see what it would do to the branches, in fact,
I don't ever want to see another one.
Here's why: 1. although not a big thing, it's way to heavy for me to wheel uphill
from the garage to the compost and I can't tow it with the tractor.
2. the size and orientation of the hoppers show me how long it would take to feed material into it.
3. As material accumulates under it, a clearance of 5 inches,
it would continually have to be raked out or the machine would have to be moved.

I went home feeling four hours of this perfect day was not too much to pay
to get this out of my system.
Then I spent three hours burning most of a pile of brush and poplar and cherry trunks
the size of a 20-yard dumpster in my fire pit.
Listening to the peepers between feeding the fire,
poking wayward branches into it, rejoicing in the quiet,
sweet-smelling spring day and the delight of fire;
- we're all little pyros at heart.
And you can't beat ashes for size ;o)

I thank you all for helping me work this out, I've struggled with it for a few years.
I'm happy with my tractor mower, but I don't really like machines if I have other options.
I just realized I like my options.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2012 at 10:47PM
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Hi chas045,

Well, I guess that fire pit took care of this quandary, but I do have a couple of comments I would like to make, since we both use the same machine. You are right, the Craig's List machine could have been a 12PT9, but I kind of doubt that it was a 12PT10, because the engines on those do stand up a bit more.

"Even the MacKissic has another issue however. It is low to the ground and I have to keep moving it around to get clearance. This creates a low narrow pile. I can usually maneuver around and create multiple strips but it is a pain."

Mine isn't quite as low to the ground as yours because of those wheels I had to substitute, but they raise the discharge end only a half inch or so. When I bought my "Mighty Mac" I considered the optional bagging kit, but thought I would use the machine and then purchase the bagging kit if I needed it. I didn't need it. It turns out that you can easily scoop material out from under the machine as the pile of product builds up high enough to start to block the holes on the screen. A long handled shovel is very handy for that. Also, the output deflector plate is adjustable, and you can position it in a horizontal "full open" position so that much of the product is thrown clear of the machine to start with.

If you look at the picture I posted, you can see the indentations left by the rear wheels in the finished pile of product when I pulled the machine away from it. I had parked my machine over the blue tarp I had on the ground, and left it in that position as I finished off the brush pile.

I pulled my Mac back to the garage and then used the shovel and my wheelbarrow to move the product to my garden in the backyard. The tarp made it easy to get the very last remains of the pile into my wheelbarrow.

I do on occasions move my Mac bit-by-bit away from the pile as it forms, but only when that is convenient. The product discharge is never a "pain" for me. It's really easy to scoop material from under the machine with a shovel as it builds up against the screen. And if you have the discharge deflector set in a more open position, much of the material gets discharged out away from the machine anyway.

With gas prices what they are, the Craig's List machine was probably too far away, anyway. You mentioned gloves. I use thickly insulated gloves when I am doing chipping, because a branch that you feeding into the chipper chute is being hit several thousand times per minute by the chipper blade, and the vibration of the limb you are holding can make your hands go numb if you aren't wearing insulated gloves. And I don't hold the limb any tighter than I need to. If your chipper blade is sharp, feeding a limb can be rather effortless. I have a spare blade, so I can sharpen one while the other is in use. The blades are made of tool steel, so they hold an edge very well.

I usually just toss material into the shredder chute, so if the spinning hammers "grab" the material, that isn't an issue for me.

I purchased my 12PT9 in January of 2004, and I am in my 9th year of enjoying its use. Hardly a month goes by when I don't use my Mac, partly because it is always handy to use. I currently have my one-quarter-inch screen on it and I am putting a compost pile through it for my Spring garden. I also have an accumulating brush pile of tree pruning and limbs knocked off by our recent high winds. That brush pile will also provide rapidly digested high-surface-area organic matter for my compost piles.


    Bookmark   March 18, 2012 at 11:52AM
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I've been watching this thread and have to say when I saw "Well, I guess that fire pit took care of this quandary" it certainly piqued my interest! Personally, I have, or I should say my other half has a Mac as it was her idea to get. It's more of the trailer style. Has the key start, nice Vangard engine etc. Does what it is supposed to do. But it is loud and there is certainly nothing peaceful about using it. The inlaws use it more than me -so its ok. If you can swing a fire to handle the brush when you need to- seems a bit more grounding to me...

    Bookmark   March 18, 2012 at 12:28PM
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Hi Tom,

"But it is loud and there is certainly nothing peaceful about using it. ...If you can swing a fire to handle the brush when you need to- seems a bit more grounding to me..."

A hammermill shredder/chipper is noisy, so you need to wear ear protectors when using one. I wear my chainsaw helmet, which protects both ears and face. The advantage of using the Mac versus the fire pit is that you get a lot of usable product that can go into a compost pile, or be used as mulch, or for nice garden paths, or whatever. And, with ear protectors on, there is something kind of peaceful about seeing that useful product coming out of the machine, rather than just producing some smoke. The Mac lets you turn a problem into a solution.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 1:02PM
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Steven Laurin & Company

In my community, a fire permit is required from the fire department for any open fire - of course for a fee as well. Small towns need to get revenue where ever they can, especially in this economy.

With the amount of use my chipper/shredder gets all year round, if I were to burn raw organic debris instead of recycling for reuse on my property, the expense would exceed the cost of renting a machine.

It's a pity Gardenway Troybilt didn't survive the 1988-1989 recession . . . believe they went under in the early 90's. People who enjoy ownership of quality, American-built machines (including the Mighty Mac), appreciate what they have - more so, if they are fortunate to have bought one new, or as in my situation, have found a relatively unused model in near-new condition.

Loud? Yes, there's no denying that fact and it's certainly not for everyone. Regrets from buying it? Not one. It's running close to the JD garden tractor, Echo line trimmer and TB tiller, as being the most productive yard + garden maintenance machines I own.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 4:03PM
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I'm in the North Carolina Piedmont. Can you say clay. Around here, one has to pay for dirt!
I need all the compost that I can get. Yes ZM, I see your point about the shovel. I have a narrow rake around here somewhere too. But finding it at the same time I decide to chip can be an issue.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 6:36PM
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linnea2(z5 NY)

We finished the pile the next day, and a huge pile of ornamental grasses,
keeping it good and hot.
Half the solid volume of the big pile was 6-9" trunks, cut into 4-5' pieces.
The fire reduced the volume faster than we could collect it.

Half way through this, who should show up with a big grin but the fire chief, with five other people
from the volunteer fire department,
saying: "I'm not seeing this illegal fire. There's a ban on all open fires until May 15."
What he did see was the hose,
the wet banks of the 12' pit and the careful supervision.
"Chief, says I, "You know I don't read newspapers or listen to the radio,
but I've got good news for you; - we got a new toaster".
This cracked up the whole crew, since our old demented toaster is
notorious for setting off the smoke alarms and bringing them out when we weren't
fast enough calling the alarm company to abort.

I'm lucky to have a great relationship of mutual respect with my fire department.
They use my factory/showrooms as a training facility.

I told them the story of my chipper/shredder quest and the resulting fire.
He said,"we'll be back Monday week with twenty people. You don't have to feed us".
"Make some toast", said I.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 8:41PM
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Steven Laurin & Company

Hmm . . . note to oneself, in future responses to posts, don't try to convince a pyro to shred instead of burn.

Nothing personal, but I find this entire progression of thought very amusing for this forum. Most lurkers and posters here have a passion for all things mechanical. It seems your quandary may have been resolved after my first response. Why lead us on, when you have an apparent phobia with machines?

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 8:39PM
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linnea2(z5 NY)

Hi Archdiver, not at all, I'm all for machines that actually save labor.
Without this conversation, I would not have noticed the problem with removal of
material from underneath.
I would not, being pretty dense, even have noticed that you have to lift and hold the
branches up high to feed them.
I'm also very lazy and prefer to drag and drop rather than lift, crunch and direct.
I really like having something quietly do the work for me while I'm collecting material.

I own over a dozen industrial sewing machines, each doing their very specific jobs
which would be impossible to accomplish without them.
I even finally gave in and got a compressor, in part to keep them clean,
since I got real tired of the canned air at 5 bucks a can.
Shopping for that was also an ordeal involving a lot of tedious research.

I love a good tool, from a pry bar to a sophisticated piece of engineering,
provided they simplify the task at hand.

You all helped me figure out what was needed. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 9:41PM
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Yep - I think you thought it through and made the right decision....

Every person doesn't need to buy every tool out there - especially if you don't want to fool with maintenance... and chipper/shredders can be HIGH maintenance!

I have actually been wrestling with the same question for the last 3 years... I really want a small chipper to deal with brush and junk that I end up with... I also really want to be able to use the mulch/chips.. because I always need mulch around the yard...

I worry when I read about all the unhappy people who bought them... On the one hand - I love to think "Surely, it will be different for me!".. but the reality is that it probably won't...


    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 5:12PM
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tom_nwnj(z6 NJ)

I used to have a Kemp shredder, 5 hp Briggs. No clutch, was a bear just to start it. I gave it to my neighbor.

For any folks who have an old farm tractor, and you want a shredder, consider the three point hitch version. They cost about 2X the small shredders, but are way more powerful.

I bought one of these (Wallenstein BXM32) a few years ago. Really nice to have. Have it on an 1958 Ford 601 (33 hp). Chips brush really fast. I think the flywheel on the chipper is 80 pounds (??). The discharge chute can blow chips over 10 feet. Weighs 445 pounds (no engine)

This is Wallenstein (Canadian), but other mfgs as well.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 5:57PM
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I bought my 12PTE McKissic in '08 after a lot of research and this Forum. I got to use it but the first year, and then I started having heart problems that just kept on coming. Here I am today, just went to the shed, removed the battery, and those 4 flat tires!! I ordered a new battery, and will copy cat another member and put bigger tires for more stability. My wife is not to enthused that I am so anxious to get out there, but it is going to happen - when the rains stop. The six or so times I used my Mighty Mac was really is a flawless machine and I never had a problem, and don't expect anything after I change oil, filters. So glad to be back here and looking forward to reading all your comments on our chippers, whatever the brand. Ron

    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 10:57PM
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