Chipper shredders are landscaping power tools that grind up branches, leaves, and other dry organic debris. The shredded chips that result can be used as mulch on a flower bed to keep weeds at bay or added to the compost pile to create a rich, dark compost that will improve your soil quality.
The best chipper shredder for you will depend on how much debris your yard produces and whether you want to use the machine where electricity isn’t available. If a chipper shredder seems like a wise investment for your yard and garden, read on for the factors and features to consider and to learn why the following products are considered among the best on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Brush Master Gas Powered Self-Feed Chipper Shredder
- RUNNER UP: SuperHandy Wood Chipper Shredder Mulcher
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Landworks Mini Compact Chipper Shredder Mulcher
- BEST ELECTRIC: PowerSmart PS10 Electric Garden Chipper/Shredder
- BEST GAS: Brush Master Chipper Shredder with Trailer Hitch
- BEST SMALL SIZE: WEN 41121 Rolling Electric Wood Chipper and Shredder
- BEST HEAVY DUTY: Detail K2 Gas Powered Commercial Chipper Shredder
- BEST FOR COMPOSTING: Sun Joe CJ603E Electric Silent Chipper/Shredder
Types of Chipper Shredders
Chipper shredders come in two main types: electric and gas-powered, with each being suited to different chipping and shredding needs.
Mainly designed for small yards and light use, electric chipper shredders require plugging in with a heavy-duty, 12- or 14-gauge exterior extension cord and can usually grind dry leaves and small branches up to about 1¼ inches in diameter. These backyard power tools are relatively small, about 2 feet by 2 feet in width and depth, and 3 to 4 feet high. Many come with wheels for mobility. The upside is there’s no gasoline to mix, no toxic fumes, and no fuel to store. The downside to electric models is you’re limited to the length of an extension cord, so you may have to bring the yard debris to the chipper shredder, via wheelbarrow or such.
These powerful machines make quick work of yard cleanup by grinding twigs, leaves, and even small branches up to 6 inches in diameter. Because they’re not tethered to an electrical outlet, you can take them wherever needed, and they typically feature wheels for maneuvering. Some larger models come permanently mounted on a trailer with a hitch that allows the user to pull the machine with a pickup truck or lawn tractor.
Available for farm use or commercial mulch-production, some large chipper shredders run off the power of another piece of equipment via a power take-off (PTO). The most common PTO source is the rotating spindle of a tractor, but some trucks and other large vehicles come with PTOs, and a large implement, such as a commercial chipper shredder, can be connected.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Chipper Shredder
Chipper shredders range in price from around a hundred dollars for a lightweight electric model to several thousand dollars for a heavy-duty, gas-powered machine. The best chipper shredder option for you will depend on the type and amount of debris you plan to shred.
Yard Size and Debris
In general, a small yard is better suited to an electric chipper shredder than a large yard, but this is not absolute. A small wooded lot can produce more twigs and yard waste than a large lot with just a few trees. A better way to choose which type is best for you is to consider how much debris your yard produces. For instance, if you have a large garden and need to shred bushels of dry organic stalks, twigs, and limbs, a gas-powered model may be the better choice. If you have no more than a couple of wheelbarrows of debris to clean away in the fall, you could probably get by with an electric model.
To keep fingers a safe distance away from a shredder’s sharp blades, the machines feature long chutes, also called hoppers, into which the user inserts twigs and sticks. Some chipper shredders have a single-loading chute, while others have two, one for branches and another for smaller yard waste.
- Manual Feed: On a manual feed chipper shredder, the user pushes branches and limbs into the machine’s spinning blades. The spinning blade motion may help pull the branches into the blades slightly, but the user must maintain pressure.
- Self-Feed: As the machines get larger and more powerful, so do their options. A self-feed chipper shredder features rollers inside the chute that actively pull branches and debris into the spinning blades. The user can load the branches into the chute and then gather more while the machine is grinding away.
- Gravity Feed: Sometimes called a drop-in chute, a gravity-feed chipper shredder features a flared opening at the top of the machine. The user loads twigs and debris, and gravity helps them work their way into the spinning knives.
- Horizontal Chute: A horizontal chute sticks out sideways, with an upward tilt of about 45-degrees, so the user can feed in debris from the side. The upward tilt keeps leaves and small twigs from falling out.
The amount to which a chipper shredder will reduce debris is known as its reduction ratio. This number appears in the product’s description as a numerical ratio, such as 12:1. For example, if you purchase a chipper shredder with a 12:1 reduction ratio, it will reduce the amount of raw waste from 12 buckets or wheelbarrows to a single bucket or wheelbarrow. Average reduction ratios range from around 10:1 to 17:1, and the higher the ratio, the smaller the chips the machine will produce.
While chipper shredders are straightforward landscaping tools, some come with a few accessories that can make them either handier or easier to operate.
- Control system: Some self-feed chipper shredders feature sensors that automatically adjust the rate of the material being drawn into the spinning blades. This option is usually available only on commercial or prosumer models, but it helps keep debris from getting stuck in the chute if it’s fed in too quickly.
- Vacuum chipper shredders: This option uses suction to collect debris, so the user needn’t feed it into the chute. One type of vacuum chipper shredder resembles a standard lawn mower, but instead of cutting grass, it sucks up leaves and small twigs, grinds them, and then discards the shredded debris in a bag. A second type of vacuum chipper shredder is designed for pulling behind a lawn tractor. The difference between a lawn vacuum and a vacuum chipper shredder is that a lawn vacuum features suction only, while a vacuum shredder actually grinds up the debris.
Both gas and electric chipper shredders should be checked before each use to ensure that no debris is stuck in the chute or blades and to ensure that the blades are moving freely. Gas models require additional maintenance, including periodically replacing spark plugs and the air filter as well as changing the oil. Both types may need blade sharpening if the shredder starts working more slowly or fails to efficiently grind debris. Specific models may also require lubricating the chain, so consult your owner’s manual and stay up-to-date on maintenance tasks.
Our Top Picks
To qualify as a top pick, a chipper shredder must be powerful enough to shred dry yard waste, safe and easy to operate, and durable enough to provide years of service. Shredding needs vary, but one of the following machines should be a good pick for your yard.
You can grind and shred a whole lot of leaves, twigs, and branches up to 3 inches in diameter, with the Brush Master Self-Feed Chipper Shredder. This bad boy features a powerful 11 HP gas engine and comes with two self-feeding chutes: a side chute for branches and a gravity chute at the top for leaves and small debris. It also includes a deflector that empties the shredded mulch into a trash can for easy collecting.
The Brush Master features a 12:1 reduction ratio and chops branches into ¼-inch bits. Its hardened chromium steel blades make quick work of shredding lawn and tree debris, and the unit features a solid steel exterior with heavy, molded plastic components. It comes with a recoil start and a safety shutoff, so it will automatically stop if the oil runs low.
If you’re looking for a combination of power and finely-shredded debris, check out the SuperHandy Wood Chipper Shredder. This gas-powered landscaping tool features a powerful 7 HP engine that can shred branches up to 3 inches in diameter, making it an efficient choice for large yards with multiple trees and shrubs. The SuperHandy shredder comes with two chutes, including a side chute for branches and a top chute for leaves and twigs up to ½ inches in diameter.
A separate leaf bag (included) can be attached to the discharge chute to catch the shredded material for use as mulch or compost. The 15:1 reduction ratio produces fine shreds suitable for mulching or composting. A lawn tractor or utility vehicle with a tow bar kit can tow the shredder, making it easier to move it around the yard.
A tight budget needn’t prevent you from obtaining a big, powerful gas chipper shredder. The Landworks Mini Compact Chipper Shredder, which costs hundreds of dollars less than similar larger models, shreds branches up to 3 inches in diameter. It features a side chute for branches and a top hopper for leaves and small twigs.
The Landworks may be a bit small in overall size but not in power—it boasts a 7 HP gas engine and its discharge chute can be configured to empty into a garbage can. The machine features a 15:1 reduction ratio, so the chips will be finely shredded making them ideal for use around plants and bushes as mulch or as fodder for the compost pile.
For small yards and light debris, an electric chipper shredder can be just the ticket. The PowerSmart Electric Garden Chipper Shredder features a powerful 15-amp electric motor that grinds and shreds branches up to 1⅝ inches in diameter. Thanks to its 17:1 reduction ratio, you’ll end up with fine bits of wood and leaves that will decompose quickly in a compost bin.
The PowerSmart shredder features a top, gravity-feed chute with a safety cover that shuts off the motor when the cover is open. The unit discharges chips at the bottom of the machine, which allows you to connect a bag (included) to the discharge chute to collect the chips. To operate, you’ll need a heavy-duty, 12- or 14-gauge exterior extension cord.
Bigger branches, up to 4 inches in diameter, should be no problem for the Brush Master Chipper Shredder with Trailer Hitch. This rugged, gas-powered model comes with wheels, a tow bar, and a trailer hitch for connecting to a utility vehicle or a lawn tractor. It boasts a 15 HP engine and a top gravity-feed chute that accepts both branches and smaller twigs and leaves.
The Brush Master features a 12:1 reduction ratio and delivers chips that are approximately ¼-inch in diameter, just the right size for mulching around trees, shrubs, and other plants. The unit comes with a replacement belt, gloves, and even safety goggles, so you’ll have the gear you need to shred.
If all you need is light cleanup around the yard, consider the WEN Electric Wood Chipper Shredder. It will easily shred branches up to 1½ inches in diameter, thanks to a gravity feed chute located at the top. Its 17:1 reduction ratio creates small chips for use either as mulch or quick-to-decompose fodder for the compost bin.
This small wonder works quietly, comes with wheels for easy maneuvering around the yard, and features a safety lock on the chute that keeps the blades from spinning while the chute cover is open. There’s also a push stick for pushing debris into the chute and a collection bag that attaches at the bottom to collect the chips. The machine is compact enough to tuck away against a garage wall or stow in a storage shed when your work is done.
If you invest in the Detail K2 Gas Powered Commercial Chipper Shredder, you can go where the big branches are. This powerful machine can chew branches up to 6 inches in diameter and features a self-feeding side chute that grabs branches and pulls them into the spinning blades. The chips shoot out of a discharge chute on the other side that sits at pickup bed level, allowing you to load the back of your pickup truck with chips for easy hauling. With an approximate 12:1 reduction ratio, it should produce chips suitable for mulching.
The K2 shredder comes mounted on its own trailer, which is approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT), making it legal to go on roadways. It also comes with a built-in, locking steel toolbox (keys included). In addition, you’ll receive safety glasses, ear protection, work gloves, and the tools required to manage the machine’s minimal assembly.
Compost decomposes more quickly when the organic matter is small and fine, and the Sun Joe Electric Chipper Shredder’s design creates quality compost material. It features a top-load gravity chute and a reduction ratio of 21:1, making it capable of producing bits nearly twice as small as some other machines. The Sun Joe shreds branches up to 1¾ inches in diameter.
It comes with a top gravity feed chute with a safety cover that keeps the blades from spinning when the cover is open. The small chips discharge at the bottom of the machine, with the option of attaching the included collection bag to collect the chips. The machine features an easy-pull handle and wheels for moving around the yard. It requires a heavy-duty, 12 to 14 gauge extension cord to operate.
Safety Tips for Operating a Chipper Shredder
Chipper shredders are power tools, and as such, basic safety precautions must be followed during use.
- Wear safety glasses to keep airborne debris out of your eyes.
- A good pair of leather work gloves will protect your hands from pokes and scrapes when loading twigs and things like rosebush stems.
- If you’re running a powerful gas chipper shredder, wear hearing protection.
FAQs About Your New Chipper Shredder
If you’re in the market for your first chipper shredder, you likely have some questions. Read on for answers that will help you shop wisely.
Q. What is a chipper shredder?
It’s a landscaping tool that shreds dry wood and plant waste to be recycled as mulch or compost or discarded.
Q. What is the reduction ratio in a chipper shredder?
A chipper shredder’s reduction ratio indicates how much it will reduce the size of the twigs, branches, or other plant waste. For instance, if a chipper shredder features a 12:1 reduction ratio, it will reduce 12 bags of yard debris bags to just 1 bag.
Q. How do you use a chipper shredder?
Load branches and other dry yard waste into the shredder’s intake chute(s). The small chips that result can be collected in a bag for use in your garden or be discarded.
Q. What can I do with my chipper shredder waste?
The chips are great for use as mulch around the bottoms of trees and other plants to reduce weed growth and help keep moisture in the soil. You can also add them to your compost bin.