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It is amazing how much natural debris an average yard produces, especially as it matures. There are autumn leaves from deciduous trees, clippings from shrubs, end-of-the-season plants, fallen and pruned tree branches. What to do with it all?
Rather than hauling it to the curb for the local landfill or creating a bonfire, a more sustainable option is to turn it into mulch. Rather than buying bags and bags of mulch from the garden store, you can create your own or enhance your compost pile with a wood chipper shredder.
Wood chippers shredders can be gas or electric, offer different reduction rates (the size of the shredded pieces), and range in price from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Take into consideration the size of your homesite, the type of yard waste you’re dealing with, and your storage space before you choose the right wood chipper for you.
Here, the best chipper shredders available now.
Best Overall: Great CircleUSA Heavy Duty Wood Chipper Shredder
Power Source: Gas | Dimensions: 30 x 24.1 x 41.6 inches | Weight: 125.7 pounds | Capacity: 3 inches | Reduction Ratio: 15:1 | Self-feeding: Yes
Handles branches up to 3-inches
Excellent reduction rate
Leaf vacuum attachment available
Can be towed by lawn tractor
Discharge bag is flimsy
Assembly instructions unclear
For larger yards filled with trees and shrubs that produce lots of yard waste, you need a wood chipper shredder that can perform some heavy-duty shredding. The Great CircleUSA chipper is up to the task. This gas-powered machine has a powerful 7HP engine that cuts through branches up to 3-inches in diameter and shreds dry leaves and small twigs.
With a reduction rate of 15:1, fifteen bags of yard waste will become one bag of mulch that can then be added to your compost pile, used to deter weed growth, or protect plant roots during harsh weather. You have the option of adding a tow bar and leaf vacuum kit to make short work of leaves on your lawn. We found the assembly instructions a bit unclear if you are not a mechanically-oriented person; however, assembly is not difficult. The chipper rolls easily for storage.
Best Budget: Snow Joe 14-Amp Electric Wood Chipper/Shredder
Power Source: Electric | Dimensions: 37.5 x 19 x 17 inches | Weight: 25.36 pounds | Capacity: 1 to 1.5 inches | Reduction Ratio: 16:1 | Self-feeding: No
Easy to operate
Small storage footprint
No collection bin or bag
Small feeder chute
For urban gardeners who want to create mulch, the SunJoe 14-amp Wood Chipper is a very good addition to the garden shed. Its small size and ease of operation will turn 16 bags of yard waste into a single bag of mulch in a short time.
After a quick assembly and connection to an electrical outlet, the chipper is ready to go. Able to handle limbs and twigs up to 1.5-inches, you will need to carefully feed them into the top hopper using the included paddle. The wood comes out the perfect size for mulching around plants and shrubs. Leaves also feed through quickly; however, they do not shred very finely. If you like them to almost disappear, this model cannot produce that result.
There is no collection bag which makes moving the mulch to the desired area more difficult. Bring a wheelbarrow and shovel!
“Because the Sun Joe Electric Wood Chipper can break down both twigs and leaves, it’s an excellent companion for small clean-up jobs. If you’re looking for a unit that can handle some serious volume and branches, though, you’ll probably be happier with a machine equipped with a bigger chute.”
—Lindsay Boyers, Product Tester
Best High-End Splurge: DK2 Kohler Engine 3-in-1 Chipper Shredder
Power Source: Gas | Dimensions: 70.86 x 47.63 x 36.22 inches | Weight: 187 pounds | Capacity: 3 | Reduction Ratio: 20:1 | Self-feeding: Yes
Large capacity feed bin
Does not handle wet yard waste well
Bolts require frequent tightening
Billed as a commercial, heavy-duty chipper, the DK2 chipper/shredder has all of the features you need to care for a large yard or garden. The chipper has a large capacity feeder shoot and chips branches up to 3-inches in diameter. Sold with a vacuum attachment to gather leaves and a tow bar, you can make quick work of leaf removal by attaching it to a lawnmower or ATV. (The vacuum is removable with just three bolts.)
Reviewers report the chipper shredder has a difficult time handling wet leaves and green plant material (almost all do). However, it does an excellent job reducing dry yard water to mulch with a 20 to one compression ratio. Dry leaves are shredded into very small pieces that are ideal for compost or for leaving on lawns.
After every use, or midway during a day of use, take the time to carefully check all bolts and tighten them as needed. The vibration of any chipper during operation can cause bolts to loosen.
Best Electric: Sun Joe 15-amp Silent Wood Chipper/Shredder
Power Source: Electric | Dimensions: 31 x 8 x 15 inches | Weight: 38.6 pounds | Capacity: 1.7 inches | Reduction Ratio: 21:1 | Self-feeding: Yes
Narrow discharge chute can clog
Compact and powered with the ease of an electrical connection, this Sun Joe Chipper is amazingly powerful and quiet. I use this model every autumn to shred leaves and small twigs to make mulch for my backyard garden. The reduction ratio of 21:1 reduces piles of leaves into the perfect size for compost.
The self-feeding action uses one rotary blade to grind the leaves and small branches. The collection bin is large enough to keep production moving but not so large that I can’t lift and carry it easily.
There is a bit of assembly required but the instruction manual is quite clear. I particularly like the safety features. The chipper will not run if the hopper is open. The large wheels make moving and storage a breeze.
“This is the chipper I have used for the last three fall seasons to shred the leaves in my backyard to add to the compost pile. It works quietly, efficiently, and safely.”—Mary Marlowe Leverette, Master Gardener
Best Gas: Craftsman 250cc Briggs & Stratton Gas Wood Chipper
Power Source: Gas | Dimensions: 53 x 30 x 28 inches | Weight: 200 pounds | Capacity: 3 inches | Reduction Ratio: 15:1 | Self-feeding: Yes
Large, easy to empty collection bag
Excellent use and care manual
Lower reduction rate
Heavy to move
No tow bar
If you have a large yard with lots of fallen limbs, then you need a powerful chipper shredder. This Craftsman model with a Briggs+Stratton engine is a workhorse. The very heavy construction can withstand a full day of use and accommodate limbs up to 3-inches in diameter in the self-feeding chute.
The hopper is designed for leaves and small twigs. All of the debris is collected in a five-bushel collection bag that is easy to disconnect and empty. As with any machine, the key to longevity is how well you maintain the machine. The manual offers detailed instructions and timelines for the care of the engine and blades.
While a plus to smooth operation, the 200-pounds of steel and engine are heavy to move around. However, you can purchase and attach a tow bar to use with a lawn tractor.
Best Composting: Earthwise Electric Chipper with Collection Bin
Power Source: Electric | Dimensions: 24 x 18 x 42 inches | Weight: 31 pounds | Capacity: 1.75 inches | Reduction Ratio: 10:1 | Self-feeding: No
Easy to use
Low reduction rate
Every gardener knows the benefits of adding compost to the soil. It improves plant growth by increasing airflow, water, and nutrients to the plant roots. All around the yard, compost ingredients are free and just waiting but they should be shredded first. The Earthwise electric shredder is perfect for gardeners who want to start composting.
The chipper comes with a 1.2-gallon bin to catch the shredded matter and transport it to the compost bin or pile. Simply feed leaves and twigs into the hopper with the help of the tamper tool. The hopper opening is wider than other models for faster feeding. However, since the chipper is not extremely powerful, the reduction rate is only 10:1 leaving larger pieces of wood and leaves that may not be attractive as mulch but still good for composting.
Best Portable: Wen 15-amp Rolling Electric Wood Chipper/Shredder
Power Source: Electric | Dimensions: 36 x 21 x 16.5 inches | Weight: 23.1 pounds | Capacity: 1.5 inches | Reduction Ratio: 17:1 | Self-feeding: No
Easy to move
Good reduction ratio
If you like to move a wood chipper around the yard rather than bringing the pile of debris to one location, then the Wen Rolling Electric Wood Chipper is the best option. With an ergonomic pull handle and two large six-inch wheels, it is easy to maneuver the machine into tight places. Of course, you’ll need an outdoor UL-approved extension cord that reaches every spot.
The machine is surprisingly powerful for a small electric chipper and can handle branches up to 1.5 inches in diameter. The two 7-inch blades produce a 17:1 reduction ratio in the collection bag. Backed by a 2-year warranty, this is a good choice for small yards.
Best with Vacuum: Troy-Bilt Gas Chipper/Shredder with Vacuum
Power Source: Gas | Dimensions: 39 x 26.5 x 26 inches | Weight: 116 pounds | Capacity: 1.5 inches | Reduction Ratio: 8:1 | Self-feeding: Yes
Suctions and mulches leaves
Does not chip branches well
If your biggest lawn waste problem is leaves, then this Troy-Bilt vacuum chipper shredder may be just what you need. Rather than feeding debris into a chute, it is operated like a lawnmower. With an adjustable height, the machine rolls along the ground suctioning up a 24-inch swath of leaves into the blades and turns them into mulch. The shreds are then collected in the two-bushel bag for easy placement as mulch or into the compost pile. Or, you can leave the collection bag off to allow the shredded leaves to remain on the lawn to increase the nitrogen in the soil.
Attached to the side is a 7-foot flexible hose that can be used to suction leaves and small twigs from shrub beds and tight areas. Since there is no feeder chute for branches, it is best to pick them up before using the vacuum unless they are very small.
Our top chipper shredder pick is the Great CircleUSA Heavy Duty Wood Chipper Shredder (view at Amazon) for its ability to turn 15 bags of yard waste into one, limb-size capacity, and price point. However, the best chipper shredder for you depends on the size of your yard, the type of waste you would like to reduce, and your budget. For an easy-to-use electric model, we love the Sun Joe 15-amp Silent Wood Chipper/Shredder (view at Amazon) for its quiet operation and small footprint.
What to Look for in a Chipper Shredder
Chipper shredders are commonly powered by gas or electricity. Electric chippers are low-maintenance machines that are perfect for light cleanup—and they’re more environmentally friendly, to boot. Gas machines, on the other hand, are typically more powerful and aren’t limited by a cord, but they require more maintenance.
As you shop, you’ll notice chipper shredders have a “capacity,” which signifies the largest branch diameter the machine can handle. If you’re looking for a chipper just to clean up twigs, you’ll be fine with a low-capacity machine. However, if you want to chip thick branches, you’ll need to spend more on a more professional model.
The reduction ratio of a machine is based on how many bags of debris it takes to create one bag of mulch. This is highly dependent on whether you are shredding leaves or chipping branches. A higher reduction ratio equals a finer textured bag of mulch.
For small urban yards, an electric chipper shredder is usually all that is needed to take care of small branches and leaves. For yards over one-half of an acre, cleaning up after a large storm, or clearing areas for replanting, a large, gas-powered chipper shredder is recommended.
If you are mainly concerned with shredding leaves, a chipper shredder that has vacuum capabilities is a good choice. Some large chipper shredders are sold with a vacuum attachment to suction leaves or a kit can be purchased. Or, you can opt for a style of machine that resembles a push lawn mower—it sucks up, chips, and bags twigs, leaves, and debris as you navigate it around your lawn. However, these models can’t handle larger branches.
What is a chipper shredder used for?
A chipper shredder is used to turn yard waste—leaves, branches, twigs, dead plants—into small pieces to reduce landfill space, improve compost piles, or mulch garden beds.
How do you operate a chipper shredder?
Most chipper shredders operate by feeding organic waste into a hopper or chute. Beneath the loading areas are blades or grinding teeth that pulverize the waste into smaller pieces. Some machines are self-feeding, others require the operator to push the waste into the grinding area with a tamper tool. There are vacuum-style chippers that run like a lawnmower suctioning the debris into blades that chop it into small pieces.
When operating a chipper shredder, it is important to wear safety goggles and ear protection and follow all safety precautions. Never try to dislodge blockages while the machine is running.
When should the blades be sharpened or replaced?
Most manufacturers recommend sharpening or replacing the chipper shredder blades after 25 hours of use. You should be able to tell when it is time to take action if the wood chips are rough, uneven, or shredded. Of course, if the blades break or bend, they should be replaced immediately.
Why Trust The Spruce?
For this roundup, Mary Marlowe Leverette talked with commercial tree services and homeowners, read reviews, and tested chipper shredders. Carefully evaluating each machine's capacity, reduction ratio, power source, warranty, and durability, she has chosen the best type of chipper shredder for different yard sizes and gardening needs. Mary is a Master Gardener and has extensive personal and professional experience testing, reviewing, and writing about home and garden products. You can find more of her work on The Spruce.