Controlling My Woodchips

I’m a huge fan of mulching, and living in the woods like I do, I have access to a nearly limitless source of mulching materials. The saplings that sprout up along the edges of clearings every year are perfect for making what’s called ramial chipped wood mulch, ramial referring to branches and other small diameter wood that’s still tender and soft compared to larger diameter parts of the tree. Adding ramial chips to the soil works wonders in terms of changing the soil ecology from bacterial to fungal, and I’ve seen really favorable results here over the past few years.

But you’ve got to chip it before you can use it. I’ve got an excellent PTO-driven chipper for my tractor, but it leaves the chips too big for rapid incorporation into the soil. So I’ve taken to double-grinding my woodchips by running the output from the big chipper into a smaller chipper-shredder. The resulting chips are just the right size – not too coarse, but not sawdust either. There’s still enough texture to allow the chips to lock together and form a mulch layer, but not small enough to make a solid mat that would prevent air and water from getting through, like sawdust would.

The trouble is, the small chipper blows the woodchips all over the place. I’ve tried various things over the years to try to corral the chips, and eventually I manage to form a pile with them, but there’s a lot of waste as the chips head off into the woods. And then there’s the clean up – shoveling up all the remaining double ground chips into a trailer or wheelbarrow. Waste of time, waste of materials. Not acceptable.

IMG_2049So yesterday, inspired as always by a chat with my wife about the problem, I headed to Lowe’s to see if I could find the stuff I’d need to attach a hose to the output chute of the small chipper. I found a 10″x4″ HVAC register boot for like $5 which was a perfect fit for the output chute. Six sheet metal screws attached it firmly to the chute. The 4″ collar on the boot was just a bit too large for the 4″ semi-rigid dust collection piping I had lying around the woodshop, so I crimped it down with some HVAC crimpers – a pair of needle-nose pliers would have done the trick too. A 4″ band clamp secured the duct to the collar, but it slipped off too easily, so I sent a few screws right through the clamp and duct into the boot. Much better.

I fired up the chipper – started on the first pull, which is a testament to the power of properly winterizing your power equipment – and was pleasantly surprised at how well it works. The fan on the chipper moves a lot of air, and I thought it might blow the hose right off. It didn’t, and the chips were well contained and moved along nicely.

Next step: build an enclosure for my little trailer so I can pipe the chips right into it. I also might find that the sheet metal boot is just too flimsy for the beating it’ll likely take, in which case I’ll have to fabricate something out of heavier gauge steel. I’m probably going to do that anyway, to give my new welding skills a workout. In the meantime, $10 in parts and 20 minutes assembly time to prove the concept is a huge win in my book.

Here’s a quick video of the whole thing in action:




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