As an Amazon Associate and affiliate of other programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

How Does A Wood Chipper Work? Answers To All Your Questions!

How do wood chippers work? They all work in the same basic manner. They receive wood material through a hopper and the wood gets shredded by a cutting mechanism featuring sharp blades. The process is complete when the wood chips are discarded through the discharge chute.

Do you have a pile of leaves, branches, and twigs in your backyard? Don’t know how to make this yard debris useful? 

I have an idea! Why not turn it into a mulch using a wood chipper. You can get one from my best review list. A wood chipper is an awesome machine that can turn your yard waste into a gardener’s gold

But how does it do it? How does a wood chipper work? 

Understanding how wood chippers work will help you get a better idea of what to expect from your machine and how to use it safely and effectively

I will explain in detail how wood chippers operate and help you pick the best type for your yard. You can find lots more below! 

Everything You Need To Know About Wood Chippers

What Is A Wood Chipper?

A man feeding a small log to a wood chipper
Image credit:

A wood chipper is a machine used for reducing wood into wood chips or sawdust. Wood chippers are used for recycling wood, for the maintenance of property and land, and for cleaning up after tornados and storms

Industrial wood chippers have a much bigger cutting capacity than residential machines. They can cut tree limbs, trunks, and big branches. Wood chippers for home use can shred thinner branches, twigs, and leaves typically found on lawns

Despite the difference in size and power, all wood chippers work in the same basic manner. Let’s see how wood chippers work.

How Does A Wood Chipper Work?

a shot of industrial wood chipper hopper with logs getting shredded in it
Image credit:

All wood chippers, regardless of their size and build, have the same basic operation. You feed the wood chipper wood material through the hopper. The sharp rotating blades then shred the wood into chips, which get thrown out through the discharge chute

All wood chippers have an internal engine that powers this process. Wood chippers either have a fuel-powered engine or an electric motor that needs to be plugged into an outlet. Both types have their advantages and disadvantages, which I will discuss in the next section.

The job of the engine is to make the crankshaft turn inside a wood chipper. A crankshaft is considered the backbone of the engine. It converts linear motion into rotational motion.

Once the crankshaft is up and running, it either engages or disengages the clutch. The engine has to reach a certain RPM (rounds per minute) to engage the clutch and get the drive belt moving

The drive belt turns the impeller that has sharp blades or chipper knives. Once the impellers start rotating, the blades are ready for action. When you hear the impeller turning, you can start feeding your wood chipper branches, twigs, leaves, acorns, and grass through a hopper. 

A close up shot of a a wood chipper intake hopper
Image credit:

Wood chippers typically feature two separate hoppers for processing wood. A large intake hopper located on the top of the machine is dedicated to twigs, foliage, vines, grass, and other finer yard debris. The hopper feeder on the side can receive longer and thicker logs and branches

No matter which hopper you feed, you should never push the material inside with your hands. Always use the push stick that the machine comes with or another branch to get the material in or to release a jam.

Once the material reaches the impeller, it will gradually get cut into small wood particles called wood chips or mulch. You can use them in your garden, add them to compost, or use them to hide mud on your lawn. Check out these clever uses for wood chips.

Big logs can get reduced to almost nothing thanks to the sharp rotating blades, which either operate on separate shafts or via an intermesh system. The perk of having several blades operating on individual shafts is that the wood gets repeatedly shredded when passing through at a high speed. 

But, an intermesh blade system makes the machine self-feeding. Intermesh blades draw the branches inside on their own. This cutting mechanism produces wood chips of consistent size

Wood chipper discharge chute discharging wood chips
Image credit:

The last step of the process is the discharge. The wood chipper uses airflow and fins at the back of the impeller to shoot the wood chips through a discharge chute. Use it to angle and deflect the shredded wood into a pile, a garbage bag, or onto a trailer. 

Depending on which wood chipper you buy, some may feature different blade configurations, or have added hammers and additional components as part of the process. Despite that, the operation remains the same across the board.

5 Types Of Wood Chippers

You will come across many different types of wood chippers when you start shopping for one. I recommend you start picking your wood chipper based on the power source you want, so you don’t get overwhelmed. 

Once you decide whether you want a gas or electric chipper, you can start looking at the mechanisms. Let’s take a closer look at each type.

Gas Powered Wood Chippers

A gas powered wood chipper painted yellow
Image credit:

If you own a big property that produces lots of yard debris, consider buying a gas-powered wood chipper. Gas-powered wood chippers are stronger than electric ones. They can take on bigger and more demanding shredding tasks. 

Gas wood chippers are also a better choice for people who live in areas that often get hit by tornados and storms. This way, you can clean up the aftermath, even if there is a power shortage in your town. You only have to fill up the tank to get the engine going. 

I also like how gas wood chippers are not restricted by the length of the electric cord and they don’t have to be connected to an electrical outlet on your house or garage. They are fully portable and can be taken anywhere. 

On the downside, gas wood chippers are typically bigger, heavier, and bulkier. They are not the easiest to carry or move and can be a bit cumbersome to use

Another drawback is that you always need to make sure you have enough fuel in the tank before starting the job. If not, your machine will die on you in the middle of shredding. This rarely happens with electric models, unless there is a power shortage.

If you are favoring gas machines, be prepared to spend a little bit more on them. Gas-powered chippers tend to be more expensive. They also require more maintenance and need gasoline. These are the expenses we often forget about. 

Electric Wood Chippers

An electric wood chipper with pile of logs in the background
Image credit:

In general, electric wood chippers are an excellent accessory for smaller yards that don’t produce lots of debris for shredding. They are also ideal for those who are just starting out with landscaping and don’t know their way around gas machines

Electric wood chippers are easier to use and operate. They have a quick start so you don’t have to pull on a cord to fire up the engine. Just turn the switch, and you are good to go. 

Electric wood chippers are also lightweight and compact, unlike gas-powered units, so they are easier to haul around the yard. They, however, are tied to your house or electrical outlet.

On the bright side, you won’t have to deal with smelly gasoline and oil changes. Electric units don’t require regular maintenance because battery motors require less upkeep than gas engines. 

Electric chippers are beginner-friendly and cheap since they don’t require seasonal maintenance and gasoline refills. 

Just keep in mind that electric wood chippers are typically not as strong as gas chippers. You may not be able to shred thicker branches as effectively or bigger heaps of yard debris in one go. Electric chippers are better suited for light to moderate yard cleanups

Are electric wood chippers any good? Find out in this YouTube video: 

High Torque Roller Wood Chippers

A gas powered wood chipper painted green
Image credit:

Wood chippers with high torque rollers are great for residential home use. Most of them are powered by electric motors, which means they are quiet and operate slower than drum and disc wood chippers. This type of chipper won’t disturb your neighbors or hurt your ears. 

Most high torque roller wood chippers are self-feeding. This makes them safer and easier to use and an ideal choice for beginners. Some even have an anti-jamming feature

Drum Wood Chippers

Drum wood chippers feature a large drum in the center of the machine. The drum draws the wood material into itself like a feeder. The drum can take in huge amounts of material, which makes it ideal for big cleanups. 

Wood chippers with a drum work very fast and are loud. They are also more dangerous to use. You have to be careful not to get your clothes caught in the mechanism when feeding the drum. In fact, you should never wear loose-fitting clothes and scarves while operating any type of wood chipper. You run the risk of getting injured. 

The drum and the engine are directly connected. Any jam within the drum will affect the engine and possibly stall the operation. Working with a drum wood chipper requires caution and precision.

See how this industrial drum wood chipper operates:

Disc Wood Chippers 

A diagram showing the parts of a disc wood chipper
Image credit:

Disc wood chippers feature a disc with cutting blades. Hydraulic wheels draw the material towards the rotating disc from the hopper. Sharp blades slice the wood into small chips with hardly any effort.

Industrial wood chippers can feature a disc as large as 160 inches in diameter. But smaller models can be found for residential use. They are a great alternative to high torque and drum chippers. 

Disc wood chippers represent a sweet middle ground. They are more dangerous than high torque chippers but not nearly as much as drum models


Is a wood chipper a good investment?

A wood chipper is a good investment for yards that produce a lot of branches, twigs, leaves, and other organic debris. If you often prune your trees or get storms that cause havoc in your backyard, you may want to consider buying a wood chipper. 

What can you put through a wood chipper?

You can put a variety of debris and waste through a wood chipper, including:

  • Tree limbs, branches, and twigs
  • Brush
  • Vines
  • Pinecones
  • Acorns
  • Grass
  • Cardboard
  • Paper and newspaper

Can you put leaves through a wood chipper?

You can put leaves through a wood chipper to turn them into compost or mulch. Wood chippers can shred most leaves except palm fronds and other fibrous foliage. Wood chippers can also shred grass, pinecones, and acorns. 

Will a wood chipper shred tires?

Only an industrial wood chipper will shred tires without any hiccups. Your average yard wood chipper is not equipped for this kind of work. Most tires have steel belts in them, which can dull the blades, cause jams, slow down the chipper or break it completely.

Can you put cardboard in a wood chipper?

You can put cardboard in a wood chipper. You may have to rip the cardboard into strips first to prevent clogging or damage to the blades. You can soak the cardboard and break it down to make it more palatable for the machine. 

Can you run bamboo through a chipper?

You can’t run bamboo through a chipper. Average consumer wood chippers can’t shred highly fibrous bamboo, especially if it has been treated and strengthened. Bamboo is too tough. It will dull the blades or break the chipper.

Now You Know Everything About Wood Chippers! 

You no longer have to ask yourself: How does a wood chipper work? Now you know exactly how!

A wood chipper is a pretty straightforward machine with a tried and proven mechanism. Its operation starts at the hopper and ends at the discharge chute. The sharp blades step in the middle of the process to turn branches into useful mulch

Now that you know the ins and outs of your wood chipper, you can use it safely and effectively. You can use your machine to its fullest potential without it breaking down

Feel free to ask any questions on the topic in the comments and share your experience in using a wood chipper. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Photo of author

About The Author

Brett Jones

Brett is a private yet hardworking office assistant, who resides in Raleigh with his wife Nadya. He has a passion for backyard projects and spends much of his free time working on landscaping, gardening, and building outdoor furniture. Though he shies away from being in the spotlight, he plays an important role in Nadya's blog by providing her with "raw" content. Brett's knowledge and creativity of backyard design and DIY projects give Nadya material to come up with unique and interesting posts for her blog. On occasion, Brett also contributes to the site showing his tech expertise, particularly when talking about snowblowers and other tools. Follow him on Twitter.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.