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How To Use A Chipper-Shredder Safely? All You Need To Know

Don’t know how to use a wood chipper safely? Follow these safety tips:

  1. Don’t wear loose-fitting clothes
  2. Wear protection
  3. Stand in the safety zone 
  4. Never push yard debris in the hopper with your hands 
  5. Feed the blunt end of the branch first
  6. Watch out for flyaways
  7. Never leave the machine unattended

Are you a little bit nervous to use your chipper-shredder for the first time

We’ve all been there! Operating a big machine such as a wood chipper can be scary at first. But there is nothing you need to worry about if you follow all the safety precautions

A lot of homeowners dive in head first, not educating themselves enough on wood chipper safety. This negligent behavior often results in injuries and hospital visits

This prompted me to write a complete guide on how to use a chipper-shredder safely! I will take you through every step. Let’s get to it! 

Safety Guide: How To Use A Chipper-Shredder? 

Read The User’s Manual 

Wood chipper safety operation manual
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The first thing you need to do is pick up the user’s manual and familiarize yourself with the machine in front of you. You will find all the usage and safety instructions that specifically apply to your chipper model in the manual. 

Get to know the ins and outs of your shredder. Learn how to turn on the machine safely and how to reverse it or stop it in case of an emergency. Learn what size branches the unit can safely shred, which material you can and can’t process, and much more. 

The more you learn about your wood chipper, the less likely you are to make a mistake while operating it. If you haven’t found all the answers in the user’s manual, I recommend you look for answers online or contact the manufacturer directly

In case you notice any parts missing on your shredder, don’t use it! Instead, notify the seller and make a return. It is better to be safe than sorry. 

You can find my list of some great chipper-shredders right here, where I have reviewed some of the best on the market. 

This video shows you how to use a chipper-shredder safely

Wear Tight-Fitting Clothes

A man in a brown denim jumper
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You must wear tight-fitting clothes when operating a chipper-shredder. If you wear loose clothes, you have a greater risk of getting injured. 

A shirt that is too big, a scarf, an unbuckled belt, or a long necklace can all get caught by the rotating cutter while you feed the hopper, and the machine can instantly pull you in towards the blades. 

To prevent this from happening, wear work overalls or basic work pants with a form-fitting T-shirt or long-sleeved shirt. 

Wear Protection

A man wearing protective gears while feeding a log to a wood chipper hopper
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The next best thing you can do is protect yourself with protective gear. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Put on safety goggles or wear a face shield to protect your eyes and face from flying pieces of wood. 
  2. Wear gardening gloves to protect your hands from splinters and blisters, which develop when handling raw wood. 
  3. Wear ear muffs to protect your hearing from loud noise coming from your gas-powered wood chipper. If you are working with an electric chipper, you may not need to protect your hearing. 
  4. Put on non-slip boots so you don’t slip and fall.

This is the basic protection you should wear while operating a wood chipper. Once you buy these essentials, you can use them when working with a string trimmer, lawnmower, chainsaw, snowblower, or other dangerous lawn equipment

Use A Chipper-Shredder Outside

gasoline-type chipper shredder
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Always use your wood chipper outdoors. Never start the machine or shred material in your garage, because the emissions could make you feel sick, dizzy, and lightheaded and gas fumes won’t get to you when working in the fresh air. 

Place The Chipper-Shredder On Level Grass

A man feeding sticks to a chipper-shredder
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You should always use your chipper-shredder outdoors. But where exactly?

The best place to station your wood chipper is on level, dry grass, away from the kids and pets. Your wood chipper won’t shake as much if you keep it on your lawn as it would on your driveway or other concrete surfaces. The grass will cushion the vibrations and make the machine more stable and less noisy.

Always work on a flat surface, so your wood chipper stays still and doesn’t tip over when processing big branches. Lastly, don’t start shredding your yard debris immediately after rain while the grass is still wet. You certainly don’t want to slip around a fully operating wood chipper.  

Adjust The Discharge Chute

A chipper-shredder discharging clippings
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You can control the distance and direction of the discharge by adjusting the discharge chute and deflector to your liking. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Find two clamp knobs on the deflector. Most wood chippers have them. Adjust them to set the throwing distance
  2. Rotate the discharge chute to shoot the wood chips in any direction you want. You can aim it straight into the collection bag or onto a trailer

It is important that you adjust the discharge before you start the machine, so you don’t make a mess on your lawn and so you can stay focused on the task at hand. 

Set The Parking Brake And Start The Chipper

A wood chipper-shredder engine being started
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If you are towing your chipper-shredder with a tractor or any other vehicle, you should engage the parking brake first. This will ensure your wood chipper stays stable and doesn’t move even when fully loaded. Once that’s done, you can finally start your machine!

Want to know how a wood chipper works? Click here

Stand In The Safety Zone

An illustration of a man and a chipper-shredder  showing safety zones and protective equipment
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Operate and feed your wood chipper from the safety zone. The safety zone is the place next to a chipper where you can stand without the risk of being hit by flying wood pieces. The user’s manual should specify where this zone is. 

Feed A Mixture Of Green And Dry 

a heap of  grass clippings in a wheelbarrow
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You don’t have to shred dry and green yard debris separately. It is better if you feed your chipper a mixture of both. Here’s why: 

Green debris is full of moisture. It will lubricate the blades and help the shredder process the dry wood better. Green debris helps the cutting mechanism run smoothly and efficiently. 

When you are mulching green leaves, vines, and grass clippings, occasionally run dry sticks and twigs through the machine too! The dry material will remove the green fibrous stuff stuck on the cutting mechanism. You will keep your chipper-shredder from jamming. 

Watch What You Feed A Wood Chipper

Dirt, debris and loose rusting screws
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You should do your best to inspect every load of yard debris before you feed it to the chipper. Rocks, wire, and steel stakes often sneak into the mix. These foreign objects can dull the blades, damage the driveshafts, and injure you if they shoot out of the machine. 

Also, learn what types of organic and inorganic material your machine can and can not shred. For instance, lots of smaller wood chippers can’t process palm fronds. Those, too, can be dangerous to shred! 

Make Sure Your Wood Chipper Is Sharp

A set of wood chipper blades
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Ever heard that a dull knife is more dangerous to use than a sharp one

The same applies to wood chippers. A dull wood chipper won’t cut the wood as fast and as efficiently and you will spend a lot of time shedding small branches. It will end up driving you crazy, and while frustrated, you may end up making a poor decision that leads to an injury. 

A dull chipper-shredder is also more likely to clog. This leads to a new set of troubles. Lots of injuries happen when people try to release a jam from the chipper. 

What you can do is run a couple of branches through the wood chipper to assess its condition. If the performance is not up to par, get the blades sharpened by a professional or sharpen them at home.

This video shows you how to sharpen wood chipper blades on your own:

Never Push In Material With Your Hands

Wood chipper hopper with a stick of wood being feed in it
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One thing you should never do is push yard debris into the hopper with your hands. Your hands and arms should never enter the hopper or chute

Instead, use a push stick to push shorter branches into the chipping chute. You can press the leaves, grass clippings, and finer yard debris into the hopper with a forked stick, a plastic baseball bat, or a leaf tamper

Feed The Blunt End First

Feed the branches into the chipping chute blunt end first. The chipper will accept and process the branches much easier than the other way around.

Hold The Branch Loosely

A man chipping wood clipping with a gasoline wood chipper
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If you’ve used a chipper-shredder before, then you already know how hard they pull in the branches. Don’t be surprised by this if you are using a wood chipper for the first time!

The shredding mechanism forcefully grabs a hold of the branch and yanks it through the hopper. That is why you need to hold branches loosely when feeding them into the chipper, so you don’t get pulled in. Don’t get hit by a branch when it’s snatched from you, either. 

Another way to keep your arms safe is to always keep them perpendicular to the hopper

Watch Out For Flyaways

Wood chipper hopper opening with hopper flaps
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Wood chippers are messy eaters! Don’t let the flyaways hit you in the face! 

Thankfully, hopper flaps keep most of the flying debris at bay. But with use, those protective flaps can tear away and lose their effectiveness. You can always replace them if your chipper-shredder is ejecting more material out of the hopper than usual. 

Standing in the safety zone will keep you out of harm’s way. Wear a face shield and never lean your head into the hopper to check for things. You may get a wood chip straight to the face. 

Never Exceed The Chipping Capacity

Wood chipper poster with listed features of chipper-shredder
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The easiest way to stay safe is to never overwork your chipper-shredder. Never shred branches that are larger than what is specified by the manufacturer. 

It is better to feed your shredder thinner branches, as companies often overestimate the cutting capacity of their products. So, if your wood chipper can process branches 3 inches in diameter, stay below that limit

Don’t put too much yard debris into the hopper too fast, as you will jam your wood chipper. Once that happens, you will have to release the clog. Removing a clog can be dangerous, so it is better to feed your machine little by little. 

Shut Off The Chipper Before Removing The Clog

chipped wood on the palm of a gloved hand
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In case your chipper-shredder clogs, follow these steps to get it up and running again:

  1. Wait until the wood chipper stops.
  2. Disconnect the spark plug wire located on the exterior of your wood chipper. It should be between the muffler and the air cleaner.
  3. Lower the discharge screen. 
  4. Rake debris out of the grinding chamber using a stick. Don’t pull it out with your hands.

This video shows you how to unclog a wood chipper:

Never Leave The Chipper Unattended

One thing you should never do is leave your chipper-shredder unattended. You never know when a curious pet or a kid will come running by

Don’t leave your chipper-shredder unsupervised even if it is fully disengaged and turned off. A machine of that size can fall on a child and cause some serious damage. 


Are wood chippers dangerous?

Wood chippers are dangerous machines if used incorrectly or unsafely. Fast spinning blades and knives can cause serious damage to a person. That is why you should never stick your hands and arms inside a hopper while feeding it.

Can a wood chipper kill you?

A wood chipper is a useful but dangerous machine that can even kill you. If a person’s hand or a limb gets caught and pulled in by sharp and fast-spinning blades, a person can bleed to death.

Now You Know How To Use A Chipper-Shredder

A wood chipper is a dangerous machine that can injure you if you don’t practice caution and safety. This, of course, should not discourage you from buying one, especially now that you know how to use a chipper-shredder safely. 

Wood chippers are extremely useful. One can make your landscaping less strenuous and more fun. Turning yard waste into mulch has never been easier. You can use wood chips in your garden and flower bed, add them to your compost pile or put them under your kids’ playset.

How do you plan on using your wood chips? Let me know in the comments below, and feel free to ask any questions on the topic. I would love to hear from you!

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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.

1 thought on “How To Use A Chipper-Shredder Safely? All You Need To Know”

  1. Had our chipper serviced. Used it today and chipped for about 15 minutes. My friend who is helping me notice two blades and two little nuts had gone through and out the shoot into the pile.
    This is precisely why we had it serviced in the first place and it’s hard to imagine it’s still doing it. Can you explain why the blades are being shot through the thrower into chipping pile ?


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