Last updated March 2018
When piles of prunings pose a problem, sort it with a shredder – it’s the business for converting heaps to handfuls.
Then what? The results are so useful in the garden. Bag them up to rot down further, add them to the compost heap, spread them around shrubs as a mulch and weed suppressant, offer them to others (via your local gardening club/Freecycle/Freegle), or if you really have no other choice, make a trip to the tip.
Our ideal shredder – essential features
Having tested a number of shredders, we have found useless ones, noisy ones, and effective ones. Noise is difficult to keep down, given the job of the machine, but the types that chip, chop and slice rather than tear apart can be quieter. So do think about the size and amount of woody stuff you envisage shredding, and what end product you want (chips, chunks or shreds), which does also depend on your planned use for the resulting material.
There are numerous brands of electrically powered shredders, including AL-KO, Bosch, Draper, Einhell, Flymo, Handy, Makita, Mountfield, Scheppach, Titan and Viking. Petrol-engined shredders/chippers include those made by Allen, Apache, Ardisam, Eliet, Handy, Masport, Mighty Mac, MTD-Lawnflite and Viking. These ranges are available from garden machinery specialists such as Lawnmowers UK or through Tooled Up, but before making your final choice, check our wish list (below), to start you thinking about your own ideal machine.
- Versatility to deal with thick prunings and soft waste.
- Inlet wide enough to take branched prunings, so no trimming to fit is needed.
- Inlet at a convenient height.
- Purpose-made prodder for pushing twiggy material down onto the blades.
- Large enough motor on an electrical machine to deal with the workload.
- Overload cutout on an electrical machine to protect the motor from damage.
- Wide outlet to reduce the risk of jamming.
- Speedy processing of material.
- Material drawn in steadily instead of being snatched out of your hand.
- Produces easily composted slivers or crushed chunks of material (some shredders chop rather than shred, which is OK if you just want to reduce the volume before going to the tip).
- Wheels for mobility.
- Long enough cable on electrical machines to reach the mains socket.
- Secure cable connection on electrical machines.
- Controls that you can operate with gloved hands.
- Reverse-action blades for quickly clearing jams without having to expose the blades.
- Easy access to blades for cleaning/replacement.
- Safety switches to prevent operation when the blades are exposed.
- Quiet operation to protect your hearing and avoid disturbing everyone else.
- Replacement blades readily available.
Consider hiring a shredder
Hiring a machine locally makes sense if you’ve space to pile up the prunings ready for a mammoth shredding session a few times each year.
For a smooth-running day and your own safety, make sure that the machine’s been overhauled since last being used, and insist on having the instruction booklet (it’s best to arrange this in advance so it’s ready for you). Hire ear protection too – you’ll need it.
Pros of hiring a shredder
- Cheaper than buying – if you only have a few days work for it every year.
- Access to meaty models that you wouldn’t dream of buying.
- Heavy duty models for speedy throughput.
- Petrol-engined models for use whatever the weather (unlike electrical ones).
- You can try before you buy.
- Save storage space.
- No maintenance costs.
- Delivery to your door sometimes possible.
- Supplied assembled and ready to go.
Cons of hiring a shredder
- Smaller hire outlets only have limited choice – maybe a too small domestic machine, or a too large industrial type.
- May not be available at short notice.
- May be inefficient or ineffectve due to blunt blades, general wear, or abuse by other hirers.
Tips on using a shredder
- Consider the neighbours – most machines are noisy, and while you have the satisfaction of reducing a pile of prunings to a small heap, all they have is interminable noise with no idea of when it will all end.
- Use hearing protection. Your hearing is precious so preserve it with proper ear muffs, ear defenders or ear plugs that are designed to cut out hazardous sound levels and frequencies.
- Use eye protection. Flying chips and chunks can be damaging, so wear a visor, goggles or safety glasses.>
- Place a high-sided bag or container under the outlet chute. Shreddings will not accumulate in a neat pile on a sheet, whatever the promotional photos show. Instead they will fly in all directions and you’ll have to spend time clearing up.
- Prepare your material by cutting off side twigs that might jam inside the inlet.
- Use a large stick or the prodder supplied to push material in – never your hands! Work gloves are a good idea too.>
- Vary the material that you feed in – alternate between hard and green wood, thick and thin material. This will help avoid jamming the inlet.
- Check the machine at intervals for clogging – so you can clear it before it jams totally.
- When you’ve finished, disconnect and clean the blades and other parts immediately, before any sap dries and glues itself immovably to the machine.