What NOT to Put in a Wood Chipper

What NOT to Put in a Wood Chipper

Items to Avoid Chipping

Dale, the Chipper Expert
Chipper Expert

Consumer-grade chippers and chipper shredders are made for a specific purpose. They’re built to break down the most common kinds of organic yard waste:

  • Branches and Leaves Safe to ChipLeaves
  • Twigs
  • Branches
  • Grass clippings

Sticking to the manufacturer's guidelines isn't just a matter of safety, although safety should be the most important consideration when using a chipper shredder or any other power equipment. It’s also a matter of keeping your chipper in working condition for years to come and reducing the risk of damage to its parts.

But people are curious. They sometimes try to chip items that don’t belong in their chipper shredders, and they put themselves in danger as a result.

Below are some of the most common items that people mistakingly put into their consumer-grade chippers or chipper shredders… and shouldn’t.


Don’t Chip This: Bamboo

BambooBamboo is an incredibly durable natural material, with bundles of fibers running lengthwise along the stem to provide reinforcement. When treated and processed, bamboo can achieve a Janka hardness rating around 3000, which makes it more durable than even some Brazilian hardwoods or woods like teak.

The average consumer chipper shredder isn’t made to break down such a sturdy material (although Patriot takes pride in the ability of its portable chipper shredders to handle bamboo).

It’s easy to understand why people might want to throw bamboo in the chipper. It’s a fast-growing plant, and if you have a “running” type of bamboo that grows via underground stems (as opposed to a “clumping” type that grows in small, manageable clusters), you can easily find your lawn or garden overrun with bamboo stalks, also called culms.

What to do with it instead: once dried, the stalks you cut from your yard can come in handy in… your yard:

  • Cut the stalk into smaller pieces to make stakes for tomatoes and trellises or poles or climbing plants like beans and peas
  • Use them to create fencing (taller stakes around the yard, shorter stakes for pet runs and other small spaces)
  • Burn them in a bonfire (always check local burning ordinances)
  • See if your town or municipality will accept them in a green waste disposal bin

Don’t Chip This: Palm Branches and Fronds

Although not as resistant as bamboo, palm branches are durable. 

Palm Fronds

Another major problem is that the leaves, known as fronds, are stringy and fibrous. The long fibers from a palm frond can get tangled in the average entry-level chipper’s moving parts, damaging the machine. (Be careful; they can damage lawn mowers, too.)

What to do with them instead: some of the solutions for bamboo also work for palm tree branches:

  • Stick them in the ground to create shade and windbreaks for seedlings
  • Strip the fronds to make garden stakes with the branches
  • Burn them in a bonfire (always check local burning ordinances)
  • See if your town or municipality will accept them in a green waste disposal bin

Don't Chip This: Pressure-Treated Lumber

LumberPrior to 2003, wood that had been pressure-treated with a chemical known as chromated copper arsenate (CCA) was a popular choice for lumber because of its resistance to rot and pests. 

Then, in 2003, the EPA drafted a study that raised concerns about CCA because it contains the toxic compound arsenic. Several states list CCA as a cancer-causing substance, or carcinogen. The lumber industry stopped producing CCA-treated wood by the end of 2003.

Currently, there is no recommendation to remove pressure-treated wood structures that might contain CCA, and touching the wood isn't considered a problem. The problem comes from inhaling or swallowing CCA, which, when sawdust is flying out of your chipper, you're at risk of doing.

Additionally, pressure-treated lumber is so hard and dense that it's likely to damage your chipper, and the damage won't be covered under warranty.

What to do with it instead: because of its chemical content, pressure-treated wood that might contain CCA shouldn't be burned. Instead, look for a safe option for disposal or reuse:

  • Dispose of it at a lined landfill (ask your municipality if this is the kind of landfill your town uses for its trash)
  • Dispose of it at a construction and demolition (C&D) landfill
  • Repurpose it in structures such as fence posts and structural supports

Don’t Chip This: Coconut Shells

Coconut Shells and HusksCoconut shells contain the same substances found in wood: cellulose and lignin. These two compounds are responsible for making wood so firm. They’re also responsible for making coconut shells sturdy enough not to break when dropped from great heights.

What to do with them instead: the processed fiber from coconut husks is considered a high-quality growing medium for plants because of how it retains water and irritates insects.

However, soaking and curing coconut husks to encourage beneficial microbes to grow and then extracting the coconut fibers can take over a year. It also requires specialized equipment such as coconut shredders (yes, they exist). Consider one of these possibilities if you need a short-term solution for your coconut shells:

  • Add them to a compost pile
  • Turn them into houses or hiding places for hamsters, turtles, snakes, and other pets kept in a dry cage or terrarium
  • Make serving dishes for your next party (saw the bottom flat and line the inside with plastic wrap)
  • Encourage your kids to use them in crafts
  • See if your town or municipality will accept them in a green waste disposal bin

Don’t Chip This: Golf Balls

Golf BallsAt some point, the idea of shredding all the golf balls you've acquired into small pieces for easy disposal might seem attractive. Don’t be tempted. Most golf balls have a dense rubber core and a cover made from either a rubbery substance called Balata or a hard resin called Surlyn.

Materials made to withstand hits from a golf club are too strong for a consumer-grade chipper shredder.

What to do with them instead: Sending your golf balls through a chipper risks damaging the machine and costing you hundreds of dollars in repairs or replacement. Wouldn’t it be better to save or even make money with them?

  • Place them at the bottom of plant pots to improve drainage
  • Massage the arches of your feet by rolling one under each foot
  • Resell them to local golf courses or driving ranges or to online refurbishers
  • Play more golf!

Don’t Chip This: Manure and Pet Waste

Calf in PastureManure and pet waste present a quite different problem from the materials listed above. They’re likely to smear, spread, and get stuck in the crevices of your chipper that are most difficult to clean.

Don't try to help return these materials to nature by chipping them into smaller clumps. With regard to animal waste, it’s best to let nature take its course.

What to do with it instead: manure specifically refers to waste that comes from livestock (sheep, cows, etc.). As such, it can be added safely to a compost pile and left to cure.

Cat and DogHowever, dog and cat waste can contain parasites that are harmful to humans. Do not add dog or cat waste to a regular garden compost pile. Instead, create a separate compost pile to fertilize non-edible plants, or choose one of the following options for safe pet waste disposal:

  • Flush it down your toilet (check local ordinances first)
  • Throw it into the trash

Don’t Chip This: Butcher Waste

Butcher TrimmingsLike manure and pet waste, meat trimmings and waste are squishy enough to be incredibly difficult to clean out of a chipper.

You might want to process meat scraps into smaller bits and perhaps mix it with sawdust to get a compost pile started.

However, meat, fat, and skin should not be added to compost piles. Not only will it risk attracting rodents and other pests; it also will smell terrible.

What to do with it instead: we might call meat trimmings and scraps “waste,” but they actually can be useful:

  • Bring them to a local farmer to use as feed for chicken, pigs, or goats (or feed your own farm animals, but never household pets)
  • Use them in other recipes (fats for frying, chicken skin for chicken stock)

Additionally, if you dispose of grass clippings, leaves, and other yard debris in a “green waste” bin, you might be able to dispose of meat scraps in there as well. Check with your city, township, or local government.


Chip What’s Meant to Be Chipped

The items above aren’t the only ones that people mistakenly have tried to break down in a consumer-grade chipper shredder. They’re just some of the most common.

Save your chipper shredder for well-dried common yard debris. When you use your chipper the way it’s intended, you keep yourself safe and keep your chipper running for a nice, long time.


 NEXT: How to Safely Use a Wood Chipper

Dale, the Chipper Expert
Chipper Expert
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