TOMCAT protocol for safe chipper operation

When someone sees a wood chipper in action for the first time in their lives, completely devouring a whole tree of 300mm in mere seconds, they might argue that wood chippers are the most dangerous piece of equipment known to mankind. This might be true if the following principles are not strictly followed:

  • Understanding the operations of the wood chipper
  • Proper daily chipper inspection (for cracks, loose bolts, blade condition, anvil clearance, filters etc.)
  • Making sure you read and understand the instruction manual and all the safety stickers on the chipper
  • Making sure the chipper is in excellent working condition and maintained properly on OEM standards

At TOMCAT Chippers we take every step we can to make sure that every new machine owner and their staff are fully trained and understand all the operations of the new unit on the day of handover. It is of upmost importance that all personnel working with a wood chipper or near it fully understand the operations. If you are not fully trained on working with a wood chipper the best advice is to stay away from the site where the chipper is operating and not to go closer than 30 meters of the machine. This article serves as a guideline to the most important general safety procedures and protocols to follow when working with a wood chipper regardless of the brand or type. The safety precautions for a small gravity-feed unit and a large hydraulic-feed wood chipper powered by a 125 horsepower diesel engine are the same. Most of these instructions are clearly visible on stickers of every TOMCAT wood chipper and the others are practical instructions which form part of the physical training new operators will receive on the day of delivery of their TOMCAT wood chipper.

The chipper maintenance crew should keep the wood chipper in immaculate condition and the operators should adhere to all the operating guidelines. This will not only ensure that the chances of chipper accidents happening are minimal, but will also that unnecessary downtime on your chipper due to breakages is limited and that the wood chippers’ efficiency and output will increase. By keeping your chipper as close to its original condition as possible, you will allow the chipper to perform the same as it did that first day you started chipping with it, meaning more money in your pocket!

Unfortunately there are wood chipper owners out there who don’t do any maintenance on their machines. The chipper runs with blunt or cracked blades, old blade bolts, engines that haven’t been serviced for years, untrained operators and no form of working safety devices. The reason for this lack of basic maintenance is probably that there is no regulating authority on wood chippers like there is on motor vehicles. No test station to make sure the wood chipper is in 100% working order. This is why our TOMCAT team always keeps in contact with customers and makes sure that all our equipment in the field is checked annually and kept in optimum condition.

Here are some of the most important guidelines to follow:

The basic dos and don’ts

When you operate a wood chipper, make sure of the following:

  • All operators within 30 meters of the chipper must be wearing full PPE at all times (safety glasses, gloves and ear protection).
  • All the safety systems must be fully operational.
  • Your machine must be clean and all safety stickers clearly visible.
  • Make sure the wood chipper is standing steady in one place with the wheels locked in place and the drum hood closed and locked.
  • Be cautious of moving parts. Keep hands, feet and clothing away from power-driven parts, such as the slide box, drive-belts, feed rollers and PTO shaft, while machine is running.
  • Ensure that the area around the chipper is free from objects that can obstruct your movement and that the space behind the infeed hopper is clear of debris at all times.
  • Operators must at all times be in reach of the forward/ reverse bar.
  • Make sure your hour meter is working and services are up to date.
  • Always remain calm and don’t get rushed when feeding the chipper.

For safe operation please try to avoid the following at all costs:

  • Never reach into the hopper for any reason – rather use a stick to remove debris from the in-feed hopper (not your hands!) or switch the machine off completely. Avoid using steel or metal rakes to push material into the chipper.
  • Don’t operate the woodchipper under the influence of alcohol or any other drugs which may cause drowsiness.
  • Never allow children under the age of 16 or any person with a physical or mental disability to go near the wood chipper & never leave the machine running unattended.
  • Avoid wearing loose clothing & NEVER climb into the infeed hopper while engine is running or key is still in ignition.
  • Do not let any material, especially vines, lie in front of the infeed hopper as they may cause you to trip and fall.
  • NEVER feed the material into the chipper standing directly in the middle of the in-feed hopper. Instead, stand on the left side and feed with your right hand or on the right side and feed with your left hand.
  • NEVER operate the wood chipper on uneven terrain. Don’t operate the chipper while standing on loose logs etc.
  • NEVER walk past the discharge chute while machine is running – this WILL result in injury.
  • Make sure the wood chipper is switched off, the ignition key out, and that the drum to come to a complete stop before the drum cover is opened or any form of maintenance is done.
  • Never operate a wood chipper with faulty electronics or hydraulics.

The following points are extremely important when it comes to maintenance of your woodchipper and the physical condition of the machine and wear parts:

  • Do not attempt any maintenance if you have never received training from a qualified TOMCAT representative.
  • Before attempting any type of maintenance, turn off the engine and remove the ignition key (put it in your pocket). Open the drum cover once the drum has stopped completely. Disconnect the PTO shaft is or disengage the clutch.
  • Check your chipper blades/drum for cracks or wear daily. Replace your blade and anvil bolts at every major service.
  • Never work with cracked or blunt blades, missing blade/anvil bolts, different size blades, blades that have been sharpened past their maximum point, old blade/anvil bolts or blades that have not been torqued properly:

Cracked Blades = Will break and cause serious damage and injury
Blunt Blades = High fuel consumption, poor chip quality & low production
Missing Blade/ Anvil Bolts = Blade/Anvil will come loose and cause serious damage and injury/death
Different Sized Blades = Drum will be out of balance which will cause excessive vibration which lead to cracks on the chipper body
Old Bolts = The heads of the blade bolts wear as the material passes by inside the chipping drum and the bolt head stretches as they are torqued, which  can lead to the bolt breaking and cause severe damage
Sharpened Past Max Point = Blades are too short and the wood will knock the blade bolts before the blades will cut it, which will cause serious damage
Poorly Torqued Blades/ Anvil = Blades/Anvil will come loose causing serious damage to the chipper body which might lead to injury/death

  • Always use original TOMCAT anvils, blades & bolts.
  • Make sure that you reset your torque wrench after you used it to keep the torque wrench accurate and calibrated.
  • Don’t use copper-slip or Locktite on your blade/ anvil bolts.
  • Never sharpen your wood chipper blades at home with a bench grinder or angle grinder. TOMCAT Chipper blades are made from a specific steel and hardened to increase the lifespan of the blade. Blades should be sharpened with a surface grinder using liquid to cool the blades down.
  • Clean your wood chipper regularly as this will make it easier to spot cracks on the unit or faulty/ leaking parts.
  • Make sure to use the necessary lock-pins on the chipper when inspection on the drum or anvil is being done.
  • Make sure your wood chipper is serviced at least once a year by an authorised TOMCAT technician.
  • Make sure to close and lock the drum housing, lower the feed roller, remove all lock-pins and remove all tools from the chipper after a blade change.