Ever since I first saw them in a catalog years ago I have wanted own one of those garden waste chippers. Those I saw 30 years ago were made of metal and cost far more than I could justify paying. But consumer goods are getting cheaper and home wood chippers are no exception. One reason they are cheaper is that the stamped and folded bodies of heavy-gauge sheet metal have been replaced by molded plastic. Still the prices seemed too low for a useful machine. Surely they would break and jam unless the openings had been made deliberately small enough that nothing which would put a strain in the mechanism could be inserted in which case the machine would be of little practical value.
But I had a large and growing brush pile and no way to remove it. So I ordered one of these things figuring that even if it only lasted one season it would be worth it.
The Sun Joe CJ603E is a inexpensive (around $150) wood chipper powered by a standard 120V electric outlet. I bought one recently to get rid of a huge pile of branches trimmed off my trees. I was prepared for disappointment.
I wondered how much I would have to cut them up to fit them into the machine’s narrow opening. In the end, would much work be saved? The answer is, yes, it does save work. Most branches up to an inch in diameter can go right in. Just fold them up like an umbrella and stick the small end in. Most of the time you can just snap them at the fork and they will fold. Occasionally a big one with multiple forks has to be divided with pruning sheers into two or three big pieces.
The machine makes a noise like a vacuum cleaner. The motor is geared way down to turn the cutter slowly, at about 30 RPM. The cutter is a steel wheel with what looks like four knives which crush the branch against an aluminum plate and cut off pieces. When you put a branch into the machine it makes “chu chu chu” sound as the cutters take pieces about 3/4″ long off of it. Because of the angle the blade hits the end of the branch, the pieces are not only cut, the layers are pulled apart a bit, so once they dry they should burn well.
Compared to a full-size wood chipper, this machine is slow, but it is much faster and easier than chopping up branches with a hatchet. It works best on branches which are not completely dry and hard. It labors on branches above an inch in diameter. On really dry rock-hard branches it nearly stops and may even get stuck and start smoking before it shuts itself off.
Really tiny twigs sometimes slip past the wheel with the knives and come out the bottom in long pieces. The exit chute narrows a little toward the bottom. For safety it has baffles to make it hard to stick one’s hand up it into the knives. If the branches you are chopping have lots of pine needles on them, these can sometimes get caught in the baffles and block the chute. Then you have to stop the machine and poke a stick up the exit chute until they pine needles and chips fall down.
The manual says the extension cord you use to run the chipper should be no more than 100 feet long. They say this because if the cord is too long, the voltage will drop when you put a big branch into the machine and it is more likely to stall and start smoking. For best performance you should use the heaviest gauge (lowest AWG number) you have, keep it as short as possible, and plug it into an outlet close to your electric panel.
This machine is very capable for the price. It also does all that a chipper can reasonably be expected to do using the power from a standard 120 volt 15 ampere North American outlet. It it no match for a gasoline-powered chipper costing $500 and up, but it is more than good enough to be useful around the yard.