I purchased a Troy-Bilt Chipper Vac (CSV 060 model) about two months ago and I thought I would give you a full review of how well it works. I was always a little leery of the idea of a yard vacuum, but I have to admit they’ve come a long way in the past ten years or so.
In the past I’ve advocated using a lawn mower to pick up your fall leaves, and I still think that method can work very well for many people. I managed to make some extra money for home improvement things (I’ll write about that later) and happened to find myself in the market for something more than just a lawnmower.
You see, this September I found myself with a huge mound of brush and old bushes I’d removed from my yard throughout the summer and I had no easy way to get rid of them. I started researching chippers and found that I could either spend about $200 on a little electric model that was probably going to be too small for the task at hand or $800 or more on a gas powered model that was just too expensive for the amount of brush I had to get rid of. There wasn’t much in between the two price points except for a Troy-Bilt Chipper Vac. As the name implies it’s a gas powered branch and brush chipper as well as a leaf vacuum and shredder.
You can see the “before” on the left and the “after” I vacuumed leaves with the Troy-Bilt Chipper Vac!
I took the plunge and bought one online since none of my local stores had it in stock and I didn’t have any easy way of getting it home even if they did. I didn’t mind paying a little for shipping simply because of the hassle and expense it would have been for me to rent a truck, pick it up, unload it and then return the truck. I ended up getting the push Troy-Bilt Chipper Vac because I figured I wouldn’t be using it more than four or five times a season to pick up leaves and, besides, I needed the exercise. Troy-Bilt also offers a self-propelled version (model # CSV 070) and it seems to be exactly the same as the push, only it’s self-propelled and costs about $100 more. Troy-Bilt’s manual chipper vacuum is no heavier that a typical small lawnmower and I’ve had no problem pushing it around so far.
Assembly for the Troy-Bilt Chipper Vac is fairly easy. You open the box, take out the instructions, the hose attachments and the bag. You can attach the handles with a couple of pins, you screw in a few bolts and you can then cut the front of the box down and roll it right out, more or less ready to go. You’ll have to gas it up and add oil, but it’s otherwise pretty much ready out of the box. Troy-Bilt threw in a set of safety goggles (important when chipping!) and a quart of oil, so I just put in some gas and I was up and running in about 30 minutes or so after ripping the tape off the box!
So how well does it work?
Chipper Review: The Troy-Bilt chipper says it takes up to 1.5 inch stick and it does, but the largest stuff does have to be pretty straight to get into the long steel feed shaft. I spent a good bit of time cramming in bundles of little bush branches and it tore through them like there was no tomorrow. It did a great job with both hard and soft woods, though with the soft little springy branches it actually ends of shredding it into an almost soft spaghetti or string consistency. I put aside a pile of hardwood branches with no real sprouts or “soft” materials and chipped that up separately. When the hardwood was chipped it made a darn fine mulch, almost like what a crosscut shredder might do to paper. The software woods really came out kind of stringy and while it might work for mulch it certainly wouldn’t spread very easily. Bottom line: everything I put into the chipper was obliterated quickly and effortlessly! I never had any problems with the chipper slowing down or being “stuck” on anything I threw into it as long as the material was fairly dry. I had a few fresh branches that were wet from morning dew and they did sometimes slow the chipper down for a second or two as I fed them in. I wore safety goggles the whole time I chipped, and I’m glad I did. I didn’t really have anything fly out at me, but sometimes things would bounce around the feed shaft if they were two short and they made an awful racket on the metal, so I know they were moving pretty fast.
Leaf Vacuum Review: I gotta say that this was really darn fun and actually worked much better than my lawn mower. It really is like a home vacuum for your yard. Instead of sucking dirt and Cheerios off the carpeting I was sucking leaves and twigs off my lawn with remarkable results. I learned that it does work better if you lower it a little bit and it really does a darn fine job on the lawn or even pavement as long as your leaves are fairly dry and loose. I still went around my yard a little bit with a rake, just loosening some of the leaves that were entangled in the grass before running the vacuum and that made a big difference. I think the trick here is not to overwhelm it and not to wait until you have four inches of leaves on your lawn before pulling it out. A pass over your lawn once every week or two during the fall months and you’ll have a clean lawn without all that back breaking raking. Again, dry leaves really help. I took it out for a spin early one morning and found that damp leaves do get sucked up, but they tend to stick together and clump as they’re being shredded. I’ve also learned not to the chipper vac into a thick mound of leaves and just hope for the best. It sucks up so well that it can sometimes get jammed by grabbing everything at once. Jams, though rare in my experience, are easy to clear. Just turn the machine off and let it come to a complete stop. Count to five to be safe, and then you can just pull the leaves out from under the front nose. The plastic nose of the vacuum is actually pretty nice because it has a little bit of give to it. That’s great for those little bumped into trees and flowerbeds that inevitably happen. You don’t have to worry about denting your chipper vac and you don’t have to worry about harming your flower beds.
The vacuum works well and it does shred the leaves into a fairly fine powder as it sucks them up. This is both good and bad. Yes, you can put more leaves in the bag but it does tend to produce a lot of leaf dust and debris. I’ve taken to wearing a little paper mask (and those safety goggles) when using the chipper vac as a vacuum just because I found myself coughing over the dust being generated. I don’t know if all chipper vacs do this or not. It seems to be a natural part of the shredding process as opposed to anything design flaw in Troy-Bilt’s chipper. If anything, maybe it’s too efficient at shredding leaves!
Vacuum Leaf Hose Review: The hose is an added bonus and I’ve only used it a few times. It works pretty well, but I tended to jam it with leaves because it sucks so much so well that things sometimes get stuck. It’s easy to use and it has a pretty good reach to it, but I find myself simply raking the leaves out of the flowerbeds first and then running the regular vacuum over them. I don’t have any “hard to reach areas” where leaves fall in my yard, so the hose isn’t really all that useful to me. I suppose the hose might be good for sucking the leaves out of basement window wells, but I haven’t tried that yet.
Starting and Stopping the Chipper Vac: Maybe I’m spoiled, but I’m not used to having to adjust the choke and throttle on the engine. My mower doesn’t even have an adjustable throttle lever and it stops with the release of a safety bar. This is a pull start but so far Troy-Bilt (or more appropriately, Briggs and Stratton) has not let me down. I’ve been able to start up just about every time on the first pull. The pull on my does seem a bit “tight” but that’s okay because I haven’t even had to get it through a full pull before I can hear the engine kick over. I suspect that as long as I keep the engine maintained I’ll be okay.
Chipper Vac Bag: Troy-Bilt uses a thick felt bag with a clever thumb swivel system to open and close the bag. The bag is soft and seems pretty durable, though I could see where it might wear in spots after a few seasons. The opening to empty the bag is large – almost too large to be practical at times. In my part of the country we are encouraged to empty our leaves into large paper bags and leave them out at the curb. The problem with the chipper vac bag is that the opening is larger than the standard opening of one of those 30 gallon paper bags you get from Lowe’s or The Home Depot. So dumping the leaves into a bag is a bit of a chore. I’ve settled on a method of dumping them into a large trashcan that I have and then dumping the trashcan into the paper bag. That being said, there are now some easier ways to bag leaves these days if you’re open to trying one of the many new garden devices out there. It’s an extra step but it’s ultimately not as messy. If you’re dumping your leaves into a compost pile then the bag works pretty well, but emptying is still a little awkward. I have black oak leaves, which really aren’t supposed to be used in compost for your yard.
Update: I’ve since figured out a pretty easy way to bag leaves from the chipper vac. Trying to empty the chipper vac’s bag directly into the leaf bag was just ridiculous! (Editor’s note: Two years later and my chipper vac is still working like a champ. I’ve become a fan of Troy-Bilt’s quality and also wrote up a Troy-Bilt lawn mower review.)
Overall I’m very impressed with my purchase and highly recommend a Troy-Bilt Chipper Vac if you have a lot of leaves and hate the raking process as much as I do. I’m also glad I steered clear of the cheaper leaf blowers and vacuums because they never seem to last more than a season or two whereas I consider this an investment in my home and yard that will pay me back in extra time and a healthy back for years and years!