Before you sink your skid steer mulcher’s teeth into some trees, it’s important to know the different cutting methods. Let’s review mulching fundamentals, six cutting techniques and safety tips to help you be as efficient and safe as possible. If you follow the techniques below and get some hands on experience, we bet you’ll be clearing trees more quickly and effectively than ever before. First, let’s start by discussing a few mulching fundamentals.
SKID STEER MULCHING FUNDAMENTALS
MAINTAIN HIGH DISC SPEED
Virnig’s disc design creates power through momentum built up in the disc, allowing you to quickly gather and process trees. As you grind trees the disc will lose momentum and slow down - which is ok, it’s designed to do that. It’s important to allow a couple of seconds to allow the disc to get back up to full speed before mulching the next tree. “High disc speed is a crucial characteristic that makes disc mulchers effective. Keep the disc speed high,” said Greg Meyer, MTS Tree Service.
STANDARD VS OPEN INTAKE CHUTE
Before you start you want to make sure you have the right intake chute for the job. Virnig has two different chutes - standard and open.
The standard chute is designed for single stem, taller trees without many branches. It features a hook or notch to position straight stem trees for quick, efficient mulching. The standard chute also has a ramp to guide material already on the ground to the teeth, which works well for the ground pull technique discussed below.
The open chute feeds larger, brushier trees more efficiently. It performs better than the standard chute when feeding trees with many branches. It also allows the operator to mulch lower to the ground. The standard chute hits the ground before the teeth do, making it more difficult to grind stumps.
PROCESSED MATERIAL DISTRIBUTION
Virnig’s mulcher comes with a bolt-on discharge deflector. The purpose of the deflector is to control where processed material is being distributed. When the deflector is installed, it’s less likely to throw material and easier to control where the shredded material is being thrown. When it’s removed, the mulcher will process material quicker and become more productive, but will provide less material exhaust control. Decide which is more important to you. You can easily reinstall the shield later if you decide to remove it.
USING THE DISC: LEFT VS RIGHT SIDE
When cutting only, use the left side of the disc to push material away from the machine. This makes it safer for the operator and equipment. Use the right side of the disc when mulching trees so the material can be effectively cut with the top and bottom disc teeth. Also, use the right side when you want to simultaneously cut and mulch material. The perimeter teeth will make the initial cut while the top teeth will gather trees and pull them into the mulcher for instant shredding.
“It’s important to take time to learn the machine and cutters capability. New techniques, safety, and operating skill come from experiences. Allow yourself 50-75 hours of learning time and keep learning new handling techniques with varying species of trees.” said Greg Meyer, Owner/Operator MTS Tree Service, Nebraska.”
Now that you understand the basic fundamentals let’s move onto six different skid steer disc mulcher cutting techniques.
6 DISC MULCHER CUTTING TECHNIQUES
#1 CUT & FEED
Disc mulchers have the ability to pull whole trees into the deck, mulching them to pieces within a few seconds. This is called the “cut and feed” method and it’s the most common technique.
For trees up to 2”-6” thick, use the right side of the disc to cut off the tree at the bottom. Then scoop the tree up like scooping dirt into a bucket. Allow the tree to fall into the chute hook located at the top of the chute to hold the tree while processing. Then angle the tree at the same angle as the disc to pull the tree in and grind it. The top disc teeth will process the tree. This seems like a lot of steps but you’ll get the hang of it after a few tries.
#2 CUT WITHOUT MULCH
The next technique is cut without mulch. This is a safer and more time-consuming method than the cut and feed. Large, 6”-14” thick trees should be cut with this method.
Set your disc level and use the left-hand side to cut and push the tree away from the skid steer, much like a saw. Use the push bar to direct a falling tree away from the machine. Using the front center of the disc is not recommended for this technique, since it’s difficult to guide the direction the tree will fall.
PRO TIP: For very large trees, you can notch them similar to using a chainsaw. Then go to the other side to cut and drop the tree, using the push bar to guide the tree away from the machine.
#3 VERTICAL MULCH
This method works best for trees 6”-10” thick or when trees are too large to use in the cut and feed technique. It will work best with pine trees or softer wood types.
First, top the tree by reaching as comfortably able using the left-hand side of the disc and push the tree top away from the mulcher to grind later. Allow the disc to get back to full speed before grinding the base of the tree. To grind the tree, angle the mulcher back at a 45 degree angle. Then drop the mulcher, keeping the tree on the left side of the disc to throw material away from the machine and operater.
The most efficient cut is on the outer teeth because they’re moving faster. Position the outer teeth above the tree on the left side of the disc to get the most efficient mulch and throw exhaust away from the machine.
#4 STUMP GRIND
Many users want to cut stumps at or below ground level. To do this, first drive over the stump to flatten it to the ground. Wait for the disc to regain momentum before proceeding again. Then lift up, pointing the nose to the ground to use the bottom teeth for stump grinding.
Operate the mulcher as close to the ground as possible without the teeth contacting the ground. Tooth life expectancy will be greatly reduced if contact is made with the ground, rocks or other obstacles. The more you use this method, the more tooth wear will occur.
#5 GROUND PULL
This method allows you to pull in and grind debris laying on the ground. Using the right side and bottom of the disc, lift the head slightly to suck branches and tree tops underneath the disc to grind them.
#6 CLEAN & REPROCESS
After mulching a tree for the first time, there will likely be larger branches and debris around the job site. If you want a more groomed look, you can process this debris by raising the lift arms a couple inches off the ground and dropping the mulcher head toward the ground, skimming it in the process.
CHOOSING A CUTTING TECHNIQUE
Different types of trees will require different cutting methods based on shape and diameter. “Depending on the species, if it has a straight trunk and under 8” in diameter, I will top feed the tree from the base (cut and feed method). If it’s too bushy to feed, or larger diameter I will use a vertical down cut from 6 ft high to ground level. I use the vertical grind downward most often but the proper method depends on species and size of tree,” said Meyer.
PRO TIP: In thick brush, keep disc speed high and low to ground work your material into the intake side of the cutter. Take ½ - ¾ blade width of brush and allow space for mulched material to come out of the left, exhaust side of the disc.
OPERATING MULCHERS SAFELY
Last but not least, safety is the most important aspect of operating a mulcher. Mulchers can throw debris 300 feet which makes them very dangerous machines if used improperly. Before mulching, read this article to learn how to operate it safely.
Debris, rocks and chips will ricochet toward the operator. For operator safety, all mulcher manufacturers require installing shatterproof cab windows and some advise using a falling object protection system (FOPS) for operator safety.
CONQUER THE FOREST
Now that you’ve learned some of the disc mulcher operating fundamentals, techniques and safety aspects, it’s time to mulch some t
rees and get some hands on experience.If you’re interested in learning more about Virnig skid steer brush cutters and mulchers, get your copy of The Ultimate Guide to Skid Steer Brush Cutters. It’s full of helpful tips and information for getting the most out of a cutter.