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Consider your options
Brush build-up happens. Before you know it, out-of-control grass, invasive shrubbery, vines, weeds, dead foliage, and fallen branches create an unsightly mess, render an area unusable, or block access to portions of your property. Dead brush can even prove dangerous if you live in a fire-prone area.
Cleaning up serious accumulations, large fields, or extensive fence lines can seem a daunting task, but before you call in the professionals—who could drain your wallet—consider all of the tools at your disposal for making the task manageable. Options from hand tools to debris-devouring machines put you in control. Here’s a look at the equipment you’ll want to consider.Date Published: July 9, 2014Date Updated: April 20, 2018
1. Chain saws
For cutting down brush with a chain saw, bigger is not better. A saw with a 30 cc (or smaller) engine will provide ample power while allowing you hours of cutting without undue arm fatigue. Be aware that branches under 2 inches in diameter can derail a chain and contribute to kickback, so avoid problems by using a saw with a short (12-inch) bar. Also, don’t cut material on or near the nose of the bar.
Keep the chain in proper tension. It should have no sag, and you should be able to pull it no further than 1/8 inch from the bar. You’ll be more likely to maintain proper tension using a saw with a tool-less tension system found on more feature-rich saws.
Always wear a forestry helmet system with face shield and hearing protection, protective goggles, gloves, and steel-toe boots. Don protective chaps; the material is designed to clog a chain saw’s sprocket and to stop the rotating chain to limit injury.
Some upgraded chainsaws start around $200.Date Published: July 9, 2014Date Updated: April 20, 2018
2. Machetes and axes
Power saws are great, but with hand tools you can cut limbs and vines under 1 inch in diameter almost as quickly without the fuel, fumes, noise, maintenance, or inherent dangers of a chain saw. A sharp machete or short ax will get the job done in a single quick arm swing. Though these tools are designed to be light in weight for reduced muscle strain, don’t purchase a machete or ax that’s too light or cheaply made; its thin blade will literally bounce off limbs and vibrate uncomfortably with every impact.
A well-designed tool should feel like an extension of your arm. The Woodman's Pal, with its 1/8-inch blade,for example, has enough mass to slice through small limbs, and its 1075 carbon steel holds an edge. A cutting hook proves especially handy for slicing vines in a pulling motion, and the tool will last decades because of its high-quality, made-in-the-USA construction.
You can choose several models priced under $100.Date Published: July 9, 2014Date Updated: April 20, 2018
3. Brush and small-tree pulling accessories
If you simply cut an invasive tree or bush a few inches above the ground, it will often grow back. At best, you’ll still have a stump to contend with. For shallow-rooted foliage (not to be confused with hardwood trees with deep tap roots), it pays to pull the plant completely out of the ground using your ATV, tractor, skid-steer, or other vehicle. You could hook up a chain and hopefully get the job done, but there are specialized accessories that make the task easier and safer.
The Brush Grubber comes in six sizes for pulling trees up to 8 inches in diameter without worrying about a chain slipping on the trunk. Prices range from $63 to $250, depending on size. A Shrub/Clump Grubber works similarly, but wraps around clumpy species with a unique triple chain that won’t let go.Date Published: July 9, 2014Date Updated: April 20, 2018
4. Stump killers
If you don’t have the time, means, or ambition to pull stumps, keep them from resprouting by applying a stump-killing chemical. A popular prodcut is Tordon RTU (ready-to-use) from Dow AgroSciences. Simply squirt the fluid onto a stump within 30 minutes of cutting it to keep more than 20 woody species at bay. A blue dye in the product helps you keep track of treated stumps.Date Published: July 9, 2014Date Updated: April 20, 2018
5. Brush cutters
Imagine a lawn mower on steroids, one that can devour saplings 2 to 3 inches in diameter (depending on the model) as well as tough grass and weeds as tall as you. Those capabilities make walk-behind brush cutters perfect for maintaining trails and clearing overgrown ditches. Machines such as the self-propelled DR Field and Brush Mowers have 10- to 20-hp. engines that blast through dense foliage. Tilting decks follow uneven terrain, and a reverse gear allows you to back out of tight spots. Prices: $2,000 and up.
For larger areas such as fields, consider a tow-behind brush cutter pulled by your ATV or tractor. Beefy units such as the 20-hp. DR PRO-XL can chop down saplings up to 2 inches in diameter as well as 8-foot-tall weeds and 6-foot-tall grass. Their shock-absorbing blades pivot should they hit a dense chunk of wood or other obstacle to avoid damage to the machine’s engine or spindle. With its articulating hitch, you can offset the machine to the side so you ride over already-mowed areas. Price: $2,800 and up.Date Published: July 9, 2014Date Updated: April 20, 2018
6. Clearing saws
For taking down foliage heavier than grass or thin weeds but lighter than 3-inch-diameter saplings and for slopes or tight areas you can’t reach with a wheeled machine, turn to a clearing saw. If you have a lot of saplings to cut, a clearing saw proves much faster and easier than using a chainsaw. A clearing saw looks like a heavy-duty string trimmer, but it packs enough power to spin a metal sawblade through woody vegetation.
Look for a machine with a sturdy bike-like handle to give you a firm grip while putting key controls in your hands for more convenient operation. Upgraded models have effective antivibration technology to lessen fatigue. Just know that these machines can send debris flying, so wear a wire-mesh face shield, protective goggles, hearing protection, and leather gloves, as well as long sleeves and pants made of heavy fabric. Price: $300 and up.Date Published: July 9, 2014Date Updated: April 20, 2018
If you’re not dealing with heavy brush, just overgrown grass and weeds, a trimmer will likely get the job done. These tools spin a cord to trim along fence lines, walls, and other areas inaccessible to your mower. In addition to handheld models powered by batteries or two-stroke engines, you can buy walk-behind models ($500+) for covering a lot of ground.
Recently, DR Power Equipment introduced tow-behind models that run off a compact tractor’s PTO or have their own on-board engine. They can even trim around fence posts as you pull them along. Price: $600 and up.Date Published: July 9, 2014Date Updated: April 20, 2018
8. Rotary cutters
If you own a tractor with a three-point hitch, time-tested rotary cutters work well at mowing wide swaths of tall grass and weeds down to size. Most will take down 1-inch saplings, as well, and you can even buy units capable of cutting 4-inch-diameter woody material. Whatever your needs, your local implement dealer will know how to pair you up with an attachment that’s performance-matched to your tractor and the material you’re cutting.Date Published: July 9, 2014Date Updated: April 20, 2018
9. Skid steer and UTV attachments
If you own a skid steer or Toolcat utility work machine, there’s a variety of attachments available for taming everything from grass to 15-foot-tall trees. For $6,000 to $7,000, you can buy a front-mounted brush cutter like the Brushcat from Bobcat. Depending on the model, it clears a 66-, 72-, or 80-inch swath of grass, weeds, or saplings up to 3 inches in diameter.
Step up another $5,000 in price and you’ll get the finer cut, ability to work on a greater variety of terrain, and tighter turning radius of a flail cutter. If you just need to move a brush pile, then the best attachment for the task is a grapple like Bobcat’s Farm Utility Grapple ($1,000 to $3,000).Date Published: July 9, 2014Date Updated: April 20, 2018
Mulched branches look a lot better than ones stacked in a pile, and they provide a great weed barrier around plants. Just know that undersized chippers will turn the task into an arduous and drawn-out affair, so get one with enough power and capacity to handle your needs. A local dealer will know what attachment to pair with your tractor.
When a machine is listed as having a 3-inch capacity, that dimension refers to the size of the opening through which you feed the branches. Since branches typically have side branches and are rarely straight, you more realistically need a 5-inch or 7-inch machine to handle 3-inch limbs. PTO-powered chippers start around $2,000.Date Published: July 9, 2014Date Updated: April 20, 2018
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