Most every rental center has at least one sod cutter and some have a whole fleet, standing ready to clear space for a flower garden, a walkway, or just to harvest sod from one area for transplant to the next.
There are three basic types of sod cutters - the manual, "kick-plow" type; the tractor-mount sod harvester type (for large areas); and the self-propelled, walk-behind type, which is the variety most rental centers stock.
The manual, "kick-plow" type sod cutter depends on the user for all its power. As the name suggests, you kick it to cut the sod, and continue until A) you get the row finished, or B) you give up and go back to the rental center for a self-propelled unit.
The tractor mount, sod harvester unit is very efficient, but also is too large and unwieldy for homeowner use. It is literally designed for a sod farm, and wide open spaces.
This leaves the self-propelled sod cutter as the most common in use in rental today. Although some rental centers stock kick plows for those too stingy to rent a self-propelled unit - chances are, the self-propelled type is the one your customers will be looking for.
Selecting a sod cutter
When it comes to selecting a sod cutter, Rose Mary Becker, national sales manager for Classen Mfg., says the self-propel system is an important consideration. "You will want to choose a sod cutter with front-drive wheels that are actually self driven, versus models where the wheels are only friction driven or not driven at all. The drive wheels are one of the hardest working items on a sod cutter, therefore, it is important to look for models with larger, wider wheels."
In addition, she says, choose a model where the blade is positioned between the front and rear wheels, which will result in a more consistent cutting thickness. Models where the blade is positioned at the rear of the machine can deliver a less consistent cutting thickness, Becker says.
Richard Borland of Bluebird points out that "Bluebird has a powered reverse to make unloading easier. The user can use a ramp and let the machine do the work going up or down." Of course, regardless of what type machine you're renting, be prepared to provide a trailer or ramps at the least. As Bob Brophy of Turfco points out, "Many times a contractor will send one person after a sod cutter, so it has to be easy to handle."
This leads to the next consideration in a sod cutter - is it easy to operate? Brophy notes, for example, that "even contractors are looking for equipment that anyone can run. The growing number of females on construction crews requires equipment that is less cumbersome and easier to handle. Commercial landscapers are hiring more baby boomers and equipment must be easier to operate and less labor intensive for this group."
Of course, when you're renting to homeowners, the same conditions apply. After all, the whole point in renting a piece of equipment is to get the job done easier.
Borland points out that comfort features are important as well. "We offer rubber-mounted anti-vibration handles," he says. "Our (machine) has easy-to-read depth and gear selection decals to assist first-time users."
Here he has hit upon an excellent point. Regardless of the "gee whiz" features of the sod cutter you're considering, it is of no help to your bottom line if your customers don't understand how to operate the unit. As with other pieces of rental equipment, ease of operation should be a major consideration when deciding what to buy. Remember, most homeowners rent equipment in order to simplify a job, or to save money. Likewise, many contractors are employing laborers that might not have had experience with every type of machine. Making sure you have a machine that is user friendly can increase your bottom line.
"One should look for a sod cutter that places the primary controls right at the operator's fingertips," Becker advises. "Select models with a throttle design that allows variable speed, yet is designed with the safety of being able to stop all moving parts when released."