Fall maintenance tips

Here's some help for getting your debris handling equipment ready for the rigors of autumn.

When it comes to chipper maintenance, the disc or drum should be checked at frequent intervals for knife sharpness, bearing condition, and bed knife/shear bar condition and gap.
When it comes to chipper maintenance, the disc or drum should be checked at frequent intervals for knife sharpness, bearing condition, and bed knife/shear bar condition and gap.

Debris handling equipment is in high demand during the waning days of summer and fall. Before the snow flies, many of your customers want to get their yards and landscaping into shape, so chain saws, chippers and stump grinders will be popular items with both homeowners and lawn & grounds contractors.

The more thorough your maintenance program, the more repeat business you'll receive from happy customers. Also, a good maintenance program will decrease the downtime of a piece of equipment.

Maintenance is, of course, a year-round project. But there are some special considerations you'll need to take this time of year to ensure these popular pieces of debris handling equipment make it through this high-demand period.

Chain saws
"Whether it's before, during or after the chain saw is used, inspection and maintenance are critical to your chain saw's mechanical integrity and safety," says John Keeler, national training manager for Stihl Inc.

The highest maintenance components on a chain saw are the bar, chain and sprocket, which will require frequent inspection and upkeep. "Sprockets will wear as the saw is used and will require replacement," says Keeler. "A good rule of thumb for replacement is to install a new sprocket after every two chains that it wears out."

The saw chain will require sharpening. "The frequency for sharpening your chain depends on several factors," says Keeler. "Including whether or not the chain has come into contact with the ground or foreign objects, the type of wood being cut, and the amount of dirt or foreign objects that are imbedded in the wood. Even a standing tree will have a small amount of dirt embedded into its bark from wind-blown debris that can dull the chain over time."

To ensure your chain remains sharp and in good condition, remind customers to file the chain with a few light strokes on each tooth using a file and guide each time the saw needs refueling, even if they think it's still sharp. You can determine the chain's condition by physically inspecting the cutter edges for rough or worn spots. Also inspect the chain links and rivets for wear, cracks or damage. If any part of the chain is cracked, worn or damaged, replace it immediately.

Your bar also needs to be checked and maintained. Inspect the guide bar body, grooves and rails for damage, wear and debris. Repair minor nicks with a flat file.

Finally, check your chain brake to make sure it's functioning properly and that it engages and disengages. The chain brake, much like an automobile brake, will incur wear each time it's engaged. The amount of wear will vary depending on usage and the conditions in which the saw is used. Excessive wear will reduce the effectiveness and can ultimately render it inoperable.

For fall, here are some extra chain saw maintenance tips:

  • "Winter-blended" fuels are oxygenated for easier starting in cold weather. Saw rpm should be higher with these gases and if excessive, could cause engine failure. Have your carburetor adjusted by a servicing dealer.
  • In cold regions, use winter-grade bar oils which pour and flow more easily.

"Any chipper in a rental fleet should be broken down into two categories: the engine and the disc/drum," says Mark Rieckhoff, environmental segment manager for Vermeer. "Both items are critical to the overall performance of the machine and ultimately the satisfaction of the rental customer. And both items are costly to replace as complete components if neglected, but very easy and cost effective to maintain on a regular schedule."

In regards to the engine, there are obvious daily checks to cover such as oil and coolant levels as well as air filter cleanliness and belt conditions. Filter maintenance is another key area on the engine, both oil and fuel, and directly affect performance and can rob daily performance of the machine if clogged or can shorten overall engine life if left to long between service intervals.

The disc or drum should also be checked on frequent intervals for knife sharpness, bearing condition, and bed knife/shear bar condition and gap.

Kevin Covert, sales & marketing manager for Rayco Mfg. Inc. agrees that belt adjustment, knives, and bearings are big wear items on a chipper. "All three of these items should be checked after each rental without exception," he says. "When not properly maintained they can wreak havoc on a business."

Belts stretch within the first 20 hours of use and may require frequent adjustment; it's very important to follow the instructions listed in the machine manual in order to make the proper adjustments. Proper belt care will prolong the life of a belt.

A chipper knife is made from hardened steel and could be severely damaged or ruined within minutes if misused.

"Bearings fail 99 percent of the time due to lack of grease, some bearings need to be greased every four to six hours due to the speed the disk/drum is turning," says Covert.

Here are some extra tips for fall maintenance:

  • Check oil every two hours of operation to ensure it's at "full" level.
  • Apply lubricant several times a season to the clutch lever, wheels and axle spacer and the belt tension adjustment bolt (see operator's manual).
  • Check cutting blades often and rotate/replace as necessary.

Stump grinders
According to Jim Cornelius with USPraxis, the most important items that need to be maintained on your stump machine are:

1) Carbide tips. "These should always have a crisp edge before sending them out on a rental," says Cornelius. "You want your customer to have a good experience - if the blades are dull the machine won't operate efficiently."

2) Belt wear. "You should always check for wear on the belt and make sure it's taut," he says. "You should be able to depress the belt no more than ¼ - 3/8 inch from its original position.

3) Lubricate cutter bearings. Cutter blade bearings should be greased after every 10 hours of operation.

Covert with Rayco agrees the number one issue with stump grinder is keeping sharp teeth/cutter wheels on the machine.

"Lack of maintenance to the teeth will result in customers having a less than positive experience with the machine, guaranteed," says Covert. "When teeth are dull on a stump grinder the machine tends to beat on a stump versus grind on it like they're intended to do. The constant beating has a result of prolonged problems from premature wear to a multitude of different areas of the machine."

Other fall maintenance tips for stump grinders:

  • Sharpen teeth - teeth with a carbide tip can be sharpened at a relatively low cost on a bench grinder with the purchase of a diamond wheel or a green wheel.
  • Engine maintenance, including daily checks of oil and coolant levels as well as air filter cleanliness and belt conditions.
  • Bearings, belts, driveshafts and gearboxes are critical items, but can last a long time with minimal input if maintained properly.

Final thoughts
The most critical thing for rental businesses to remember when it comes to maintenance is this, says Rieckhoff with Vermeer: the two types of customers - do-it-yourselfers and contractors - will each have a different appreciation and understanding of equipment. "Training is the key element for both types of customers to ensure extended life of wear items," he says. "Without training the customer, the machine leaves the rental yard with the potential for unknowns in understanding what the equipment can and can't do, how to properly operate it and when to maintain it or call for service."

Covert agrees, stating, "Proper training will have positive results not only on the customer's understanding of the importance of maintaining daily wear items, but also on customer feedback from the rental as well."

Additional information for this article was provided by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI).