Reviewed this week
The review panel
MARK EKIN, programme area manager (horticulture, agriculture and countryside), College of West Anglia, Milton Campus, Cambridge
TIM JELLIS, head groundsman, College of West Anglia, Milton Campus, Cambridge
MARK WRIGHT, national diploma student, College of West Anglia, Milton Campus, Cambridge
They can be left to rot - providing a habitat for insects and, subsequently, a self-service restaurant for birds and small mammals. But when landscape work needs to be done, new pathways laid or services installed, the last thing you need is an old tree stump in the way. This was the case at the Milton Campus of the College of West Anglia, near Cambridge.
The stump concerned was a tough old cherry, noted for its hardness of wood. HW asked Vermeer to help with the removal of the cherry and several smaller Leylandii stumps. The company has upgraded its SC252 model and we wanted to know whether it was man enough for the job and easy enough to use for training novices. The weather was fine on the day of the test.
- Other stump grinders/cutters are offered by Bobcat (for use with skid steer loaders), Chippers International, Danequip, Echo Bear Cat, Global Recycling Solutions, Husqvarna Outdoor Products, JBM Machinery (Richard Court Forestry Engineering), Liston Equipment and Tracmaster.
Vermeer has listened to European customers, upped the horsepower and made the SC252 even more user friendly than the model we last tested back in 2004. If you want a versatile stump cutter that is easy to tow to site, will squeeze through narrow gaps, can turn circles in tight spaces, is remarkably easy to use and makes mincemeat of tough old stumps, then take a look at the SC252. This is the stump cutter equivalent of the six-inch chipper.
The SC252 arrives at our test site on the back of a trailer pulled by a 4x4. It has been heavily used in the previous days so the first thing we do is check the teeth. Some need turning, a few need replacing, but that is not a problem with this machine. Tooth care on the SC252 is simple. This is Vermeer's Yellow Jacket cutting system, so all you need is a 13mm spanner.
The Yellow Jacket system is designed to extend pocket and tooth life. It makes servicing the cutting wheel a doddle. Simply undo the unlocking nut, remove the bolt and turn or replace the tooth. It means if you strike an object out in the field, you can quickly get back to work with a new sharp edge. Changing all the teeth is only a 15-minute job and each tooth costs about £6 - less if you buy in bulk. Alternatively, you could sharpen the teeth.
Unlike some American-built machines, the SC252 is not complicated. Neither is it of crude build. Everything feels and looks to be good quality. Everything is clearly labelled. We quickly find the grease points on the head and the wheel bearings. Vermeer is famous for its greasing points, believing it is better for the user to be in control rather than relying on sealed bearings.
You can also see the fuel filter and observe straight away whether there is any dirt in it. The bonnet lifts to expose the hydraulic parts and the fuel tank. The tank is clear so you can instantly view the fuel level and see whether there are contaminants in it. There is easy access to the spark plugs and to the dipstick. When you need to drain the oil thereis a pipe from the sump so the oil is removed clear away from the engine and the working parts of the machine.
Moving the SC252 around site is also a breeze. Having a hydraulic ground drive system, the machine is self-propelled. For maximum traction, both drive wheels can be engaged. With one hand on the travel lever on the central control giving forward and reverse directions, the other hand can use the jockey-wheel lever to give a decent amount of steerage. But you might not even need to do that.
On smooth ground, such as the car park, we find the machine will freewheel for maximum mobility. Disengage the drive and give it a shove. This machine may weigh close to 500kg but once you get the momentum going, one man can push this stump cutter over level concrete pathways with relative ease.
The three-wheel configuration gives it a really tight turning circle - just what you need to manoeuvre in confined spaces - while the narrow width of just 89cm means it will go through gateways and doorways. The SC252 would make a good choice if working in backyards.
Once in position next to our tough old cherry stump, the wheels of the SC252 are locked. Firing the machine into action is simply a matter of switching on the ignition and turning the key. The engine fires into life. With the engine revs just ticking over, and the cutter wheel in position, the clutch is engaged and the throttle pushed up. We're away.
Little by little, using just one quarter of the cutting wheel, the SC252 grinds the stump. Using light strokes, not taking too much at a time, we chisel away at the stump. Take a stroke across the stump and move down a bit. Sweep the other way and move down a bit.
The optional AutoSweep feature monitors the engine speed and automatically adjusts the cutter wheel sweep rate to reduce engine, drivetrain and structural stress. In the event that you try to take too big a chunk in one go, the engine shuts down before any damage can be done.
Although they are not regular operators, it does not take long for our testers to get into the sweep-and-down-and-sweep rhythm of this machine. The grindings are neatly piled underneath it rather than being sprayed out. It is a tidy machine and should help with the cleaning up afterwards.
"This is a good machine. It has a nice engine and its size makes it so useful because you can get it in to small areas," says Jellis. "You don't take much off at a time, but it is still quite quick once you get the dexterity of it."
The controls on the SC252 are straight forward. This is not a complicated machine. As you face it, there are three levers on the central control station. The lever furthest to the left deals with forward and reverse travel of the machine. The one in the middle operates the up and down movement, while the one furthest right controls the sweep or "arc" of the cutting head.
It is not automatic - it moves only as much as you give it - and if you let go, the cutting head stops. Being sprung-loaded, the levers return to the central position when they are released. They are also well protected from bumps and knocks by two strong metal bars.
"It is so easy to use," Ekin enthuses. "And that's useful if you have casual labour needing training." We decide to put that aspect to the test and involve the student on the national diploma course. He soon gets the hang of it.
"It's a really nice machine - easy to work. It doesn't take long to master the controls," confirms student Wright, who works one day a week for the National Trust and hopes that learning extra skills will give him a lead in getting employment in a recession.
We are impressed with the safety features on this machine. There are sensors in the control levers. A green light gives the go-ahead to engage the cutting wheel for grinding only when your hands are on one or more levers. Let go of the levers and the cutting wheel brake is engaged. If you put your hands back on the levers within a couple of seconds, the green light comes back on - signifying that you can drop the revs and engage the cutting wheel again.
By only being able to engage the clutch when engine revs are low, some protection is afforded to both the clutch and the drive belts. What is more, you are unlikely to stall or damage the engine through want of oil. Close to the operator station is a gauge showing the working angle from zero to 45 degs so you can see when you are working the engine beyond its limit. Should you venture into the upper limit, the engine automatically shuts down.
The job done, we switch off the engine. But still running a bit fast, it gives the classic "pop" of a Kohler. Pre 2004, Vermeer used a 25hp Kohler engine in the SC252. It was bulletproof. The swap to the new 27hp Kohler has given an extra eight per cent increase in power and it is also proving faultless, while making the ideal partner for this lightweight, narrow chassis.
Having completed the work at Milton, the SC252 is returned to the trailer. We find there are purpose-built lash-down points underneath the tanks. This is convenient - it means tying the machine to the trailer will not put pressure in the wrong places and it helps keep the cutter balanced for smooth travel.
Engine: 27hp Kohler
Cutter wheel diameter: 40.6cm
Cutting dimensions: 63.5cm above ground, 33cm below
Machine dimensions: 292x88.9x134.6cm
Fuel tank: 22.7 litres
List price: POA
Contact: Vermeer UK - 01933 274400