It is always exciting to have a new brand enter the market. When it is one that is built by an experienced and knowledgeable woodchipper distributor and is based almost entirely on customer research, we expect it to be something special. We are not disappointed.
The Forst ST6 looks smart and it is packed with clever features. The 6in chipper was released in March and within six months sales had reportedly reached three figures. It comes from the drawing board of Redwood - UK and Ireland distributor of Jensen chippers - and is made by the company.
The first thing you notice is the quality of build. This is a solid machine. There is no compromise. Each fold of the metal is strengthened with a weld and the whole is powder coated to give a tough finish. The C-section chassis is painted inside and out for durability. The ST6 has been built to last and you can have it in any colour - a feature appreciated by Taylor, who can see the identification benefits of corporate colours.
This machine comes with everything you need. It has a spare wheel, road-legal lighting and clips for instantly swapping number plates to match the towing vehicle.
The second thing we notice is the bank of grease nipples on the outside of the machine. There are four and they provide central greasing for all the bearings. We love it. There is no excuse for poor maintenance. Windows spends a lot of time working on a farm and knows how frustrating it can be searching for individual grease points. "These are spot on," he says.
We pop a catch on the bonnet to take a look inside. Assisted by two gas struts, it lifts easily to give roomy access to the engine. Two bolts allow the discharge chute to be lowered, giving access to the chipping chamber. At the heart of the machine is a reliable 35hp Kubota four-cylinder diesel engine. It is not turbo, but the power is perfect for the job.
The radiator is protected by a removable grille and the large-diameter pulley has a simple system of adjustment on the side. The hydraulic tank lies across the front of the chamber so the fan helps to keep it cool. Everything is remarkably easy to get at and work on. For the anvil, simply insert the supplied slide hammer and turn - job done.
The next thing that we notice is the control buttons conveniently located on either side of the hopper. They are exactly where you want them and they are illuminated by touchpad buttons - straight off a London Underground train. But instead of opening doors they light up and give stop and forward/reverse control. Using a printed circuit board, water and vibrations are not going to let you down, but you have to get used to them.
March would prefer to press buttons down, but Taylor finds the controls easy to use. "I like the buttons," he says. "The only way they could be better is if there were separate buttons for forward and reverse. Once or twice I got muddled as to which way we were going."
Taylor notes the flat chamber-cover and is impressed that other items and devices - such as a vice - could be accommodated on it.
At the feeding end of the machine, we find a wide hopper. The feed table it secured by two catches and folds down on a full-width hinge. We note that the top of the hopper is cut away. This means brashy and awkward-shaped material is easy to feed into the rollers. It also means it is easy to lift tools in and out if using the hopper to carry kit or signage across site. The housing around the rollers is double skinned to reduce noise.
Twin hydraulic horizontal feed rollers, with independent motors and a dial-in speed setting to control chip size, have exceptional grip - it is called ForstGrip. The large top roller lifts in an arc so physically climbs onto the timber. You can feel the tension of the springs. So what happens at 4 o'clock when, inevitably, the last timber jams? No problem. One operator uses a lever to easily lift the rollers while a second removes the offending material.
We did not get material stuck on the day. It took full 6in pieces of timber and hardly paused for breath - chips flying from the funnel. The velocity of the flywheel, which is fitted with large gusseted fins, is such that it throws the chips rather than blows them. We appreciate the long handle to effortlessly adjust the angle of discharge.
A highly intelligent electrical system, called Autointelligence, manages the no-stress device and informs of service times as well as alerting to potential problems picked up by the sensors. Nothing is hardwired on the ST6, so if one part develops a fault it is simply a matter of unscrewing it and replacing it. In addition, because Redwood makes the machine, all parts are available for off-the-shelf next-day delivery.
The testers agree that this is a tough but refined machine and are impressed by the thought that has gone into simplifying the use and maintenance of this new woodchipper. The ST6 comes with a three-year warranty - we could not ask for more - and we love the price.
But with all that strength and build quality comes added weight. It is 955kg - substantially higher than the 750kg target below which so many manufacturers have been striving to keep their 6in models.
It does not put Taylor off though. "It's a brilliant machine and you may as well get your towing licence as soon as you can because there are bound to be other machines you need to transport," he concludes.
Engine: 35hp Kubota four-cylinder diesel
Feed aperture: 150x200mm
Roller system: ForstGrip twin horizontal rollers
Flywheel: Open top flywheel 640x25mm with twin 8in blades
No-stress system: AutoIntelligence device
Fuel tank capacity: 30 litres
Dimensions including chute: 3.58x1.3x2.3m
Brakes: Fully braked chassis and handbrake
Tel: Forest Extra - 01794 329080
Tested This Issue
Greenmech Arborist 150
The need to reduce timber and brash waste for transport and recycling purposes makes the woodchipper a "must-have" piece of equipment for tree surgeons - and increasingly for grounds managers working on contracts or estates. But with so many brands and models available, it can be difficult to know which is best.
In this test we look at three brands - one only arriving on the market this year - and find that while all chip wood, each has its own very individual features. All the models are classified as 6in machines but they are all remarkably different. Two weigh less than 750kg, but is that all they have in common? The third weighs considerably more. Does that extra weight have benefits?
The test was conducted in the grounds of Bridgwater College's Cannington Campus for Land-based Studies. The college has an excellent reputation for its arboriculture programme. Conditions on the day started warm and dry but by late afternoon the weather had turned cool and wet.
The Review Panel
Mike Cullen, programme manager for arboriculture, Cannington Campus, Bridgwater College.
Ed March, Bridgwater College arboriculture student.
Will Sedgwick, Bridgwater College arboriculture student, working at Woodlands South West.
George Taylor, Bridgwater College arboriculture student, working at Brendon Hill Tree Services.
Russell Windows, Bridgwater College arboriculture student, working at HighClimb.