Choosing the Right Attachment for Your Loader

Branch Manager’s new BMGX2 grapple made with Hardox steel on a Gehl 280 articulating loader. This stronger version of the BMG is designed to keep up with the heavier mini-skid steers, while maintaining a lightweight grapple and backward compatibility with the original BMG’s Quick-Grab attachments. Photo courtesy of Branch Manager.

There are two primary factors to consider when selecting attachments for a loader. The first is matching the capacity of the loader or tool carrier to the attachment to make sure the grapple or other tool you choose is sized to work properly and safely with your loader. Second, and the more obvious one, is matching the tool you select with the majority of the work you will be doing with it.

Matching the tool to the loader

“It is very important to match the attachment specifically to the loader and to pay close attention to capacity,” says Steve Talaga, a director of marketing at Barko Hydraulics, LLC. “You do not want to put a huge attachment on a small loader and vice versa.” The objective, he says, is “to optimize the utility of your machine and attachment as one unit.

“One benefit of buying an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) attachment directly from the manufacturer of your tool carrier is that the attachment and carrier are made to work and function well together, and that includes ease of installation. The attachment was designed to work immediately. You do not have to add brackets and adapter kits just to get it to work,” he stresses.

“If I were looking to buy a grapple, for instance, I would need to understand the type of material and diameter I typically work with. Diameter is a key thing,” Talaga says. “Also, what type of jaw works best? A log grapple is good for logs and single trees, but for handling tree debris, it’s a bypass grapple. And most of those now are continuous rotation.

Barko’s Model 4222 Strong Arm Log Bypass Grapple. “You do not want to put a huge attachment on a small loader,” says Barko’s Steve Talaga. Photo courtesy of Barko Hydraulics.

“Next, understanding hydraulic flow and pressures of your machine is critical to purchasing the correct attachment in order to get the performance you need on the job,” Talaga adds.

Adrian Majka, product specialist for FAE USA, Inc., concurs regarding the proper matching of attachment to machine. “Our sales staff is trained to look up specifications and follow guidelines on our mulchers to ensure the machine and attachment are within proper parameters,” he says. “That includes things such as weight and hydraulic flow, which is broken down into gallons per minute and PSI (pounds per square inch) pressure.”

Acknowledging that many FAE products are sold as part of a complete mulcher tool-carrier unit, he says, “Mulcher heads are sold most of the time already matched to the machine.”

However, “With skid-steer attachments, all selections are based on engine horsepower and hydraulics. What we do is match engine flow and pressure, and, since most people have standard skid steers or compact track loaders, we know right off which is a proper fit. So, if customers tell us they have a particular brand, we can match up the machine with an ideal FAE fix.”

A corollary to selecting the right attachment is selecting the machine itself. For example, Majka says, for a compact track loader, “look for horsepower and hydraulic flow to match your company’s needs.”

“We make two compact tree care grapples (62- and 54-inch openings), a tractor grapple and a winch, all primarily for use by the tree care industry,” says Angel Ogletree, vice president and an owner of Bear’s Insured Tree Service, a 15-year TCIA member company based in Hull, Georgia. Bear’s is the manufacturer of the Beaver Squeezer continuous-rotation grapples.

For Beaver Squeezer’s 62-inch grapple, shown here, the company recommends that your skid steer have a lift capacity above 1,500 pounds. Photo courtesy of Beaver Squeezer.

“For the 62-inch grapple, we recommend that your skid steer have a lift capacity above 1,500 pounds. The Beaver Squeezer attachment weighs 900 pounds,” says Ogletree, “and that determines how much material the loader can lift, in this case 600 pounds. It’s not usually a problem, since most loaders commonly lift 2,000 to 3,000 pounds, and we’re seeing people with machines with larger capacity than that.

“For compact and mini loaders, there’s the 54 inch,” she says. “Even walk-behind mini loaders can lift 1,200 pounds.”

Continuing that line of thinking, David A. Nordgaard, president and owner of Branch Manager USA, explains, “If I were going to advise someone what to look for with respect to a loader attachment, it would be not to get one that is too heavy for your machine. You don’t want too much of the machine’s lift capacity taken up by the weight of the attachment.”

Recognizing a trend toward more powerful and higher-lift-capacity small loaders, Nordgaard says, “Now that we are seeing manufacturers come out with ‘monster-mini’ loaders that can lift twice as much and can weigh more than twice what a traditional compact or mini can, it can be difficult to find a mid-range attachment.” He explains that the lighter attachments for the first-generation mini and compact loaders can be too light for the “monster mini,” and attachments made for traditional skid steers are likely to be too heavy.

“We’re sometimes kind of stuck, but your dealer can be very helpful,” Nord-gaard says. “Make sure your dealer knows what to do to match the implement to the machine. Another caveat is, as an owner, know what the lift capacity of your machine is and what the attachment is rated for. As a manufacturer, we now design our attachments more stoutly.”

“In my opinion, the number-one thing is to make sure your loader has two auxiliary hydraulic circuits, one to run the grapple and one to run the rotator independently of one another,” says Gerry Mallory, general manager of Hultdins, Inc. That, he says, is because, “what we are seeing is a lot more interest and activity with grapples and rotators for small excavators used in tree care. If a machine has only one standard auxiliary circuit, try to add a second low-flow circuit for the rotator,” he advises.

Matching functionality to the work

The second important factor to consider is what jobs the tool will be used for most of the time and making sure to choose the best attachment for that work.

“If you have a skid steer and need an attachment for residential work, you might want an attachment better suited for that versus forestry work,” suggests FAE’s Adrian Majka. “So much depends on how the customer plans to use the attachment.”

“As far as attachments go, in general we try not to push a specific type of style, even though we do manufacture our own grapples,” says Barko’s Steve Talaga. “We would like to see our customers buy attachments that address what they do the majority of the time, to fit what they do and to handle the material they usually handle.”

FAE’s BL2/EX/VT Forestry Mulcher is designed for excavators from 8 to 14 tons. Photo courtesy of FAE.

Branch Manager’s Nordgaard agrees, adding that the trend in attachments is being pushed by users who want implements that save them money and make them more productive by doing more than one thing. Manufacturers, he notes, are responding with “a variety of options that can mean it’s like getting two or three attachments for the price of one.”

Acknowledging that “attachments of all kinds are out there,” Nordgaard maintains that the “bypass rotating grapple is probably the most efficient attachment for residential work. Machines are now so strong that they can pull a 20- to 30-foot-long piece and stick it in a chipper. That style is so much better than a bucket grapple.

“With a rotating grapple, you can drive up and rotate the grapple to manage the work, not position the machine,” Nordgaard says. “That means less wear on the machine. And the rotating grapple can be cheaper than a bucket grapple. But a bucket grapple is a good option if you have a lot of room to work in.

“Look for the biggest opening,” he suggests, reminding us that the newer, higher capacity machines will handle heavier and bulkier loads.

Regarding adapters to install incompatible attachments, Nordgaard advises, “You can get adapters, certainly. Some can be expensive and add weight to the machine or to the attachment, which may limit the lift capacity. I’d avoid that if you can.”

“Buyers have a choice of two types of rotating grapples,” Gerry Mallory states regarding Hultdins’ product line. “Some people want a free-swinging (dangling) grapple, some want it fixed. Fixed is much more expensive,” he warns, “but it’s a matter of preference. Both will do the job.”

A Hultdins SuperGrip log grapple is being used here with a non-fixed “dangle” rotator on a Kubota KX040 four-ton excavator. Photo courtesy of Hultdins.

As an owner of a tree care business, Bear’s Insured’s Angel Ogletree explains, “The intention has been to use (loaders and attachments) to reduce the number of employees needed on the job, since it is getting difficult to find qualified labor. How much more efficient attachments like the rotating grapple can be, rather than having to hand-drag and hand-feed chippers or drag to a truck and use skid-steer forks. We’ve found the rotating grapple can take the place of two workers on a tree crew.”

Additionally, with the rotating grapple, “You can approach the tree material from any direction. That’s a key point,” she offers, echoing Nordgaard. “You can pick up the branches or logs perpendicular or horizontal to the loader, not having to specially align the machine, then rotate your work to load into a dump truck or chipper.

“We have found that not only do such attachments free up crew members, they also result in fewer injuries,” she reports, “because workers are not manhandling material.”

“Maybe the first question to ask is ‘What are you doing?’ and then ask if there is an attachment to help you,” suggests Kenneth Luker, agent for Woodcracker products in the U.S. for the past four years. Woodcracker makes felling grapples used in harvesting trees and land clearing. In considering what attachment you need, Luker says, count the benefits of your attachment, as he enumerates with his.

“First, the operator can drive around to get to the tree and take it down safely. The grapple keeps climbers out of the trees and on the ground where it is safe,” he explains.

Woodcracker’s C450 cutting head needs a 4,000- to 5,000-pound carrier base and a minimum hydraulic flow of 21 gpm (gallons per minute). Photo courtesy of Woodcracker.

“Second, it aids in processing wood and saves fuel and expense. We also make log splitters, for example, to break up whole logs,” he adds. “Say you take down a tree that’s 3 feet in diameter. You can split it in half, making two 18-inch-diameter logs, which are much easier to chip. You can even use a smaller chipper and save money.” As an aside, he says you can put the log-splitter attachment on a chipper truck, which is a common practice in Europe.

“The fast, low-maintenance removal by the tree shear is the result of a knife, which requires much less maintenance than a saw. The learning curve is lower with a shear,” Luker says, “and if you change your mind on a cut, you can easily back out. The knife operates like a guillotine, and it’s replaceable and can be sharpened. Knife blades are far less expensive and should last five years. They can be sharpened in the field with a portable disc grinder or replaced in 15 minutes.”

Attachment efficiency is a key component in making any selection, he says, adding that the Woodcracker cutting head speeds up the clearing process with a four-steps-in-one function that allows the operator to grab the target and cut it, using a second arm to accumulate more trees for cutting, then rotates the load to where you want to discharge it – “all with two buttons on a joystick. And they’re easily detachable to put on another device, such as our stump shear,” he adds.

“If someone has a job to remove trees, and that includes roots and stumps, the Woodcracker attachment allows the operator to use the shear on an excavator to remove them, essentially plucking them out of the ground, and then put them in an orderly pile.”

Luker shared a quote from one of his customers, Harry Olsen of Hugo’s Tree in Hugo, Minnesota. “My goal is to streamline job sites. That means one man, one job,” says Olsen. “The ability to use a Woodcracker on an excavator is huge for us. To use a tree shear, then change to a stump shear, then change back to a bucket all on the same machine is a game changer, because we use our excavators for many different kinds of jobs as opposed to using dedicated equipment.”

Final considerations

With respect to a return on investment, Angel Ogletree has found that Bear’s rotating grapples last 10 to 15 years. She says that when her husband, Stan, started manufacturing the devices, she did not completely understand the payback. “While they seemed expensive to me at the time, I learned that attachments like these greatly reduce the intensity of manual tree work,” she recounts. “When Stan started, no one used them. Now they realize their capability.”

Conclusion

With attachments, most manufacturers agree that the place to start is by knowing your business. That will begin to define what you need.

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