As much as you may love winter, sometimes it is the pits. No one wants to be tasked with the job of shoveling snow out of the driveway and the walkways—it’s cold, it’s hard work, and it’s time consuming.
Sure, we’d like to stay inside until the snow melts away, but life goes on and we still have to go to work or school. You can make the chore of snow removal a little easier when you have a snow blower handy.
A snow blower is a great little machine that can help make the snow removal process simple. It uses an auger or an impeller to suck the snow up and the machine throws it out of a chute.
These machines can range in size from very small (which can only remove a few inches) to the large, mounted snow blowers that are typically used commercially and by township workers.
In this guide, we’re going to provide you with all the information you could possible want to know about these handy winter tools. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get right to it!
History Of The Snow Blower
Did you know that parts of Canada receive snow 9 months out of the year? With that much snow, it shouldn’t be any surprise that the snow blower was invented there during the late 1800s.
In 1884, the very first snow blower was created by Orange Joll and the Leslie Brothers. Their invention would be affixed to the train and as the train goes through the snow on the tracks, the rotary snow blower would expel the snow from a chute on the side.
Fast forward to the 20th century where the horse and buggy died out and the automobile flourished. In 1925, a Montreal inventor, Arthur Sicard, developed the first self-propelled snow blower.
He used the concept of grain thrashers to create a four wheel drive truck that had a snow blower on the front end and chutes. This truck was powered by two motors, one for the truck and one for the blower, and was capable of throwing the snow up to 90 feet!
In 1952, the Toro company became the most popular manufacturer of these machines when they released the Snow Hound. This walk-behind snow blower allowed homeowners the ability to clear the snow from their property without breaking their backs whilst shoveling.
Today, the snow blower has had numerous technological advances that makes the unit more reliable, more durable, and performs better too. They’ve also been equipped with features that makes the snow removal process a little more comfortable and easier for the operator.
Snow Blower Stages And Types
As you start looking around at the types of snow blowers available on the market today, you will probably notice that they are categorized by stages:
- Single Stage Electric
- Single Stage Gas
- Two Stage Gas
- Three Stage Gas
Single Stage Electric
A single stage electric snow blower is going to be lightweight and are best suited for smaller areas with less than 8 inches of snow.
The single stage machine will have an auger that will direct the snow through the chute.
Though these machines are not powered by an engine, the auger will come in contact with the pavement and create a limited forward driven motion.
The single stage electric snow blower can be corded or cordless:
- With a corded electric snow blower, the machine will start with a simple press of the button. They aren’t going to require a lot of maintenance and they’ll be more compact and lightweight than a gas model.
Keep in mind that because it will need an extension cord for it to operate, you will want to make sure you have an extension cord that is going to remain flexible while outside in the cold.
- Like the corded electric snow blower, the cordless electric snow blower is going to have a push button start and it will be more lightweight and compact than a gas machine. However, with these cordless machines, you will need to make sure the battery is fully charged.
Depending on the space that needs clearing, you may want to purchase a second battery to have on hand.
Single Stage Gas
A single stage gas snow blower is great if you don’t want to be tethered to an outlet while you’re trying to remove snow. These units often are going to have a wider intake height and width so you’ll be able to clear more snow.
The benefits of using a single stage unit is that you’ll be able to get down to the pavement in a single pass. This allows for any snow that comes in contact with the cleared space to melt in the sun.
Depending on your needs, you’ll want to choose one of three “levels” of single stage:
- Entry Level Single Stage: Perfect for small spaces and regions where you only get light snow.
- Mid-Grade Single Stage: More powerful machines that can tackle snow removal easier.
- Professional Single Stage: Perfect for landscaping crews or people cover a lot of ground.
Two Stage Gas
These snow blowers are designed to remove heavier snowfalls that amount to more than 8 inches. These types of machines uses an auger that feeds the snow into the impeller. The second stage makes the snow removal quicker and the machine can work on taller amounts of snow.
With this type of snow blower, you’ll usually find models that features a single-hand operation and a chute that you can adjust while moving.
This ability lets you change the direction the snow is being thrown without having to stop the machine.
Typically the second stage units are self-propelled so you’re not going to have to push hard on the machine, and it will also feature heavy duty tires with deep treads, or even tracks.
Although these machines are going to let you remove larger amounts of snow, that all comes with a price. Not only are these machines going to be more expensive, but they will require routine maintenance because there are so many moving parts.
Also, they are going to be heavier and more of a challenge to work on if something breaks. These types of machines aren’t recommended for a DIY-er who likes to tackle these sorts of repairs.
Three Stage Gas
The three stage gas snow blower is not going to be something the average homeowner is going to have in their garage. These machines are typically used when you have a very large space and/or deep, heavy snow that needs to be cleared away without having to spend all day doing it.
These machines operate a lot like a two stage unit, except there is an accelerator that will move the snow, regardless of weight, about 10 times faster.
These machines are capable of moving almost 50% more snow than your two stage, making it a more efficient snow blower with little to no snow left on the ground.
The three stage gas unit is always self-propelled and because they are highly complex machines, they will require a professional to do the maintenance.
It should go without saying, but these are going to be the most expensive type of machine.
Features To Look For In A Snow Blower
Before you start shopping for a snow blower, there are some features that you’ll need to take into consideration:
- Clearing Width and Intake Height: These measurements will determine how much snow the machine can work on. The larger the measurements, the less time it will take to complete the snow removal process.
- Dead Man Controls: This feature is a spring loaded handle that will turn the machine off the second the user has let go. This safety feature is intended to prevent accidents and even possible fatalities.
- Headlights: Headlights on a snow blower is a great feature to have so you know where you’re plowing when it’s still dark out.
- Push-Button Electric Start: This feature makes it easier to start your machine. An electric starter is usually more reliable and more efficient than relying on the manual recoil starter.
- Tires: The kind of tires your snow blower has should be an important factor to consider. The smaller tires are better for storage, but they aren’t going to make the machine easy to maneuver. Larger tires are better for maneuverability but they can be big and bulky. Some models will have tracks instead of tires for increased traction.
- Adjustable Handle Height: While you’re working, you don’t want to have to be hunched over. You want to find a snow blower that features an adjustable handle so you can be comfortable and upright.
- Chute Direction and Height Adjustment: It’s important that you choose a model where you can adjust the height of the chute, but also the direction. These controls will let you direct where the slush is thrown so you don’t have to worry about covering your mailbox or messing up your neighbors clean driveway.
- Speed: Having a machine that has multiple speed controls is going to give you better control over the machine, but it also helps to prevent clogging. Keep in mind that a single stage snow blower isn’t going to have many speed settings, but two and three stage models will.
Additional Bonus Features For Convenience
- Heated Hand Grips: To keep your hands warm while you work.
- Extended Chute: This will reduce blow-back when the snow is discharged from the chute.
- Clearing Tools: These tools will make cleaning the snow from the chute easier and safer.
How To Operate Your Snow Blower
Once you do find a snow blower that you like, you’re going to want to know how to use it safely.
- Assess the situation and determine which direction the wind is blowing. When you have determined the direction of the wind, you will want to position the chute of your machine so that the snow is being thrown in the same direction as the wind.
- Prepare your snow blower by checking the fuel level, the oil, and skid shoes. The skid shoes should be on the lowest setting if you are plowing a flat surface. If you’re plowing over gravel or a stony drive, set the skid shoes on a higher setting.
- Follow the instructions in your owner’s manual for the correct method of operating your machine.
- Put the throttle in the “FAST” position.
- Turn the fuel shut-off valve to the “ON” position.
- Press the Safety Key.
- Turn the choke knob to the “CHOKE” position (the engine should be cold!)
- Press the primer button twice (the engine should still be cold!)
- Run the snow blower for a few minutes in a clear spot before you start plowing the snow. This will give the machine a chance to warm up.
- Slowly move the choke control knob to the “RUN” position.
Safety should be your number one priority when you’re working with a machine like a snow blower. Here are some safety tips you will want to keep in mind when operating one:
- Avoid wearing loose fitting clothing or scarves. These dangling clothing could get sucked in to the moving parts and pull you into the machine, causing serious injury.
- Wear some kind of ear protection if you are using a gas powered snow blower. These machines are going to be loud and you don’t want to hurt your hearing.
- When it begins snowing, remove any door mats, toys, sleds, and anything else that is laying around. If you run over these things, you could damage your machine, but also hurt someone.
- Never start a gas powered machine in the garage because this will cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Always start it outside!
- If you are using an electric machine, use an extension cord that is made for outdoor use and is ground-fault-circuit-interrupting (GFCI) protected. Always keep an eye on where you are going so that you don’t accidentally run over the cord.
How To Maintain Your Snow Blower
Your snow blower is going to be an investment piece, so you’re going to want to make sure you get plenty of use out of it. In this section, we are going to go over how to prepare your snow blower for winter, but also general maintenance tips to help prolong the life of your machine.
How to Prepare the Snow Blower for Winter:
- Change the oil.
- Install new spark plugs.
- Inspect and replace (if necessary) belts.
- Lubricate the drive and chassis.
- Use fuel that is less than 30 days old.
General Maintenance for your Snow Blower:
- Do Steps 1 through 5
- Replace auger paddles when they show signs of wear and tear. If they don’t touch the ground, it is time to replace them.
- Check the shave plate. This is the piece that scrapes the snow off of your driveway or walkway. If you’re working with a single-stage unit, reverse the blade. On a two-stage, replace it.
- If the skid shoes look like they are worn out, flip them over. If you’ve already done that, it’s time to replace them entirely.
- The shear pins (what connects the auger to the gear case) are meant to break when the snow blower has become overloaded. If they are broken, replace them. It’s a good idea to have several of these on stand-by just in case.
- Use fresh gas with a stabilizer in it. This is going to keep your gas fresh longer and it will prevent clogs.
Popular Manufacturers Of Snow Blowers
There are many companies that make snow blowers, but that doesn’t mean they are all created equal. Here’s a look at the four top makers of snow blowers:
Ariens Snow Blower
When you’re looking for a high quality two-stage snow blower, Ariens is the best. Since 1960, the company has sold over 3 million of these products and they range from professional grade snow blowers all the way to compact units.
Not only will you find snow blowers in their product line up, but you’ll also find a selection of zero-turn mowers, walk behind mowers, and finishing tools to complete your yard clean up -be it snow or lawn.
Toro Snow Blower
The Toro company was founded in 1919 when they introduced the golf equipment business. Today they offer a huge array of machinery for everything from what the average homeowner may need, but also professional contractors, grounds keepers, and golf ranges. You can also rent machines from Toro if you need to.
Husquarna Snow Blower
Husqvarna is a company that has been around for almost 400 years. While they may not have had snow blowers back then, the company got their start under the name “Jönköping Rifle Factory” and they created around 1,500 musket pipes each year.
The company stopped manufacturing rifles in 1967 and they now focus on tools and machines for homeowners and professionals alike. You can find garden tractors, walk behind lawn mowers, chain saws, hedge trimmers, power cutters and much more in their product line up.
Snow Joe Snow Blower
With a name like Snow Joe, it’s understandable to see why they are one of the best snow blower manufacturers on the market. The company has a complete line of electric snow blowers, but they also have two stage snow blowers as well.
The company also has a variety of summer related products, categorized under the “Sun Joe” name. Some of these products include gardening tools, pressure washers, weed whackers, rototillers, wood chippers and much more.
The snow blower is one of man’s greatest inventions. Well, maybe it isn’t one of the greatest, but it certainly is a life saver when you’re tasked with clearing large amounts of snow in the middle of winter. These machines can take a long, miserable chore into something that will take less time and will be less work.
When you decide that you do need a snow blower, it’s important that you choose the right machine for your region. If you live in a region that doesn’t experience a lot of heavy snow, you’re not going to need a heavy duty two-stage gas unit.
You may be able to do perfectly well with a single-stage electric snow blower, as they can handle up to 8 inches of relatively light and fluffy snow like a champ.
If you do decide that you need something more powerful like a two-stage gas powered machine, you’ll want to think about how big the space is that you need clearing. If you have a big area, you’ll want a machine with a high intake height and wide clearing width.
We’ve created a buying guide to help you choose the best snow blower that your money can buy. We go over what you should look for in a snow blower, but we also have five mini-reviews of our top favorite snow blowers. At the end of the guide, we will give you our top two choices.
Whatever machine you decide on, one thing is certain; you’ll be able to retire that snow shovel and enjoy how quickly and easily you can clear out the driveway and walkways!
If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to leave us a message! Also, tell us where you live and what winter is like near you. We’d love to hear from you!