What are Wood Chips?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Wood chips are small pieces of wood that have been created by running wood through a shredder, breaking it into uniformly sized chips. There are a number of uses for wood chips, and there are often several ways to obtain them, depending on where one lives and for what purpose one wants to use them. People who harvest timber, trim trees, and process fallen or dead trees on their own land usually also end up with chips of wood as part of the process.

Wood chip can be used in a garden to prevent the later growth of weeds.
Wood chip can be used in a garden to prevent the later growth of weeds.

The precise size of wood chips varies, depending on the type of wood and the chipper used to create them. As a general rule, they are created as a byproduct of timber processing, with small branches, offcuttings, and other debris being run through a wood chipper as a way of compacting tree waste. Chips can also be made from larger pieces of wood, assuming that those pieces have no other uses.

Wood chips are often used as ground cover at playgrounds.
Wood chips are often used as ground cover at playgrounds.

One common use for wood chips is as a ground cover. A thick layer will keep weeds from breaking through, and help to retain the soil. They are often used in playgrounds, where gravel would be too hard in the event of falls and grass would be unlikely to last long. Some gardeners also use them as mulch, spreading chips out between their plants to keep grass and weeds down and to give the garden a smooth, uniform look.

Many wood chips wind up being pulped for paper, and they are also sometimes used to fuel furnaces, boilers, and electrical generation equipment at sawmills. Specialty chips made from woods like hickory and oak may be sold in kitchen supply stores for people to use in smoking, grilling, and barbecuing. These aromatic wood pieces can be soaked in water and tossed on the fire where they will smolder slowly, releasing scented smoke which infuses the food being cooked over the fire.

If you want wood chips for landscaping or gardening, you can obtain them from a garden supply store, either in sacks or truckloads. In some regions, cities dispense them by request, although the city's chips may be inferior to commercially produced versions, since they are usually made from old scrap wood that comes from city maintenance projects. Specialty wood for cooking can be found in various markets and suppliers of cooking utensils, and they can also be ordered from companies that specialize in grilling and smoking equipment.

Wood chips can be a good alternative to gravel or paved areas at a playground, helping to reduce the incidence of scrapes and other minor injuries.
Wood chips can be a good alternative to gravel or paved areas at a playground, helping to reduce the incidence of scrapes and other minor injuries.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I love using hickory wood chips when I am cooking outdoors. It gives whatever I am cooking a really nice taste, and the smell is great.

Has anyone ever used apple wood chips when they were grilling? I see them at the store, but I have never tried them, because they cost more than the hickory. I am usually not very keen on trying new things, either, especially when I like the system I have used for a long time.

What is the taste of food with the apple chips compared to hickory? I have heard some people also mention that they use a combination of hickory and apple chips when they are grilling or using a smoker. Has anyone ever tried this? Besides those two types of chips, are there any other good woods that you would suggest for grilling?


@Izzy78 - Most of the mulch that you will find is either going to be cedar or cypress. In my opinion, they both work fairly well. Personally, I always choose cedar because it smells good and is naturally red in color. If you're looking for something lighter, cypress might be a better choice. A lot of companies now make dyed chips, so you can get whatever color you want.

Cedar and cypress are good because they are naturally rot resistant meaning they will last longer. I think you might also be able to find redwood chips, but they probably work about the same as cedar and will cost more. Between those two, I'd say they will both last about 2-3 years before you'll need more even though it is recommended that you add mulch every year to keep weeds away.


@jcraig - I know what you mean. Outside of rubber, wood chips are the best alternative for playgrounds I guess. One playground I used to go to had rocks, and they were fine to land on, but they got in your shoes really easily.

Does anyone know what the typical types of wood are that are used in landscaping mulch? Is one particular kind any better than the other. I am thinking about putting in a flowerbed next to my house and will need some mulch for it. I was just wondering what people thought the best choices were or if it really mattered. Since I have a hard time lifting the bags, I would prefer something that lasts for a long time even if it might be a little bit more expensive initially.


@anon160194 - Any tree can be chipped up and used for various things. It really just depends on what the finished product is. I used to work for an arborist company that cut down a lot of trees for people. After the tree was down, we would cut out the upper branches and put them through a chipper that shot them into a truck. There happened to be a landscaping company located right next door to our building, and they bought some of the rough chips for different uses. We also sold a lot of wood chips to the city to use on playgrounds.

What I never understood was why woodchips are used so often for playgrounds. The article mentions that they are more forgiving than gravel, but wood chips can still be a problem. I remember when I was a kid in elementary school and we had wood chips on the playground. I got splinters all the time from them when I would fall or jump off of a piece of equipment or something. I know a lot of playgrounds use rubber now, but I'm guessing that is more expensive.


what trees are used for chipping?

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