How does a snow blower work?
Snow blowers are common in areas that experience regular snowfall in winter. They differ in many ways, but all snow blowers are devices that are pushed through snow and ice, dislodging the snow as they move and then discharging the snow and ice through a chute. Their purpose is to clear a path as they work. They can be used to clear walkways, driveways, stairs, porches, decks and any other area that we want to use during winter. All snow blowers have a power source that drives them. Larger machines will use a gas engine and smaller models will usually use an electric motor, this can be either cordless (battery-powered) or use an electric cord that plugs into an electric outlet.
As we progress through the article we’ll look at the different types of snow blowers and how they work. Starting at the beginning, we’ll look at the common component in all snow blowers, the auger. No matter how big or small, all snow blowers use an auger to lift the snow from the ground and break it up. Most snow blowers use one auger, though there are some that use two. We’ll look at these differences later in the article when we take a detailed look at how different snow blowers work.
An auger is basically a set of rotating blades at the front of the snow blower. These can be made from either plastic, steel or other metals, like aluminum. Smaller snow blowers, designed to be lightweight machines for clearing light to medium snow will usually use a plastic auger. Heavy-duty snow blowers will usually have a metal auger. The blade design of the auger will also vary. The most common design is that of a helix. These augers have horizontal blades that twist in helix pattern and run across the length of the auger. Others use a corkscrew design and some have independent blades that chop through dense ice and compacted snow.
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There are two factors to consider when looking at an auger. The length of the auger will determine the width of its clearing path. A longer auger will obviously clear a wider path and these will be larger machines. The diameter of the auger determines the cutting depth. An auger has a shaft that connects to the center of an outer disc which propels the auger. Only bottom half of the auger makes contact with the snow, so its cutting depth will be roughly half the diameter of the auger.
An auger with a diameter of 12” will cut a path that is about 6” deep. Most augers lift the snow from the ground, shred it into small light particles and fling it upward. Machines that use two augers work differently, but more about that later. The snow then moves through a chute and is blown away from the machine – anything from 10 Ft to 50 Ft. The manner in which the auger lifts the snow and is discharged can be achieved in different ways and there three basic types of snow blowers. Each of these uses the auger or augers differently and have different methods of discharging the snow. Based on these factors, snow blowers are divided into three categories; single-stage snow blowers, two-stage snow blowers, and three-stage blowers.
We’re going to look at these three different types of snow blowers individually and help you understand how they work. Understanding how different snow blowers work will give you a better understanding of these machines and enable you to make a more informed decision when choosing the right snow blower for your needs. Before we go any further, I think it would be a good idea to answer a common question, as this will become relevant as we discuss how different snow blowers work. Many people want to know what the difference is between a snow blower and a snow thrower.
Through my research into snow blowers, I’ve seen that a lot of people use the term snow blower and snow thrower interchangeably. So it becomes confusing if you actually want to differentiate between the two. In reality, either term is used to describe the same machine. However, there is a subtle difference and this lies in the semantics of the two terms. Quite simply, a snow thrower throws the snow and a snow blower blows the snow.
When we look at single-stage snow blowers, you’ll see why these can be referred to as snow throwers because they don’t actually blow the snow from the chute. Two-stage and three-stage snow blowers can accurately be called snow blowers because they blow the snow from the machine and this means that the snow is deposited much further away. There really is no need to use the term snow thrower because the best way to distinguish between them is by the more technical definition – single-stage, two-stage or three-stage snow blowers. So let’s see how these three different types of snow blowers work.
Single-Stage Snow Blowers
These are the cheapest and simplest of all the snow blowers. Single-stage snow blowers use the auger to lift the snow, break it up and then fling it up through the chute in a single action. Because the auger literally throws the snow out of the machine, these can also be referred to as snow throwers.
The single stage action of these machines makes them the least effective and are, therefore, only suitable for light to medium snow. A single-stage snow blower will generally be a smaller machine that doesn’t clear a path which is too deep or wide. These snow blowers generally have a clearing path of anything between 13” and 21”. They seldom clear a path deeper than 6”. Because the auger is used to discharge the snow, they also don’t deposit the snow as far from the chute as any of the others. A single-stage snow blower will deposit the snow about 10-20 Ft. from the machine.
Because these aren’t as powerful as two and three-stage snow blowers, they’re mostly powered by an electric motor, though some have gas engines. Electric single-stage snow blowers seldom have a clearing path greater than 18”, whereas gas-powered single-stage snow blowers can reach up to 21” in width.
An electric snow shovel can also be classified as a single stage snow blower. They use the auger in the same way as all other single-stage snow blowers. The only difference between an electric snow shovel and other single stage-snow blowers is that they are smaller and lighter, this makes them the easiest to use. An electric snow shovel will typically clear a path of around 13” – the same as one would do with a regular shovel. These are the best for narrow areas and places where you might have to carry the machine – like pathways, stairs, and porches.
Where a single stage snow blower is not the most effective at clearing heavy snow or working on a large area, they have the advantage of clearing right down to the surface. The auger of a two-stage snow blower does not make contact with the surface – we’ll see how they work in a moment. The disadvantage of using an auger that scrapes down to the ground is that they can’t be used on a surface with loose stones or gravel as these will damage the auger. A single-stage snow blower can, therefore, only be used on a paved surface.
Two-Stage Snow Blowers
The two-stage action of these machines includes a secondary action to blow the snow away. Like all the others, the auger will lift the snow and break it up. But instead of using the auger to discharge the snow, a two-stage snow blower has an impeller that blows the snow out of the chute.
This two-stage action has several benefits. Because the auger doesn’t have to discharge the snow, it is more effective at removing the snow from the ground. This means that a two-stage snow blower will clear a greater volume of snow more quickly and it’s possible to use a wider auger, this can exceed 30”. Because an impeller is used to blow the snow out of the chute, two-stage snow blowers are capable of blowing the snow much further from the area that they clear.
A two-stage snow blower will usually use a steel auger with cutting blades in continuous ribbon design. This makes them more effective at cutting into compacted snow and heavy ice. These augers don’t make contact with the surface, so they don’t scrape the snow all the way to the ground. To compensate for this, most two-stage snow blowers have skid shoes that scrape the ground as they move, clearing the snow from the surface. The advantage of this auger is design is that a two-stage snow blower can handle small stones and gravel.
Because two-stage snow blowers need more power, most are gas-powered, but there are electric options that won’t usually be as large. These machines are all larger and heavier than single-stage snow blowers and are also capable of moving large volumes of snow, this makes for a lot of extra weight for the user to handle when pushing the machine. Because of this, two-stage snow blowers are self-propelled. They use the power of the engine or electric motor to drive the wheels forward or backward. The user is able to select the speed and direction by means of a lever. Some of the larger two-stage snow blowers also have power steering.
Neither a single-stage nor a two-stage snow blower will clear all the snow from the surface that they’re working on. There will always be some snow that is left behind by the auger. This brings us to the last type of snow blower and it’s time to see how these machines work.
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Three-Stage Snow Blowers
A three-stage snow blower is the ultimate snow removal machine. They work differently to the others in that they use two augers either side of an induction accelerator. This might sound very complicated and you’re probably asking: how does a three-stage snow blower work?
Two heavy-duty steel augers drive the snow toward the center of the machine. The snow and ice is then taken up by the induction accelerator which breaks the snow up and feeds it directly into the impeller that blows the snow out of the chute. This three-stage system is the most efficient way to move the largest amount of snow in the least amount of time. Because the induction accelerator does the work of breaking the snow up, the augers are only used to lift the snow. This single-purpose auger is able to clear all the snow from the surface, leaving the ground behind it totally clear of all snow and ice.
Apart from clearing the area better than all the others, a three-stage snow blower moves up to 50% more snow than a two-stage machine. This makes them the best for heavy-duty work. They’re also capable of blowing the snow much further than any of the others. A three-stage snow blower can blow the snow up to 50 Ft away.
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Now that you have a better idea of how a snow blower works, let’s look at how you can apply this knowledge. As a homeowner, you’ll want to find the right snow blower that works best for you. Farmers and people who need to clear large volumes of snow will have a different set of criteria. Another question you need to ask is how much snow do you need to clear? An area that receives heavy snow through most of the winter, is obviously going to need a more heavy-duty snow blower.
Most homeowners will want two snow blowers. A small single-stage snow blower or electric snow shovel will be used where the larger machines can’t gain access. The small machines are also much easier to carry and store. This means that they are more practical to use for quick cleanups.
For clearing your driveway and other large areas, you’ll want a larger machine that works more quickly. If you don’t have a long driveway and you only experience light to medium snowfall, you might be able to get away with a larger single-stage snow blower for this task. Though I’d say that in most cases, you’ll want at least a two-stage snow blower.
Three-stage snow blowers are the most expensive and many homeowners might find that it’s not worth paying extra for these machines. Though if you want a snow blower that’s going to do twice the work in half the time, a three-stage snow blower is going to be worthwhile. People who own large properties and professionals who clear large public areas will obviously benefit the most from a 3-stage snow blower.