How Does a Snow Blower Work?
There are two types of people when it comes to machines, technical devices and such: The ones who just want them to work, and the ones who want at least a basic understanding of how they work, so they can make more informed decisions - decisions like which one to buy, if they even need one, or if they could fix them themselves or not.
The basic principle of clearing snow has stayed the same for centuries - scrape it off the ground, throw it out of the way. Like this:
Unless you want a good workout while clearing your property, that is. The snow blowers in use today have augers for snow collection: Metal or plastic spirals that transport the snow into a chute that throws it in the desired direction. Unlike snow plows, which just shove the snow out of the way, this avoids the accumulation of huge snow piles right next to the cleared surfaces.
If you clear the same driveway throughout the whole winter, there can pile up quite some snow next to it, if you just plow it out of the way. A snow blower, on the other hand, has an adjustable length of throw and can spread out the removed snow over a larger area so that it doesn't pile up so quickly.
Different types of snow blowers
There are single , two and even three-stage-snow blowers. So what's the difference between these?
Single stage snow blowers
These small and affordable snow blowers have fast-rotating augers usually made of some sort of rubber. These augers come in contact with the surface - that's why they're only good for smooth surfaces like driveways, and definitely should not be used on gravel.
They will throw gravel all over the place and get damaged in the process, too. They also usually have plastic lips that scrape snow off the surface behind the auger, which is fine for their intended purpose on smooth surfaces, but wouldn't work on gravel.
This auger then throws the snow directly into the chute. The auger is the only powered part on a single stage snow blower, so it won't throw all that far, and won't clear snow over a certain height. Don't use it on snow that's deeper than 6 inches, and get something better than a single stage model if you have more than 500 sq.ft. to clear regularly.
Also you should keep it away from frozen snow. But - fun fact - a single-stage snow blower can be better with wet snow because they don't tend to clog up as easily. Most of them clear a path between 20 and 22 inches wide.
The auger of a single stage blower slightly helps to propel it forward, but doesn't come close to a truly self-propelled machine like two or three-stage-snow blowers. So if you have any kinds of sloped surfaces, you should also consider a better type of blower.
Single stage blowers usually have pull-cord starters that may require some physical strength to start it, and chutes with a manual adjustment for direction and height of throw. They come in widths between one and two feet, which can be an advantage compared to the more powerful but also wider types, if you have narrow pathways.
Snow blowers are usually powered by four-stroke gas engines, but there are electric ones with cables, and, with the advancement of battery technology, more and more cableless electric blowers. Especially if you don't need a very powerful blower (hence single stage), you might consider one of these since electric engines are cleaner and don't require as much maintenance as gas engines, like regular oil changes.
Two-stage snow blowers
Two-stage snow blowers have augers made of serrated metal turning with a much slower speed compared to single-stage blowers - that's why they can eat into snow up to 12 inches high. The serrations help in chopping up frozen snow.
The augers of a two-stage blower don't work like a shovel, but like a feed-snake that slowly propels the snow into the middle of the hood, where it is picked up by a fast-turning impeller that sucks it into the chute and throws it out. Of course it can throw the snow much farther that a single stage unit and is suited for wet and heavy snow, and snow build-ups to some extent, too.
If you have the right amount of fluffy snow, you can expect a decent two-stage unit to throw 30 feet - but if you have wet snow, it will throw the same amount much less far. Also a snow blower needs a certain amount of snow to get decent throw width. For example if you're clearing 2 - 3 inches of new fluffy snow, don't expect it to throw this far.
Pro-Tip: If you're not satisfied with the throw width of your blower, you can spray the chute, auger and impeller with non-stick cooking oil. This will make the snow slip better over these parts. Slipperiness is also the reason why chutes of good snow blowers are made of plastic and not metal - because the snow is much more likely to stick to metal in the cold, which will keep it from sliding smoothly through the chute.
Three-stage snow blowers are essentially like two-stage blowers. The only difference is that they have two sets of augers: The first one is very large and slow turning and feeds into a second set of perpendicular augers. These turn way faster than the single set of augers of a two-stage unit and allow the three-stage blowers to handle huge amounts of deep and wet snow.
A three-stage snow blower is about 30 percent faster than a two-stage unit. They're usually the most expensive, but also the most capable models of the manufacturers.
From two- or three-stage snow blowers, you can expect some amenities and even some luxury, depending on the model. They usually are self-propelled and have multiple forward speeds, which makes them suitable for larger areas and slopes. Most of them come with electric chute pitch and rotation control. This comes in real handy if you have to adjust where you want to throw the snow - you can do this on the fly and don't have to stop for it.
Or how about heated hand-grips to keep your fingers from freezing while clearing those larger areas, or headlights for those unlit areas in the darkness of the cold season?
Many companies equip their better models with something called easy-turn, auto-turn. This feature lets you nudge or push the blower in the right direction, and it does the turn - compared to levers or triggers for turning, which are way more complicated to operate. This really helps with machines that are heavier and usually already have many different buttons and levers.
Airless tires are also a nice thing to have. The ride on these is good enough for a snow blower, and you spare yourself the hassle of having to fill the tires up every time they're empty - which standard inflatable tires inevitably will be when you need your snow blower the most.
When the weather is hard, better be smart
This is especially true in the cold of winter, where good equipment is an invaluable help to make our lives easier. We hope this gave you a quick and comprehensive overview of how snow blowers works, and some additional info that`ll make you a more informed buyer and user.