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14 aspects to consider when buying a grapple

Neil Messick: Neil from Messick's here today to discuss grapples with you. As years have gone by, the prevalence of grapples on the front of our tractors has grown and grown and grown. When I first started selling tractors 15 years ago, it was very unusual to sell one of these at all and third function kits. The hydraulics to operate that grapple were an anomaly. Oftentimes, we had to work them up ourselves because we didn't have the industry catering towards this particular application, but today, that has changed a lot. Grapples go on the front of tractors regularly around here, and we've got a lot of them in stock.
Now, the internet is often discussing grapples and the attributes to look at for one. Today, we're going to walk around out here a little bit. We're going to look at different styles of grapples and different features that you'll find on these attachments. You're going to be pretty surprised. There's a lot of differentiating factors between something as simple as the pinchy bit to go in the front of your loader. Today, we're going to walk around a little bit and look at that.
If you're shopping for a grapple, the first thing you want to work out in your head is what style grapple is right for you. There's two main styles of grapples. One is called a root rake grapple, like these right here where you don't have much of a floor, the bottom part here underneath the grapple, and you are really pulling that load back against the tractor, against the face of the grapple in order to secure it.
Now, there are pros and cons to these two styles. The root rake style is good in that it keeps the load really close to the tractor, and because there's a little less steel in a root rake grapple, you're often able to lift a little bit more. By the grapple being lighter weight and by the load being closer to the tractor, you end up with more capacity. The lack of a floor, the bottom part of the grapple here has some drawbacks.
I tend to prefer grapples with a floor because I'll often carry logs with mine and the weight of that log is going to sit on the floor and the lids are simply going to secure that load while this root rake style is relying upon the curvature in here in that lid to keep the log from slipping out the bottom. You're going to think that through. If you're going to be doing mostly work with brush or cleaning up brushy areas, often the root rake style is preferred, but if you're going to be lifting and carrying a lot of logs, a grapple with a floor has some benefits.
Now, all grapples, regardless of the style, are going to be made from steel. Even though lightweight is desirable here, I've never seen an aluminum grapple before. They're pretty much always steel, but not all steels are the same. You'll see a lot of stuff floating around on the internet that's made from a mild steel. Mild steels are usually a little bit more pliable, not quite as strong as what some other steels with additional alloys mixed into them can be.
If you see a grapple that has a call out for a type of steel, be it AR400 like this Land Pride or somewhere use a kind of steel called Hardox, any of those are going to be an improvement over a mild steel. If you're seeing those names thrown around, it's a better grade of metal than what could possibly be used in the least expensive models.
There's a couple things on this root rake style grapple that I think are interesting.
One here is really cool what I've never seen this before. When you detach a grapple from your tractor, it's sometimes not the easiest detachment to put back on again. The dimensions and the proportions of these things often cause them to sit in weird ways when they're set down on the ground. Root rakes in particular, when you take them off your tractor, you don't have any flat surface here to be able to set it down on the ground. Sometimes, you'll see people try to open them up and set them down in an awkward way, but this Land Pride, that's a parking stand. Isn't that cool?
I didn't even know these were back here until I walked out here to make this video. There's this little handle on the backside of your grapple right here that this stand flips out and locks into place so that your grapple can be parked, making it a lot easier to take on and off the tractor.
Another attribute of these root rake style grapples is the way this lower tine here is constructed. You can remember, we call these root rake grapples, right? What's the function of this grapple is to rake roots, right? [chuckles] Some of these grapples are terrible at raking roots and some of them are quite good, and that is a design choice that is made by these manufacturers in the construction of these grapples.
In some of the grapples, you're going to notice a long tine that's basically unsupported so that that tine can rake through the soil and pull up those roots, grab the stuff that's a couple inches under the soil, and then use that grapple to be able to pinch all that debris and carry it away. Doing that though has some drawbacks. These long sweeping tines can bend if you catch something and you're driving really fast with your tractor, and so some manufacturers will choose to support these tines with pipes running across the inside of the grapple.
Now, that brings a lot more rigidity to the lower side of the grapple. You tend not to see this style bend, but it's not going to rake the soil nearly as well with one that's going to have a longer tine that can get under the dirt. Next thing that I would put eyes on would be how the hydraulic hoses on the grapple are routed. By far, the biggest frustration that I have with my personal grapple at home is that the hoses are pretty dangly.
When you're going out and you're grabbing things at these grapples, it doesn't take much for those hoses to get caught on things. When they get caught, why unscrew? [laughs] That's what happens. They tend not to tear real easily. The hoses are pretty rigid, but when you start pulling on those couplers, the threatening starts to make its way loose, and then they'll start to leak.
We look at this Land Pride here. This is cool. The way that this is constructed is that the hoses are on the inside of the cylinder, and then they've rattled them through this channel here on the backside of this pipe. Now, oftentimes, these come through without the hydraulic whips on. We work those up here at the dealership in many cases in order to have the right fittings to connect into your third function kit. This is pretty handy. You don't have hoses dangling out over the front of the grapple, just the two here that only have to be about 2 feet long or so in order to get back to your third function kit. Look at how the hydraulic hoses are routed.
The topic of hydraulic hoses, you're going to notice on the Virnig grapples here that they fit theirs with hydraulic cylinder guards on the top. Not only is that going to protect the cylinder itself, it also keeps these hydraulic hoses tightly coupled underneath the guards right here where things aren't going to grab a hold of them. I see big benefit on my personal grapple at home by having those in place. You're going to notice different grapple manufacturers using different variations of serrations on the lid and the teeth.
Now, I've found those serrations to be a blessing and a curse sometimes. If you want to be able to grab something and say, you're picking up a log and you want those serrations to grab a hold of that log to keep it from spilling out from the underside of the grapple while you're driving around, the serrations are helpful, they help grasp that load. But if you're going to be going out and working with mostly small brush where you're not concerned about those teeth holding that brush back in, sometimes, they can be a double-edged sword as they can hold on to some of those small briers or sticks and twigs as you're trying to let go of your load. Some is helpful too much sometimes can be annoying.
If you're going to be using your grapple in any kind of scrap or recycling or demolition work, you're going to notice that those abrasive hard materials can wear down the steel pretty quickly. In those cases, you're going to want to look for a grapple that has a replaceable tooth on the front. It's the same kind of cutting-edge tooth that you can have on the front of your dirt bucket, is often fitted onto the front of grapples as well that are used in those hard abrasive applications.
A factor that I would consider when shopping between a root rake or a floor-based grapple is the design of the lids. We've got that floor to help carry that log around, but the double lids that you'll usually find on top of the grapple with a floor can grab a load better than a single lid can on a root rake style grapple. When you start to grab multiple branches and multiple logs, that grapple is only going to close until it contacts the first one.
Being able to have a grapple that has two lids or two independently operating cylinders creates another contact point and grabs that load much better. You're going to see some very inexpensive economy-oriented grapples that are sometimes going to have a single cylinder or a single lid for a cost-saving measure. Those will not grip your loads as well as one with two cylinders.
A cost consideration to keep in mind is whether hydraulic couplers are included on your grapple. You can have upwards of a $100 cost difference between a standard Ag pioneer coupler or a construction-oriented flat face coupler. If you have the choice, if you've not committed towards a coupler standard already, I would tell you that is money well spent for the flat face couplers. They can be generally a little easier to connect and easier to keep clean, but they are more costly. Keep that in mind. Not having couplers included in the cost of your grapple can be an additional upcharge for the brands that don't include them.
Another simple and useful thing that can be put onto a grapple is a place here in order to hook a chain. There's a lot of different places here that you could tie something off to, but many of them move, and so having some kind of fixed place right here to be able to flip a chain hook around is helpful. We often weld chain hooks onto things for people, but I like to see thoughtful things like a little hook that you don't even have to cut and weld that part and put it there, it's there for making your life easier.
Another thing I like too is to be able to see mechanical stops on the lids, on those moving parts. If there's a mechanical stop, it's going to keep you from relying upon that hydraulic cylinder for support if you crash into something. If this lid is shoved closed because you caught the corner of it with a tree, you're going to notice this large pin down here at the bottom that's going to catch that lid and not rely upon that hydraulic cylinder to support it. Always good, better to have steel [unintelligible 00:10:34] on steel there for those impacts than it is relying upon your cylinders.
The final attribute I would consider for a grapple is its weight. The heavier the grapple is, the less weight you can pick up with your loader. Now in no case would I be going around and trying to parse out 20 or 30 pounds or so, but there's definitely cases where some of these mild steel grapples can be really abnormally heavy and that can be detrimental to the performance of your tractor and the amount of load that you're able to carry around with that grapple.
One thing I would often watch though for is the other ways that weight can be removed from that grapple, and that can be with fewer supporting tines. By removing some of the tines on the grapple, you're not going to be able to do things like hold on to small material as well. There's a double-edged sword here. We think about this with rock buckets and debris buckets too, right? You like to have a lot of those slots on the bottom so small things fall through but you keep the bigger stuff. That happens here too. You can remove too many of these tines for weight savings, but then not be able to hold on to the smaller material.
Gauge that out. What kinds of things are you going to be moving with that grapple? As tractors get bigger and loaders become more capable, weight savings becomes less of an issue, and that's really evident right here on these two Virnig grapples. These are both out of their v30 series, both grapples that are going to have a nice floor in the bottom of them, but in the 48-inch here that's more targeted to say a sub-compact tractor, you're going to notice a lot fewer tines in the bottom of the grapple.
As you go up to the 54-inch here, only a 6-inch difference, there's many more tines. You're going to be able to have smaller material that's not going to fall out of the bottom of the grapple, but you're going to have a little bit more weight in the grapple itself. That little bit bigger tractor can probably handle a little bit heavier grapple, and so I would see that as a positive.
As we move into more construction-oriented grapples, you'll start to see some different features in construction where we're not quite as limited by the power of the machine, and many cases maybe be concerned by the power of the machine. When we put heavy grapples on this on to say, a 12,000-pound track loader, the forces involved start to go through the roof really quickly.
One thing that you want to be mindful of with a grapple is that when you crash a grapple into something or you force those lids closed, you are pushing hydraulic pressure back into your tractor. Your tractor's hydraulic system runs somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 to 3,000 psi. Sometimes by taking these grapples and crashing those lids shut, you can double or even triple the amount of pressure being pushed back through the hoses into the tractor.
If you have a third function kit on your machine, that pressure is held back by tiny little electronic solenoids, and guess what's a common repair on third functions? The tiny little electronic solenoids, right? Nobody ever blames their grapples for the damage done on a third function kit, but it oftentimes is the case because of that back pressure being pushed back into the third function. When we get up into our largest construction-oriented grapples, you're going to see check valves on the back of some of them in order to prevent that back pressure from being shoved back into the machine. It's something that's only found on the best quality products that I see.
What is the best grapple in the market? That's a question that should never be answered because it goes back into these things to the applications that you have and what kind of mix of features and functionality are right for the kinds of things that you're going to be handling. We tend to represent a majority of Land Pride, Virnig, and Bradco FFC. Those three brands for us make up a vast majority of our sales. You could probably go get grapples from another half a dozen different companies. It seems like every weld shop anymore makes a grapple for us to be able to offer.
Most of the time, we're selling Land Prides along with new tractors because they can be financed into your tractor package at little additional cost. We're often selling Virnigs to people picking up a grapple on the aftermarket. As we go up into those more construction-oriented machines, the Paladin brand of companies is really oriented towards that kind of market, but Virnig also offers some more stout equipment all the time.
If you're shopping for one of these pieces, we're glad to help. We ship them all over the country at some really attractive rates. You can give us a call at 800-222-3373 or check out our grapple shopping tool on messicks.com. 

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