One of the most useful and versatile attachments a tractor can utilize is a grapple. Mounted in place of the bucket on a front-end loader, a grapple is essentially a claw with hydraulically-controlled jaws that open and close. They grab hold of materials not so easily scooped with a bucket.
Think about it. A bucket is great for handling loose materials like dirt and compost.
But try to pick up a brush pile with a bucket, and you won’t get very far. Front forks might fare a little better. But they can’t grip items the way a grapple can, so you run the risk of dropping some (or all?) of your load during transport.
You can use grapples in many ways. Depending on the design, they can perfectly pick up branches, brush, logs, boulders and more. They can dig up roots, rocks and small trees. Some models even combine a bucket with a grapple so you can have the best of both worlds.
But as implied, you will run across many types of grapples. Figuring out which one you need isn’t always easy. While names can help (a brush grapple does great with brush, a root grapple digs roots well, etc.), you won’t necessarily find standardized differences between each type.
Therefore, rather than focus too much on names, we’ll highlight a few of the key features to consider when shopping for a grapple.
How much does the grapple weigh?
Grapples can be heavy, so consider the weight of the implement and strength of your tractor before making a purchase. Buying a powerful, heavy-duty grapple won’t do you much good if the grapple takes up a big portion of your tractor’s lifting capacity.
What is the width of the grapple?
The width of the grapple is an important factor. The wider the grapple, the more brush and debris it can grab hold of at once. On the other hand, you may find a narrow grapple lighter and more maneuverable, while focusing its strength into a smaller area. So bigger isn’t always better.
Depending on the size and strength of your tractor, a narrow grapple might actually carry more than a wide grapple. The narrow grapple probably weighs less and leaves more lifting capacity for the lead itself.
How many lids does the grapple have?
If you opt for a wide grapple, you’ll want to consider how many lids it has. A lid is the upper jaw of the grapple, which bites down toward the lower jaw to pin loads in place. In many cases, you’ll just need a single lid.
But if you have two lids that adjust independently of each other, they can provide a tighter grip on misshapen loads by individually biting down as much as needed to secure a grip.
How long are the grapple teeth?
The length of the teeth on a grapple is a factor in determining its intended use. Long teeth can do great at digging into the ground for removing roots and rocks.
Consider also whether the teeth are replaceable, since teeth used for digging are bound to suffer significant wear and tear over time.
Is the bottom jaw a bucket?
We mentioned earlier that picking up brush with a bucket isn’t so easy, but if the bucket is part of a grapple, then all bets are off. Add a lid or two to help pin debris into the bucket, and you can securely move a load while also benefiting from the impermeable nature of the bucket.
It won’t let small pieces of debris fall through the way an open grapple will. Of course, if you want dirt, small rocks and such to pass through, an open design might do better.
One thing is certain—a tractor armed with a grapple is a brush-clearing force to reckon with, no matter which type you wind up buying.