I recently purchased a Cyclone Rake, Z-10 model. I thought I'd share some first impressions with you. I've only had the unit for 1 day so my report here will be limited.
This is the first in a two or more part report, depending on when I get around to posting. In this posting, I'll confine my comments to the purchase, setup and initial operation of the Z-10/
The product is made and sold by Woodland Power Products in West Haven, CT. There's several models now, in order from the least expensive to the most expensive, they are: the classic ($1045); the commander ($1345); the commercial pro ($1545), the XL ($1745); and the Z-10 ($1945). You can read about the differences in these models on the Woodland products website: Cyclone Rake. In brief, the more expensive models have larger collector bags and larger circumference vacuum hoses, and larger motors. The Z-10 can cost over $3K with accessories, shipping, and taxes added in.
Second, model selection.
Obviously, this is an individual choice. I selected the top of the line model because my property features a large number of old oak and pine trees. Since I live in the southeast, "Fall" occurs all year long. The frequency and volume of material to collect is overwhelming --- and this is an understatement on my part. Typically, I would spend all weekend several times a year raking and blowing leaves off the roof of my house and away from my house with my two sons and my wife. We were NEVER finished: we only "scratched the surface" of this activity. 6-8" thick worth of leaves lined my fence line or stacked up in my flower gardens. Grass simply could not grow in certain areas of the yard and the property was messy constantly.
I have a Sears soft top system and cart (model 486.24504) with a 5 hp motor. The motor could handle the job for my property, but, the 6" vacuum pipes meant that I was forever doomed to clearing clogged pipe lines. There are no adapter kits I am aware of to convert this unit to a larger capacity hose with corresponding housing on the vacuum motor. Sticks and other debris would easily clog the pipes on the Sears unit. The Z-10 is the only model offered by Woodlands that features a 10" vacuuming pipe. I felt I needed that, and, this was a selection factor for me. As well, ALL Cyclone rake models break down for easy storage in a barn, shed or garage. This was another selection factor for me. My Sears unit is made largely of sheet metal that rusts and bends easily and it cannot be folded down and stored away like the Cyclone rake can.
In addition to the unit, I bought the 32 ft vacuuming hose to reach in areas along my fence line and into flower gardens I cannot get my unit close too. This accessory is expensive and I haven't used it yet. I hope it works well. I also bought the power unloader hose ... an accessory that allows the user to blow out material collected elsewhere ... either into the back of a box trailer, bag, pickup truck (with a collection bag of some sort in it) or simply across the land to another area. I haven't used this yet either. I hope it works well.
I also bought the master power lifter accessory. This is a battery powered remote control power cylinder that lifts the collection bag up for you during dumping cycles.
Now, I am 6'3" and 280 lbs. I'm still strong at my age (62) and can lift heavy things. These collection bags can get quite heavy, and, I felt this accessory was needed if my wife or older relatives were to use this unit. And, perhaps, in 10 years or so, I might need it as well. I collected 6 bags full of material on my first day of operation, and, several required me to squat down as if I were performing power lifts in my youth and focus on lifting the chassis upward for dumping.
I also bought the double caster wheels. This is a must for those operating in soft, sandy soil.
Finally, I bought some covers for the unit for those times when I use it a lot and have no intention of breaking it down overnight for several weeks.
Woodland ships this product via ABF freight. It appears they use only 18 wheelers and this can pose a problem for you if you live in an area with roads that inhibit trucks of that size. I met the shipper with my pickup and box trailer. My son and I offloaded 11 boxes and took them back to my house.
Woodland products obviously has a lot of experience dealing with issues relating to this product. Everything was well organized and labelled clearly. The "primary" box contains another box with the orientation CD, a small can of WD-40, a toolkit with almost everything one would need to assemble the unit; an owners/assembly manual; safety glasses sealed in a ziplock type container, warranty declaration, and other stuff. I've uploaded a picture of this box FYI.
The manual takes one step by step through the assembly process. Setup isn't hard and is pretty much a snap. IF you are one who has assembled one of these units previously, you could do so in about 1.5 hours. It took me about six hours, but, that's because I ran into some problems that took some time to work out (See below). And, even though setup is mostly straight forward, the first timer will take extra time as I did to ensure the job is done correctly.
Note: The CD is formatted to run on Windows machines only, and then, only on machines with an operating system (it appears) later than Windows XP. This was a problem for me: I ended up putting the disc in a Playstation to view the program. Woodlands needs to update the encoding of this CD to ensure it runs on multiple media player formats.
Woodland MUST know what type of tractor you are operating prior to sale. This is because they need to ship to you an MDA (mower deck adapter) and hitch bar plate.
Standard Hitch Bar Assembly. Woodland MUST know what type of tractor you are operating prior to sale. This is because they need to ship to you an standard hitch bar plate for installation onto your tractor. Depending on your tractor and setup, this can take about 30 to 45 minutes to correctly measure and mark where to put this bar if your cautious as I am. It could be done a lot quicker. *** This plate is connected to TWO hitch bars, with each one attached to the right and left sides of the chassis unit respectively. This impacts performance: see more comments below in re operation.
MDA installation. Mine was cut to exactly to the right size---seemingly. Two hours later, after grinding down portions of it with an air powered grinder, I finally got the MDA to fit onto my tractor. Fitting the MDA onto your tractor seems to be a challenge with all such units as I recall having this similar problem with my Sears unit some years ago. Woodlands did a great job of cutting the opening for this MDA: one can see where it was drawn out with a permanent marker before they cut it. In my case, there is a notch for my mower deck in the mounting plate holding the ejector chute. It was binding and preventing a clean installation. I took me two hours to find the correct area to grind off before it would fit. Also, the MDA plate has chrome plated screw bolt with a textured round top as a grip. I thought the bolt was to be used as a handle to hold and push the MDA down while trying to slide the retaining bolt in to the mower deck. I was wrong. This bolt must be removed so that the MDA plate can be slid underneath the retaining bolt that the user installs on the mower deck. The manual wasn't clear in this respect --- instructions are in a separate sheet that accompany the box with the MDA.
I'm not making comments about installing the hoses, setting up the vacuum motor, or connecting the collection bag to the chassis because setup was incident free. The latches on the couplings are terrific, but, take a bit of getting used to, to figure out how they operate. Also, there's a bar attached to the chassis by velcro straps (the bottom of the chassis). I couldn't find what this bar was for from the manual. Fortunately, the function of the bar was marked right on it.
The first thing you'll notice is the impact the hitch bar setup has on the operation of the tractor. if you have been raised on a farm operating tractors and wagons and other equipment as I have , this set up will throw you off. This setup is designed for those who need idiot proof methods of operating tractors and wagons who do not want or cannot learn how to handle tractors and wagons conventionally. [/U][/U]The good news is, if you are tractor and wagon challenged, you'll like this setup. The bad news is it means your cyclone rake will extend STRAIGHT out behind you wherever you drive. You have to keep this factor in mind when clearing obstructions. There are tight spots I COULD navigate with my tractor and wagon that are impossible to get into with the cyclone rake because of this hitching arrangement. I'm sure Woodland Products has their reasons for this setup
but it does pose challenges. The caster wheels on the unit are designed to swivel 360 degrees to turn the unit. As the tractor turns. This puts a binding effect on the tractor making it difficult to turn at all when the collector bag is nearly full. It can also make it hard to back up and it's likely your rear tires on your tractor will dig into the dirt creating ruts if the collector bag is full. Keep this in mind if you operate in soft soil areas as I do.
Second, the unit operates very well, vacuuming up everything. I cleared my areas of sticks and stones prior to vacuuming. IT'S BEST TO VACUUM WITH YOUR MOWER DECK UP AT FIRST IF YOU HAVE DENSE LEAF COVERINGS OR IF YOU HAVE SANDY SOIL. WHY? Because your Cyclone Rake will vacuum up the soil making your load very heavy to dump. Besides, I want my soil where I found it --- not in my Cyclone Rake collector bag.
The collection bag closes with a series of clips and velcro fastener arrangements. I don't know what Woodland could have done to make this design better, but, it's clear to me that worn and ruined velcro stripping will become a problem in several years. The bag is vented at the top: exhaust dust will exit the unit rearward. This is a plus, but, anything on your property receiving this dust will be covered in the process. I still found it necessary to where goggles, ear protection, and a nose filtration unit to keep dust from getting into my lungs and eyes.
In sum, my initial experience with the Cyclone Rake Z-10 has been very positive thusfar. I had NO clogging pipes as I did with my Sears unit, and, the MDA worked well with the vacuuming pipes ensuring the collected materials made it back to the collection bag. All of the pipes and channels attached to the vacuum motor are tough with high quality fasteners and work well and they don't disengage or break as those on my Sears unit. I'll post more about my experience with this unit in a later posting.
The Cyclone Rake Z-10 is very expensive. If you order this unit with a number of accessories your purchase price will exceed $3K. I'm not sure it is worth the money --- yet. I rationalize the purchase of this unit as one might rationalize making a decision to undergo back surgery: when the pain becomes too much, you'll make the decision. Clearly, this analogy is a bit off point since a decision to have back surgery is a choice with lifelong implications not parallel to a decision to vacuum leaves up from a property. But, I make my assertion in the sense that if you get to the point, as I did, where you felt you had to take drastic action to deal with your leaf problem, then you might do as I did and select the Z-10 unit. I wanted the 10" vacuum pipes, and, if they had been offered in a cheaper model, I would have bought that model.
INITIAL RATINGS (ON A 5 STAR SCALE)
Quality of Materials: *****
Quality / Organization of Assembly Information *****
Ease of Setup: ****
Ease of Operation: ****