Photos provided by Gensco Equipment Inc.

Often overlooked, the grapple plays a necessary role in scrap yards, helping to feed processing equipment and load and unload material.

While some scrap yards might not put much thought into purchasing grapples, manufacturers think it’s a good idea to keep a few things in mind when shopping for these essential tools.

First things first

Matt Davidson, vice president of sales and marketing for Theodore, Alabama-based Mack Manufacturing, and Sean Abenstein, sales manager, recycling, demolition and construction, for Toronto-based Gensco Equipment Inc. agree that recyclers should do their homework before they start shopping.

“Speak with crane or excavator dealers,” Abenstein suggests. “They know the requirements your crane is going to have.”

The size of the grapple will depend on the size and operating weight of the scrap handler that will be carrying it, he says. The carrier might also need to be modified to add additional hydraulic lines for rotating grapples or a magnet generator if a grapple-magnet combination is preferred.

Davidson says the primary task the scrap handler is performing also will factor into selecting the grapple. Applications that involve vertical extension as opposed to horizontal extension might require a smaller, lighter grapple to maintain the stability of the scrap handler. “They can get in trouble if they say they will be working at 50 degrees but use it much higher,” he explains.

For recyclers who are interested in piling material as high as possible, a “low-profile” grapple might be of interest, Abenstein says. The column is shorter with a low-profile grapple, allowing higher reach, he says. “You can gain 3 to 5 feet of material with a low-profile grapple configuration.”

The density of the material being handled also will factor into grapple selection, Davidson says, with heavier material necessitating a smaller grapple to maintain safety.

Recyclers might also wish to select a smaller grapple if they are working with space restrictions, such as loading trucks or rail cars, or doing more delicate tasks, such as unloading scrap from a pickup truck, Abenstein says.

Tine considerations

A 1-yard grapple will pick up the same amount of scrap whether it has four or five tines, Davidson says. Some recyclers insist five-tine grapples dig into piles better, he says, but that has not been his experience.

Where Davidson notices a difference between four- and five-tine grapples is in loading trucks and rail cars. “The four-tine squares up better” in these applications, he says.

While Abenstein still encounters operators who prefer four-tine grapples, in his experience, “90 percent of the market” is using five-finger grapples. For those operators who are handling large pieces of structural steel or crushed cars, he says four-finger grapples appear to be preferred.

Tine thickness also is a consideration. Davidson suggests narrower tines are better for handling big chunks of I-beams, while semienclosed tines keep small scrap contained.

“If you are lifting bulk scrap, turnings, broken prepared scrap or shredded scrap, the five-finger grapple with a semi-open finger might be preferred,” Abenstein says. He adds that the semiopen tine style provides a “basin” at the bottom that helps to contain the loose scrap.

Scrap yard owners often choose the tine configuration their operators are most familiar with and therefore most comfortable working with, Abenstein says. “A lot depends on the operator,” he adds. “Scrap yard owners trust their operators and ask them what they prefer.”

Powerful pairing

Recyclers who are looking for versatility from a single attachment can opt for a grapple-magnet combination. Abenstein says these units have grown in popularity over the last five to six years. The grapple-magnet combination offers benefits and drawbacks.

“One drawback is that you lose some area in the grapple with the magnet built in there,” Abenstein says. “The second is that they are heavier, which might limit the size of the crane or excavator you are operating.”

Davidson says that while he receives inquiries about the grapple-magnets, he hasn’t had many recyclers buy them. He also points to reduced grapple capacity as one of the drawbacks of these units.

While Davidson says grapple-magnets are good for cleaning up around the yard, these combination units are not as good at cleaning out rail cars or trucks because the tines prevent them from being able to access the corners.

Abenstein says grapple-magnets offer more versatility, though. “You are killing two birds with one stone” with the combination units, he says. “You can clean around piles, move ferrous or nonferrous and clean up when piles get low and it becomes hard to use a grapple.”

Gensco’s grapple-magnet combinations allow the magnet to be removed for servicing, Abenstein says, so recyclers can continue using the grapple. However, he says it is not a “simple disconnection,” which means recyclers generally don’t remove the magnet if they are just trying to temporarily increase the capacity of the grapple for a particular task.

Maintenance matters

Regardless of the type of grapple a recycler selects, a little preventive daily maintenance will go a long way in keeping the attachment in service for as long as possible.

Davidson says greasing grapples is the key to maintaining them. He suggests greasing the grapple every eight hours. “A lot of scrap yards are eight- or 12-hour operations. If you grease at least once during that period, you will extend the life of your bushings,” he says.

Other than that, Davidson says grapples don’t require much maintenance. But he adds that it’s important to ensure the scrap handler is being properly maintained, particularly when it comes to the hydraulics, as that affects the performance of the grapple.

In addition to greasing, Abenstein suggest checking bolts for tightness at the start and end of every shift. “It’s a rough environment with a lot of vibration and banging,” he says. “Hydraulic fittings could come loose.”

Grapple life can vary widely depending on whether operators are properly maintaining the units and how they are using them, Abenstein adds. His company manufactures its grapples with longevity in mind, he says. To extend grapple life, Gensco provides cylinder guarding, uses harder steel and alloys in manufacturing the column of the grapple and uses Hardox steel in the tines. “We try to insulate the grapple as much as possible to limit the damage that could be caused outside of just moving scrap.”

“We think a lot about the grapple,” Davidson says of Mack Manufacturing. “‘Quality first’ is our logo.”

Mack Manufacturing says it uses heat-treated alloys and arc welded construction to manufacture its grapples and includes heat-treated sheaves mounted on roller bearings and hardened fairlead rollers for increased rope life.

“We build every single part of the grapple except the motor for the rotation,” Davidson adds.

Parting advice

When shopping for a new grapple, Davidson and Abenstein recommend looking closely at the manufacturers as well as at the products.

“Two grapples can look exactly the same but be made from different material,” Davidson says.

He also suggests looking into the history of the supplier and asking other recyclers’ opinions. “When you buy a grapple, make sure the company can support it and stand behind their product.”

Abenstein suggests, “Look for a reputable company that has been around for a long time. If I put myself in the customer’s shoes, that’s where I would start.”

He also suggests avoiding the temptation to undersize a grapple in an effort to save money. In fact, he advises against shopping solely based on price. “Saving on the initial cost may be good at the outset, but it could result in poor quality,” Abenstein says. He quotes Ben Franklin, saying, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted via email at