Choosing the Right Earthmoving Equipment for the Job

When it comes to earthmoving equipment, it's all about digging, scooping and pushing, and it takes a different machine to perform each task properly.


When it comes to earthmoving equipment, it's all about digging, scooping and pushing, and it takes a different machine to perform each task properly. Contractors tend to stretch the utility of a machine by using it for multiple types of work. But choosing the right machine for the job is key to productivity and profitability.


Excavators are the diggers of the heavy equipment world. With their booms and buckets, they can drill and break rocks or create the trenches or massive holes necessary for foundations. The largest models are also suitable for dredging, mining, big demolition jobs, pile driving and material handling. Usually, the deeper the hole required, the bigger the machine required.

A compact excavator is what you need if the situation requires a lot of power in a tight space or you have a small task to execute like a small demolition, stump removal, plowing snow or digging a backyard swimming pool. Most models come with either wheels — best on a smooth surface like asphalt — or tracks, which work better when the terrain is unstable or rough. In fact, earthmoving equipment in general comes with either wheels or tracks. That is, of course, unless you're talking about the swamp excavator that can float on water.

If you want to perform shallow digging on soil that is mostly rock-free, consider a scraper instead of an excavator.  These shave the earth as they go and can also load and dump.


These machines scoop up loose material with a bucket and then deposit it at another location. Loaders can move snow, sand, gravel and small loads of material like bricks or piping around the jobsite. They navigate well in soft soil. But they're not great for digging because they can't get very deep.

If you need to move dirt several hundred feet over an open area, consider using a scraper instead.

If a multipurpose machine that can dig, break rock, move materials and perform light demolition is in order, then a backhoe loader may be the answer. This loader-excavator can perform those tasks and more for smaller projects.


The heavy-duty and powerful bulldozer is almost always tracked. Dozer tracks distribute the weight of these mammoth machines so they can traverse soft and muddy ground without sinking. But the wheeled version can move three times faster and is more maneuverable, so depending on the surface you’re driving over and the tractive effort required, it may be better for hauling.

This tractor's trademark attachment is a giant blade that can push large quantities of dirt, debris, shrubs, even building remains, to where you want it. The bulldozer can also be outfitted with a rear "ripper" that can tear through rock and soil. Change the blade and remove the ripper, and the machine can also fine-grade soil.

Heavy pieces of equipment are the workhorses of construction. Not much gets done in the initial stages of a project without earthmovers. Choose carefully and you’ll get the job done right, in a safe way, with the least amount of time and money.


Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.

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