Types of Earthmoving Equipment and What They’re Used For

Choosing the right earthmoving machine for the job is key to productivity and profitability.


If you need a machine to move dirt — or rocks, bricks or gravel — you need earthmoving equipment. What you’re moving and how you’re moving it will determine the type of machine that’s best for the job.

Contractors tend to stretch the utility of an earthmoving machine by using it for multiple types of work, but choosing the right type of earthmover for the task is key to doing the job faster and more efficiently.

Excavators: Best for digging and demolishing

Excavators are the diggers of the heavy earthmoving 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.

A mini excavator, also known as a compact excavator, is the type of earthmover you need if the situation requires a lot of power in a tight space or you need to demolish a small structure, remove a tree stump, plow snow or dig a backyard swimming pool. Mini excavators come with either wheels (best on a smooth surface such as asphalt) or tracks (better when the terrain is unstable or rough).

Loaders: Best for scooping and moving

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 such as bricks or piping. They navigate well in soft soil, and they’re also good for digging depending on how deep you need to go.

  • Backhoe loaders: If you need a multipurpose machine that can dig, break rock, backfill, move materials and perform light demolition, a backhoe loader may be the answer. A larger backhoe can also be used to lift heavy objects without a crane.
  • Skid steer loaders: These compact, maneuverable machines are good for small to medium construction and landscaping jobs when you’re working in a tight space and on a hard surface. Their unique design allows them to “skid” around corners. Various attachments make them useful for moving dirt or snow, excavation, compacting, grading, leveling, drilling and lifting loads.
  • Track loaders: Heavier, slower cousins of skid steers, track loaders run on tracks. The tracks evenly distribute the machine’s weight, so it can handle soft, uneven, muddy, snowy or sloped terrain that wheeled skid steers can’t. Like skid steers, track loaders can be fitted with attachments to handle of variety tasks including digging and grading.

Bulldozers: Best for moving large quantities of material

The powerful bulldozer is used to move and grade dirt in large, open tracts of land. Tracks distribute the weight of these mammoth machines so they can traverse soft and muddy ground without sinking.

The bulldozer’s trademark attachment is a giant blade that can push a large quantity of dirt, debris, shrubs or even building remains where you want it. The machine 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.

Scrapers: Best for leveling

Scrapers are big machines that scrape the earth as they move and collect the material in a hopper so it can be transported across the jobsite. They are very efficient on short hauls and powerful enough to move wet dirt and aggregates. They are used for leveling, shallow digging, loading, dumping and cutting to grade.

Trenchers: Best for digging trenches

The name of this machine reveals its main use — digging trenches. Trenchers are an essential type of earthmoving equipment in construction because they create the trenches needed for piping, cabling and drainage.

Trenchers come in a variety of sizes, from small, walk-behind trenchers to bigger, ride-on machines that can cut asphalt. All rely on a metal chain with teeth like a chainsaw's to do the work. The teeth cut into the ground and a conveyer system carries the excavated material and deposits it on the side of the trench.

Heavy earthmoving equipment is the workhorse of construction. Not much gets done in the initial stages of a project without it. Choose carefully and you’ll get the job done right, safely and efficiently.

Visit our online marketplace to browse our extensive selection of earthmoving equipment.

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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