Learning how to operate a skid steer is easy with proper training and a few tips.
Skid steers are must-have machines for worksites, farms and industrial plants. When equipped with the right attachments, they can quickly and cost-effectively handle digging, trenching, grading, materials moving and other common tasks. Learning how to use a skid steer isn’t difficult.
You don’t need to be certified to operate a skid steer, but OSHA does require employers to train operators to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions and handle the equipment safely and competently. Enrolling workers in a skid steer operator certification course can ensure they meet the requirements.
The instructions below outline how to perform basic functions with a skid steer. Since every model is different, consult the operator’s manual for instructions specific to your skid steer. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the controls, safety features and warnings, as well as the machine’s weight capacity. Lifting more than the rated operating capacity (ROC) can cause the machine to tip.
Before using a skid steer
Before operating the machine, perform a pre-use inspection. Don’t operate the skid steer if maintenance or repairs are needed.
To enter the cab, face the seat, place each hand on a grab bar and mount the steps. Never touch the control levers when entering the cab.
How to start a skid steer
Follow these steps to start most skid steers:
- Fasten your seat belt and lower the safety bar.
- Confirm the controls are in neutral and the parking brake is set.
- Find the starter control, typically located in the top right corner of the cab. Either turn the key in the ignition or press the start/stop button.
How to release the parking brake on a skid steer
Many skid steers apply the parking brake automatically when the cab door is open, the operator is not seated or the safety bar is raised. To release it, look for the parking brake lever or switch on the control panel. You’ll either flip the lever or press the top of the switch. Watch for the indicator light to go out.
How to control a skid steer
Different skid steers feature different control systems, or patterns. The most common patterns use a lever or joystick on the left and right sides. The standard pattern also uses foot pedals.
Standard pattern: Dual steering levers control drive functions. Dual foot pedals control lift and tilt.
H pattern: Dual steering levers control drive functions. Handles that hinge or pivot control lift and tilt.
ISO pattern: The left joystick controls drive functions. The right joystick controls lift and tilt.
How to change the controls on a skid steer
Many skid steers with a standard control pattern provide an option to switch to the H pattern. Other skid steers offer a choice between the H and ISO pattern. Consult the operator’s manual to identify how to switch from foot to joystick control and to choose the H or ISO pattern.
How to drive a skid steer
The control pattern determines how the skid steer is driven.
Standard pattern or H pattern:
- To move forward—push both levers forward
- Move backward—pull both levers back
- Turn left—pull the left lever back and push the right lever forward
- Turn right—pull the right lever back and push the left lever forward
- Move forward—push the left joystick forward
- Move backward—pull the left joystick back
- Turn left—push the left joystick left
- Turn right—push the left joystick right
How to operate the boom and bucket on a skid steer
The control pattern determines how to lower and raise the boom and tilt the bucket.
- Lower the boom/loader arm—press the left pedal toe
- Raise the boom/loader arm—press the left pedal heel
- Tilt the bucket forward—press the right pedal toe
- Tilt the bucket backward—press the right pedal heel
- Lower the boom/loader arm—push the left lever right
- Raise the boom/loader arm—push the left lever left
- Close/curl the bucket—push the right lever left
- Open/dump the bucket—push the right lever right
- Lower the boom/loader arm—push the right joystick forward
- Raise the boom/loader arm—pull the right joystick back
- Close/curl the bucket—push the right joystick left
- Open/dump the bucket—push the right joystick right
How to level and grade with a skid steer using a bucket
Skid steers are often used for leveling, or rough grading, followed by final grading. Here are the basic steps to use the skid steer bucket for leveling:
- Call 811, the national “before you dig” number, to check for underground utility lines.
- To prepare the area, remove vegetation and any large rocks. Considering installing a temporary fence to contain debris.
- Choose a location for the surplus dirt.
- Size the bucket so you can see the edge at all times.
- Ensure the bucket is at least 2 inches wider than the distance across the machine from one tire to the other so you won’t track over leveled soil.
- Use the bucket to scoop soil from high places and dump to fill low places.
How to final grade with a skid steer using a bucket
To final grade with a skid steer bucket:
- Ensure the ground is as level as possible.
- Lower the bucket to near the ground and adjust it so it’s parallel to the ground.
- Drive in reverse and use the back of the bucket as a grading blade. Work slowly, adjusting the bucket angle as needed.
- Check the final grade by watering the area and looking for puddles.
How to change skid steer attachments
Check the operator’s manual to learn how to change the attachments. If the skid steer has a quick coupler, these are the basic steps.
To disengage the current attachment:
- If the attachment is hydromechanical, release the hydraulic pressure using the switch or mechanism in the cab.
- To disconnect the attachment, lower the lift arms and place the attachment flat on the ground.
- Disengage the quick coupler using the switch in the cab.
- Back away slowly from the attachment, tilting the quick coupler forward until it clears the attachment.
To connect the new attachment:
- Drive slowly toward the attachment.
- Tilt the coupler forward to engage the attachment.
- Lift and tilt the coupler backward to make sure the attachment is secure.
- Press and hold the quick coupler to lock pins and levers in place.
- Tilt the attachment down and drag it to ensure there’s no movement between it and the coupler.
- Lift the attachment and inspect the pins to ensure they’re engaged.
How to shut down a skid steer
Follow these steps to safely shut down a skid steer and exit the machine:
- Park on a flat surface.
- Lower the attachment until it’s flat on the ground.
- Set the parking brake.
- Cycle the controls to relieve hydraulic system pressure.
- Remove the ignition key or press the start/stop button.
- Unbuckle the safety belt and raise the safety bar.
- Exit using the grab handles and steps.
Skid steers are compact, maneuverable machines that perform many construction, landscaping and maintenance tasks. They aren’t hard to use, but proper training will help ensure you can operate one safely and effectively.
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