The term “mini” covers a large range of excavator sizes. Here’s how to determine which mini excavator you need.
Choosing the right mini excavator for a job is a balancing act: You want one large enough to handle the task, but as small as possible for easier maneuverability and jobsite access, so understanding mini excavator sizes is critical.
Excavators are classed by weight. The mini class is expansive, covering mini excavator sizes up to 10 tons. There’s no standardization, so what one manufacturer calls a mini might be called a compact, small or midi excavator by another manufacturer. Each manufacturer produces a mini excavator size chart.
To find the best mini excavator for you, consider the jobsite and the details of the project at hand.
What size mini excavator do I need? Factors to consider
The machine you pick should be able to meet your digging, lifting or demolition needs. It must fit into the work area and should be easy to transport to and from the jobsite. Consider these specifications when choosing a mini excavator. Generally speaking, it’s best to choose the smallest mini excavator that can handle your job.
Operating weight is used to calculate the mini excavator lifting capacity, which takes into consideration the height and radius of the lift. It also dictates the pressure the mini excavator will exert and the impact it will have on the ground.
The dig depth indicates how deep an excavator can dig into the earth and remove it.
Reach is a measure of how far the excavator can reach at ground level.
Dump height is maximum height the excavator can lift and dump a load.
Bucket breakout force
Bucket breakout force is the maximum force exerted through the bucket. The higher the breakout force, the more a mini excavator can dig and lift.
The mini excavator dimensions — the height, width and length of the machine — will affect whether it fits in the work area and how you transport it to and from the jobsite. Larger mini excavators often have to be transported by a driver with a commercial license, while a small mini excavator can fit on a pickup.
Swing is the amount of space the mini excavator needs around it to move without hitting anything. If you’re working in a small space, consider both the boom and tail swing, and choose an excavator with low or no swing.
Best uses for different mini excavator sizes
There’s no standard classification that defines mini excavator sizes, and if you do a mini excavator comparison, you’ll see a lot of overlap between sizes. Knowing how much you need to lift or how deep you want to dig can help you find the right mini excavator.
Mini Excavator size: 1 to 2 tons
The smallest mini excavator is perfect for tight spaces and small jobs, like digging trenches, planting small trees or doing light demolition, even indoors. These mini excavators are straightforward to use and can be transported by a pickup or trailer. Since they’re lightweight, they won’t damage the jobsite and are suitable for most spaces.
A 2,000-pound mini excavator, which some call a micro mini excavator, can dig up to 6 feet deep and is perfect for small landscaping jobs or digging close to a structure.
For slightly larger jobs such as grading and leveling a patio or walkway, opt for a 3,000-4,000-pound excavator, which can dig about 7 to 8 feet deep. Some options have bonus features such as two speed settings or more hydraulics.
Mini Excavator size: 3 to 5 tons
This is the most versatile machine and the best size mini excavator for many projects. A machine in this size bracket is a full-function mini excavator, suitable for everything from removing stumps to leveling a driveway or digging in a hot tub. They are appropriate for small jobsites but have the might, technology and comfort of their bigger counterparts, with details such as enclosed heated and air-conditioned cabs and easy-to-use attachments.
A 6,000-pound mini excavator in this class can dig up to 8.5 feet deep and dump loads more than 10 feet in the air. Others can dig more than 10 feet with no tail swing, making them perfect for smaller jobsites.
Mini Excavator size: 5 to 10 tons
These mini excavators are capable of large jobs, such as installing a swimming pool, digging a utility trench, placing footings or doing demolition. The smaller excavators in this class can dig about 10 feet deep, while the larger excavators can dig more than 15 feet deep. Despite their name, these machines are quite large, so if you’re working with limited space, choose an excavator that has a reduced tail swing.
What if I’m still not sure?
If you’re not familiar with the different mini excavator sizes, talk to a construction equipment rental professional for advice. You may be able to look at, and perhaps even test out, different machines.