These highly versatile machines provide surprising power and maximum maneuverability.
Excavators, which can weigh 30,000 or 40,000 pounds or more, are the behemoths of construction sites and deliver maximum digging power. But their smaller siblings, mini excavators, make up for in versatility what they lack in size.
Mini excavators, also known as compact excavators, small excavators or trackhoes, occupy the 3,000-pound to 18,000-plus-pound niche that lends itself to small or medium landscaping, digging, trenching and drilling projects. A plethora of attachment options that go beyond the standard bucket and blade further enhance their utility.
Benefits of using a mini excavator
Thanks to their versatility and the advanced hydraulics that lend them outsize power, mini excavators are often used in place other construction equipment. They weigh less than full-size excavators and exert less ground pressure. Their compact size allows them to maneuver in places that full-size excavators, backhoes and even skid steer loaders have trouble accessing, making them ideal for small, narrow or congested jobsites.
Benefits of using a mini excavator include the following:
- Small and compact, yet powerful
- Compact swing for tight workspaces
- Useful in less than ideal terrain
Because they feature a single arm and their booms have a compact swing, mini excavators have a smaller work footprint than a backhoe, so they can work in tighter spaces. Reduced tail swing mini excavators, ideal for work in between buildings, and models with retractable undercarriages allow for extra maneuverability. The larger capacity of a mini excavator compared to a skid steer allows it to do digging, demolition and trenching work a skid steer can’t.
Mini excavators can feature tracks or wheels. Mini excavators with rubber tracks can handle wet and muddy terrain, unlike wheeled skid steers. The smallest mini excavators have 40-inch track widths that allow access to almost any space. Towing is easy with a regular hitch, trailer and ¾-ton pickup for most mini excavator models.
Mini excavator applications
What can you do with a mini excavator? That depends on the size of the machine. Generally speaking, these machines are used for digging, trenching, backfilling, leveling, grading and even drilling.
When it comes to digging, a 3,000-3,999 pound mini excavator can dig a 7.8-foot-deep hole, while 7,000-9,999 pound excavators can dig as deep as 10.2 feet.
Mini excavators at the largest end of the scale, like this 18,000-pound mini excavator, can tackle jobs that require more power, such as deeper utility trenching, demolition or moving earth for footings or pools.
Examples of projects a mini excavator can help you accomplish include:
- Installing pools and hot tubs. Mini excavators are the perfect solution for digging out in-ground pools or hot tubs, even in the smallest of backyards. The machine’s maneuverability and power, coupled with precision handling, make it a go-to for residential earthworks.
- Repairing sewer lines. Mini excavators allow operators to efficiently move dirt when repairing sewer lines, as well as fit in tight spots near structures. After the repair is completed, they be used to level the yard using an attachment such as a dozer blade.
- Tree installation/removal. A mini excavator can make quick work of digging holes for tree transplants, and then backfill over the root ball. With the right attachments it can remove even larger trees. A thumb grapple attachment is handy for digging up stumps.
- Demolishing small structures. Barns, sheds, or other structures can all be taken down using a mini excavator. The machine can also be used to load debris onto the back of a trailer for disposal.
- Drilling for posts, drainage or landscaping. Using an auger attachment, mini excavators can easily drill deep into soil or concrete for installing fence posts, road signage or trees.
What attachments and configurations are available for mini excavators?
A wide range of attachments extend the versatility of mini excavators. Attachments range from various blades and buckets to augers, compactor plates, hydraulic hammers and rippers. Cab-mounted controls allow easy connection to the attachments.
Blades can be straight or angled. Straight blades add stability on uneven surfaces. Angled blades allow operators to configure the blade for the best working position. Left and right blade adjustments speed backfilling and grading.
Different arm configurations change the capabilities of mini excavators. The standard arm provides the maximum breakout force and lifting capability. Long arms have higher dump heights and can reach farther, allowing the operator to do more work without repositioning the machine. They’re often used for digging foundation footings and utility trenches. Extendable arms increase the dig depth.
When sitting next to a full-size excavator, a mini excavator may seem like a toy, but one of these “toys” may be just what your next project calls for.