What Is a Mini Excavator Good For?

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 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.

Maneuverability

Mini excavators have become all-purpose machines that can replace other equipment. Their size allows them to maneuver in places that larger excavators, backhoes and even skid steer loaders have trouble accessing.

The smallest mini excavators have 40-inch track widths that allow access to almost any space. In addition, mini excavators weigh less and exert less ground pressure than other equipment.2 Towing is easy with a regular hitch, trailer and ¾-ton pickup for most mini excavator models.1

Because their swing booms have a compact swing, mini excavators have a smaller work footprint. Machines that have a zero tail or minimal swing can work in confined space with a lower possibility of hitting an object on the jobsite.

Power and performance

The term “mini” almost seems contradictory when compared to the tasks a mini excavator can accomplish. A 4,000- to 6,000-pound mini excavator can dig a 10-foot-deep hole. Larger 10,000- to 12,000-pound mini excavators allow dig depths as deep as 14 feet.

An operator using a 18,000-pound mini excavator can complete jobs that require more power, such as deeper utility trenching, demolition or moving earth for footings or pools.

Much of this performance comes from equipment technology once reserved for full-sized excavators. For instance, newer hydraulic systems give the smaller machines additional power. Some manufacturers have equipped mini excavators with cushioned boom, stick and bucket cylinders that eliminate jolting at the end of a stroke. Angled blades allow operators to configure the blade for the best working position. Left and right blade adjustments speed backfilling and grading, while downward adjustments add stability on uneven surfaces. 

Although fixed undercarriages give stability, a fixed undercarriage also increases the width of a mini excavator. Manufacturers equip some mini excavators with retractable undercarriages. With this type of undercarriage, an operator can use hydraulic systems to retract the carriage when working in tight spaces and to expand the carriage for additional stability. 

Versatility

A wide range of attachments extend the versatility of mini excavators. Attachments range from blades and different types and sizes of buckets to augers, compactor plates, hydraulic hammers and rippers. Cab-mounted controls allow easy connection to the attachments. 5

Different boom configurations increase the capabilities of mini excavators. While standard boom configurations give the maximum breakout force and lifting capability, mini excavators equipped with long booms can reach farther and have higher dump heights. A longer reach allows operators to keep working without repositioning the excavator. Extendable and articulated booms combine power and lifting capabilities with the ability to extend dig depth.4

When sitting next to a full-size excavator, a mini excavator may seem more toy-like — but don’t let its looks fool you. Increased power combined with new technologies, efficient design and versatile attachments allow mini excavators to hold their own.

 

John Ross has written about industrial, automotive and consumer technologies for 17 years.