How the project can help with determining the best trencher to purchase

August 8, 2021 -  By

Should you buy a dedicated piece of equipment that only digs trenches, an attachment to a mini skid-steer or some other piece of powered equipment? The answer depends a lot on whether you ask a dedicated equipment producer or a seller of multitasking machines. However, some basic questions can point contractors toward the right path.

Which one’s better?

Let’s ask companies that produce different options. 

Ryan Ruhl, team lead for compact construction equipment and training, at John Deere Construction and Forestry, says trencher attachments for track loaders or skid-steers can cost less. If you already have a machine, an attachment can cost as little as $3,300 compared to about $3,700 for the smallest stand-alone units — however, the price and size ranges are massive. Also, you get the versatility of being able to use buckets, forks and other attachments.

A landscaper uses  Ditch Witch’s C12X walk-behind trencher. (Photo courtesy of Ditch Witch)

A landscaper uses
Ditch Witch’s C12X walk-behind trencher. (Photo courtesy of Ditch Witch)

“This solution can typically be transported using a single truck and trailer,” Ruhl says. Plus, he adds,
attachments need less maintenance than dedicated machines.

Sure, they’re versatile, says Little Beaver Sales Manager Mike Hale, but how do they perform, and can you get them into clients’ backyards?

“A dedicated piece of equipment ensures enhanced trenching performance in a purpose-built unit — power, weight, speed and visibility are optimized,” Hale says. “Attachment systems require a larger carrier piece of equipment, which reduces maneuverability, makes it more difficult to access tight locations and increases the likelihood of turf damage.”

Hmm, we need a tie-breaker. How about Brant Kukuk, compact equipment product marketing manager for Ditch Witch, a company that makes attachments and stand-alone units?

“There is a place on the job site for both,” Kukuk says. “The choice really depends on the project and how frequently contractors will need equipment other than a lone trencher.”

Type of work

If installing irrigation systems is your primary business, dedicated trenchers make more sense than if 80 percent of your work comes from hardscaping, such as retaining walls, producers say.

Kukuk says contractors should ask, “What size is the typical job site? Are there a lot of obstacles to contend with? Will the machine primarily be used for irrigation or for other landscape applications as well?”

A John Deere  track loader uses a trencher attachment. (Photo courtesy of John Deere Construction)

A John Deere track loader uses a trencher attachment. (Photo courtesy of John Deere Construction)

He adds that answering those questions will tell contractors if they should go stand-alone or attachment and what size equipment they should consider in either category.

Deere’s Ruhl agrees, adding that companies cutting trenches less frequently can benefit from attachment systems, but take note: “If they’re looking for a solution that will primarily be used to create a deep trench and/or be cutting very long trenches, these tasks require heavier-duty operation. The self-propelled dedicated machine would be the better selection.”

Trencher cutting depths range from six inches on some mini units to more than 36 inches on some stand-on units.

Consider the soil

Regardless of machine type, pay attention to the ground. Matching cutter teeth to ground conditions will protect equipment and promote worker safety.

“Contractors should look for a trencher with cutter wheels that feature heat-treated, hardened steel teeth with carbide tips, as well as design features that minimize maintenance by protecting key components,” Hale says. His company’s slip clutch protects the drive train if the trencher hits a rock.

Kukuk suggests consulting with dealers to match the chain, teeth and sprocket system, also known as CTS, to ground conditions. He says, “A cup tooth is the standard utility tooth for most soil conditions, but a shark tooth or alligator tooth is required to cut through medium, hard and rocky soils.”

Robert Schoenberger

About the Author:

Robert Schoenberger is Landscape Management's former senior editor. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Houston. He has worked in magazines and newspapers since the late 1990s.

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