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Installation Iron: Choose the best trencher chain for the job

October 7, 2021 -  By
Knowing soil type and hardness can help determine chain type. (Photo: Vermeer)

Knowing soil type and hardness can help determine chain type. (Photo: Vermeer)

Most trenchers will be able to cut a reasonable trench, regardless of the chain used, but picking the right cutting tool for the job allows users to dig the trench faster, clear away spoils efficiently and protect expensive equipment.

Landscape Management discussed best practices for chain selection with Ditch Witch Product Marketing Manager Scott McKinley, Little Beaver President Joe Haynes and Vermeer Product Manager Matt Hutchinson. The following are their top tips to match your trencher chain to the job in front of you.

Know what you’re digging through

Little Beaver President Joe Haynes

Little Beaver President Joe Haynes

Haynes: When using a mini trencher with a depth of 12 inches or less, soil testing is not required. However, it’s still important to do a visual assessment to understand the soil you will be digging through and to check for any obstacles that might be in the path, such as tree roots. You’ll also want to make sure to call 811 at least 48 hours prior to digging to have underground utilities marked.

McKinley: There are some contractors who will go as far as collecting soil samples and sending them in for testing (to) find out what it is that they’re going through, but what you really have to know is the hardness of what you’re trying to cut through. If you’re going into an area you’ve never gone before, go in and talk to one of the dealership personnel. They see every chain that’s coming in and out. They know what’s working in the area.

Match the chain to the soil

Vermeer Product Manager Matt Hutchinson

Vermeer Product Manager Matt Hutchinson

Hutchinson: Cupping teeth are designed to efficiently excavate material from the trench, while cutting teeth break up or dislodge solid material.  Chain configurations that use cupping teeth are more efficient in loose dirt and sandy soils.

McKinley: With medium soils, you can consider combo chains with shark-tooth configurations. It’s designed to pick at the soil. A little piece of carbide at the tip breaks up that compacted soil. With hard, rocky soil, you might need an alligator bit. Up North, alligator combo chains are very popular because people are trying to get below the frost line.

It’s not about going out and getting the most expensive equipment. It’s getting the right equipment for the job you’re working on. You could put an alligator bit on for loose, sandy soil, but you’re not going to get a very efficient cut out of it. You’re not going to get the performance you’re expecting.

Maintain your equipment

Ditch Witch Product Marketing Manager Scott McKinley

Ditch Witch Product Marketing Manager Scott McKinley

Haynes: After every use, check for missing or broken teeth. Using a Kwik-Trench with missing teeth increases the possibility of engine vibration, so it’s important to replace any missing teeth before the next use. Clean vertical frame posts and sleeves and be careful when transporting your Kwik-Trench.

McKinley: After every job completion, do a visual inspection of the digging chain. Inspect the digging teeth. Each of the teeth (on a Ditch Witch cutting chain) has tungsten carbide. Once you’ve worn away the tungsten carbide down to the base steel, it’s definitely time to change the tooth out. It could break, but more important than that, it’s not going to perform for you as well.

Robert Schoenberger

About the Author:

Robert Schoenberger is Landscape Management's senior editor. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from University of Houston. He has worked in magazines and newspapers since the late 1990s. Robert can be reached at rschoenberger@northcoastmedia.net.

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