Updated:
December 12, 2022

A Guide To Earthmoving Equipment

Excavator loading a dump truck
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INDUSTRY INSIGHTS

The dirty work of construction requires heavy machinery that can reshape the landscape. These machines fall under the broad category of earthmovers. But there’s more than one way to dig a hole or move a pile of dirt, so it’s important to consider which earthmovers make the most sense for the task at hand. 

EquipmentShare, a company built by contractors for contractors, is one of the nation’s largest buyers of construction equipment, and the experts at your local branch can help you select the machine that makes the most sense for your job and budget. Here is a guide to the types of earthmoving equipment that can help you get the job done effectively and efficiently. 

Excavator
Excavator

Excavators

As the name suggests, excavators are designed to dig. Among their uses are excavating foundations, doing demolition work and carrying heavy loads. Excavators are distinguished by a hinged arm that extends out from the front of the cab. On the end of the arm is an attachment — usually a bucket — that does the digging. 

The kind of excavator you need depends on a combination of factors that include digging depth, lifting capacity, worksite conditions and budget. Sizes range from mini excavators that can maneuver in tight backyard spaces to long-reach excavators that can reach 100 feet and weigh more than 100,000 pounds. Most excavators move on tracks so they can tackle rough terrain while wheeled versions are better for working on paved streets or parking lots. 

Backhoe
Backhoe

Loaders

These machines are capable of digging, plowing and transporting heavy materials. There are four main types. 

Backhoes: These have a loading scoop on one end and an excavating arm on the other. The seat in the cab swivels 360 degrees, so the operator can face any direction to control the attachments. A backhoe can’t dig quite as deep or lift as much as an excavator, but it is more mobile. It is useful for both construction work and farming jobs like tilling soil.

Wheel loaders: Unlike backhoes, wheel loaders don’t have an excavating arm for digging. They’re used to scoop and move heavy loads in the bucket attached to the front of the machine. They are useful for removing large amounts of material from dig sites, loading gravel or cleaning up jobsites. Wheel loader sizes are measured by the capacity of their buckets, with the largest ones capable of holding more than 7 cubic yards of material.

Skid steers: These compact loaders got their name because their wheels are fixed in one direction, so the operator steers by accelerating one side of the machine to make it skid into a turn. Skid steers have a bucket or another attachment on the front and are commonly used by construction and landscaping companies for relatively small digging and hauling jobs. They are lighter, easier to transport and usually less expensive than their closest relative, the track loader, but aren’t suited for soft ground or rough terrain.  

Track loaders: They look similar to skid steers but roll on tracks rather than wheels. That gives track loaders an advantage on jobsites where the terrain is muddy or uneven. If well-maintained, tracks have a longer lifespan than the wheels of a skid steer.

Bulldozers

These powerful machines can push the heaviest loads. Bulldozers usually run on tracks that allow them to navigate almost any surface and are outfitted with a blade on the front and a ripper claw on the back. Bulldozers can quickly demolish structures, clear land and backfill holes. Because of their tremendous power, they also can tow other pieces of heavy equipment.

Motor grader

Motor graders and scrapers

Motor graders: These are often used to prepare surfaces for roads, parking lots or structural foundations. They have an elongated body, with a blade located between the front and rear axles. The adjustable blade scrapes the ground to create level or inclined surfaces. Graders also have a ripper claw in the back that can be used to dig trenches and ditches.

Scrapers: These do similar work as graders but also have a rear bowl to catch the displaced dirt. Scrapers can be either self-propelled or pull-behind units that attach to tractors.

Trenchers

These machines precisely dig trenches and remove the excavated material. They’re often used to prepare the ground before placing wires or pipes and also can cut through pavement. Trenchers are either walk-behind or ride-on. For smaller jobs, walk-behind trenchers can maneuver easily in tight spaces. For bigger jobs, ride-on trenchers can dig deeper and move faster. 

There are two types of trencher blades. A chain trencher looks like an oversized chainsaw blade, and it can cut deep and narrow swaths. A wheel trencher uses a disc with metal teeth that can cut through pavement and rocky soil. 

Dump truck

Dump trucks

These vehicles work in tandem with other earthmoving equipment to collect and move huge amounts of materials. Hydraulics lift the front of the truck’s bed to dump its cargo.

Interested in a rental? EquipmentShare has more than 140 branches nationwide with local experts who can help you find the right equipment for your job.

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