Updated: 10/22/2021
November 15, 2021

Choosing the right size of excavator for the job

Articles
Glossary

Nearly every jobsite will have at least one excavator, for everything from digging trenches to hauling heavy materials and grading landscapes. Part of the reason why they’re so common is because they come in a variety of sizes that suit a wide range of needs. To find the size that works best for you, you should consider what you need and what the machine has to offer.

Excavator Sizes Compared

Excavators are categorized into weight classes. Weight is used to define an excavator’s size because it is a better gauge of power and digging capability than height or girth. Excavators can weigh anywhere from 2 to 3 tons to well over 45 tons.

Mini Excavators

mini excavator working in tight space at jobsite
Mini excavators weigh 6 tons or less.

As the smallest size in this equipment category, mini excavators generally weigh 6 tons or less. A smaller size generally means weaker hauling and digging capabilities, but it also makes them better at moving in tight spaces. They also leave minimal damage to the surrounding area, making them great for delicate terrain. Plus, mini excavators are usually light enough to be transported without a CDL.

Midi Excavators

midi excavator digging dirt at a jobsite
Midi excavators weigh 6 to 10 tons.

Also known as mid-sized excavators, a midi can weigh anywhere from 6 to 10 tons. They offer more power and reach than a mini excavator but are still usually small enough to work in delicate spaces or even indoors. They’re capable of some standard construction work, but not to the degree of larger excavators.

Standard Excavators

standard excavator traversing an incline at new construction jobsite
Standard excavators weight 10 to 45 tons.

Most excavators you’ll find will fall into this weight class. A typical standard excavator will weigh 19-24 tons, but they can range from 10 to 45 tons. Unlike smaller sizes, standard excavators are fitted with treads instead of wheels, making them good at navigating rough terrain. Their treads are where they get the name “crawlers.”

Large Excavators

large excavator loading rock into a dump truck at a quarry
Large excavators weigh over 45 tons.

A large excavator is anything that weighs over 45 tons. Typically used for heavy construction, they offer more power than a standard size. However, they are generally more expensive than most and are difficult to maintain and transport.

What to consider when choosing an excavator

There are several factors you should consider before browsing for a machine, and they’re just as important as the excavator’s features and your project needs.

Digging Depth

Digging is a primary function of an excavator, so it’s important to consider just how much digging power you’ll need:

  • How deep do you need to dig?
  • How often do you need to dig at that depth?
  • What kind of digging needs will you have in the future?

Lifting Capacity

Lifting capacity is the other primary function of an excavator. Consider how much power you’ll need to move and lift materials:

  • What are the heaviest materials on your jobsites?
  • How often do you need to move those materials?
  • What kind of materials might you be lifting in the future?

Worksite Conditions

Depending on where and when you’re working, you’ll need an excavator that best fits the environment of your job:

  • How large is your jobsite? How much or often will your machine travel around it?
  • What kind of terrain are you working on?
  • Are there any obstacles or hazards you need to account for?

Budget

Your finances are ultimately what decides what kind of excavator you get, so it’s important to evaluate the following:

  • How often will you use your machine?
  • How much will storage, maintenance, and transportation cost?
  • How much can you finance with credit?
  • Is it better to rent or buy? (We’ll come back to that later.)

Machine Specifications

The size isn’t the only thing that matters about an excavator. There are other features you might want to consider:

  • What is the bucket capacity? 
  • How long is the reach?
  • What is the tail swing configuration? 
  • What attachments might you need?

Even with knowledge about excavators, it can be difficult to know exactly what you need. EquipmentShare is here to help. With experts all over the country, you can rely on us to help with all of your construction needs. Find your nearest location here.

Excavator Types

Excavators come in a wide variety of types, for anything from underground debris removal to dock work. Learn more about the types of excavators here.

Renting versus Buying Excavators

The question of renting versus buying your machine has no straightforward answer. Each offers its own advantages. Really, it’s a matter of knowing which will work best for you.

Buying, for instance, is more cost-effective in the long-run. Although you’re responsible for storing and maintaining the excavator, the machine is yours. That means you avoid the perpetual payments of renting. As a general rule, buying is the better option if you plan on using the machine regularly and often.

Renting, on the other hand, can be extremely useful for maximizing or supplementing your fleet.  Plus, when you rent from EquipmentShare, you’re free to stop renting the machine whenever it is no longer useful through the “off rent feature” within our T3 app. Renting is also the better option if you think this machine will be used seasonally or sporadically.

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