If you need to dig a trench, you have more options than ever. Specifically, compact tool carriers (also called mini skid steers) have grown in popularity because of their versatile capabilities and can be outfitted with trencher attachments. So when and why would you choose a compact tool carrier for your operations vs. a walk-behind trencher? The answer boils down to application. If your business is “trenching intensive” — meaning it requires daily digging to install irrigation systems, underground utilities, etc. — the most effective and economical choice is a trencher engineered exclusively for that purpose. However, a compact tool carrier could be a better investment if trenching is just one of several capabilities you want in a single piece of equipment.
Multiple Uses in Small Spaces
Companies — and consumers — are finding new uses for compact tool carriers every day. That’s because these machines quickly accomplish tasks that otherwise would require hours of manual labor. For instance, a fence company in Connecticut uses a Ditch Witch SK350 mini skid steer with an auger attachment to dig post holes, but the standard loader bucket is equally essential. A worker can ride comfortably on the platform at the rear of the machine while using the bucket to haul heavy loads around the jobsite, including bags of concrete and mix.
Compact tool carriers can accomplish almost any job that traditionally required a wheelbarrow, because these skids can maneuver in spaces too tight for a larger skid steer. For example, such a small footprint makes it easier for ranchers to muck stable stalls or for residential landscapers to haul large buckets of materials through narrow side yards.
Besides buckets of various sizes, residential landscapers and contractors have found many uses for other attachments readily available for sale or rent with compact tool carriers. Grapple attachments allow operators to grasp tree trunks and move them easily and quickly. Powered rakes level off uneven ground after trenching or other disruptions from construction. Trenchers, augers and buckets are just a few of the dozens of attachments designed for compact tool carriers — others include pallet forks, vibratory plows and stump grinders.
Increasingly, rental stores and dealers are offering multiple compact-carrier power units in different sizes and engine types, both gas and diesel. They also carry an assortment of attachments. Whatever function the customer wants on a given day, rental stores and dealers can pair the appropriate attachment with the right power unit for the task.
Benefits of Single-Purpose Design
The price for all this versatility generally is higher than for a single-purpose trencher, whether the compact tool carrier is a rental or a purchase. Affordability is not the only reason that legions of businesses in the construction and utility industries — as well as some do-it-yourself homeowners — depend on dedicated trenchers to get their jobs done. Single-purpose engineering is another reason. A walk-behind trencher doesn’t have all the attachment linkages. It comes instantly equipped to perform its primary function, with heavy-duty frames and components — chains, teeth and sprockets — specially designed and manufactured to work together to provide productivity.
These capabilities are critical for people like plumbers, who want to dig trenches and lay exterior pipes with the least amount of time and labor possible. The same goes for utility companies, electrical contractors and more niche businesses, such as propane-tank installers.
Another plus: A walk-behind trencher weighs less than a compact tool carrier, making the machine easier to haul in a truck or behind a vehicle and requiring less effort to get on and off a trailer.
So remember, if you’re weighing the differences between a walk-behind trencher and a compact tool carrier, focus first on the nature of your business. Ask yourself this simple question: Do you need versatility or a single-purpose machine to get your job done with confidence?
Andrew Schuermann is a product manager for Ditch Witch, based in Perry, Okla.