Let’s face it — sometimes you have to destroy something before you can build again. Images of wrecking balls
and collapsing skyscrapers come to mind, but a small job on a cramped construction site often calls for a hydraulic breaker attachment to handle the demanding job of
demolition. Mounted on your skid steer loader, a hydraulic breaker attachment allows a contractor to instantly add a demolition machine to his crew without buying another piece of equipment.
Powered by the unit’s auxiliary hydraulic attachment system, your breaker attachment (also called a hydraulic impact hammer) can send your skid steer into new
markets of re-construction. Keep in mind that these are
inhospitable demolition environments — home to flying debris, concrete dust and the pure heat and chaos of
breaking everything to hell. Such hard-hitting attachments need to be engineered tough and powerful to run all day on these intensive jobsites, which makes finding the best hammer attachment for your money and your skid steer that much more important.
To Be or Not to Be (Fully Hydraulic)
First thing to know? There are two main types of breakers on the skid steer market today. You can either choose a fully hydraulic or nitrogen-assisted model. Since the late 1970s, most breakers have used a combination of hydraulics and nitrogen gas to fire the piston on a hammer.
Under hydraulic pressure (measured in psi) the piston rises and compresses the nitrogen gas. When the piston reaches the upper chamber, the hydraulic pressure is released, the nitrogen expands and the piston is forced down. The oil (measured in gpm) determines how fast the breaker hits in blows per minute. Today, most gas-assisted breakers are fired using about 75 percent nitrogen gas.
On a fully hydraulic breaker, hydraulic fluid drives
the piston up from the breaker’s lower chamber to
the upper chamber. As the piston rises, it forces the
oil in the upper chamber into the energy chamber, which causes pressure to build. Once the piston reaches the top of its stroke, the high-pressure hydraulic flow pushes the piston downward. Both Allied Construction Products LLC and Erskine Attachments offer full lines of breakers that are nitrogen assisted, while Bobcat and Ingersoll Rand’s lightweight range of breakers are all fully hydraulic.
Fully hydraulic models eliminate the need to recharge
the nitrogen, which is housed in a fully enclosed energy chamber; however, they generally require a higher hydraulic flow rate from the auxiliary hydraulic flow lines on your skid steer, compared to the nitrogen-assisted models.
“The main distinction is how you power the piston in the breaker,” says AI Springer, Allied Construction Products LLC, a national sales manager. “It depends on whom you talk to about the benefits… They are all good or they would not be around selling hammers.”
Some argue that nitrogen is lost with every blow of the chisel and that, when stored for long periods of time,
the nitrogen in gas-assisted breakers dries the seals and compromises the integrity of the unit’s construction.
On the other hand, some experts say breakers with a
nitrogen-assisted configuration can keep a constant impact energy blow upward of five years given the efficiency
produced by the nitrogen gas.
Whether the breaker is fully hydraulic or nitrogen assisted, it is important to match the breaker’s hydraulic flow and hydraulic pressure rate with that of your
skid steer; most lightweight breakers require a flow rate of 8 to 16 gpm. In terms of size, not only is it important to match a breaker attachment’s physical size to the physical size of your skid steer, but it’s also imperative
to match the breaker’s size to the material you will
be breaking. Small breakers are not efficient for thick concrete, and large breakers might be overkill for
When determining the size of the breaker, keep in mind that the tool diameter and weight of the breaker factors into your hammer’s productivity. Generally, the weight of the piston directly corresponds to the size of the tool. A higher piston weight equates to a larger tool, which will produce a higher constant blow energy (cbe).
Still, like every aspect of the breaker, you want to find the median between the largest breaker size for both your skid steer and application. Most manufacturers publish “Recommended Carrier Weight Ranges” for their attachments, so be sure to check the specs.
Also check if the breaker’s mounting plate is compatible with your skid steer’s. These days most breaker mounting plates are compatible with most quick-attach systems but, depending on manufacturers, a skid steer may require
an adapter or mounting cap for the attachment to be
Besides sizing your breaker for your carrier, you will also need to figure out how hard it hits; for most people in the industry (buyers and manufacturers alike) that’s the
hardest number to pin down.
Manipulating Impact Energy
In 2001, the Construction Industry Manufacturers Association (CIMA), now the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), attempted to standardize one rating system for breaker attachments measuring the impact
energy of a hammer.
“I believe that CIMA started out with the best intentions,” says Ingersoll Rand attachment marketing manager Tom Pinchuk. “But, from bench to bench, the test results were inconsistent and it did not gain universal acceptance. People have gone back to relying on the breaker’s impact energy.”
It’s called the ft/lb class rating system or the CIMA/AEM test. The ft/lb class rating system is a generalization
published by the breaker manufacturer based largely on mathematical calculation and, sometimes, just speculation. The problem is that the ft/lb class ratings have
no generally accepted or approved method for testing, publishing or reproducing the results of the test, which makes everyone’s numbers inconsistent and unreliable.
With the failure of the CIMA/AEM test, the rating system of breakers has been separated into two major camps — blows per minute (bpm), which measures how many times the bit (or hammer) strikes the material, and constant blow energy (cbe), which measures the force of the breaker’s blows. Within the past year, the cbe has emerged as the more crucial specification of the two.
“The bpm is not as important as the cbe. You can have a high bpm, but if you don’t have a high blow energy, you won’t break concrete as easily,” says Shane Voxland, Erskine Attachments engineering manager. “Fewer strokes with a higher impact force is much more efficient.”
Nevertheless, the bpm should not be disregarded. Ideally, you want to find a breaker with a good balance between the cbe and bpm. Bpm on skid steer breakers range from mid-400 to upward of 1,200 bpm depending on hydraulic flow, while the cbe can range from 150 to 500 ft-lbs depending on the attachment manufacturer and your skid steer. When faced with the choice, most manufacturers agree that it is a better idea to favor the
cbe in terms of productivity; also bpm can be adjusted through the hydraulic flow rate, while the cbe is specifically fixed for the breaker.
Keep It Simple
It is easy to get bogged down in technicalities with all the talk of cbe, bpm, hydraulic flow and tool diameter when buying a breaker, but all these specifications hide the fact that you want a breaker that is simple in both construction and application. When breakers were first conceived, they had upward of 15 moving parts. Today, advancements in breaker design have brought that number down to two moving parts — the piston and the valve.
Given the high-impact nature, the breaker’s body needs to be made simple and rugged to withstand the punishment of demolition day in and day out. There are generally two types of body constructions on both nitrogen-assisted and fully hydraulic models, a cast body and a machined body.
A cast body tends to be coarser, which can result in excessive nitrogen leaks on gas-assisted models due to porosity. A machined body, however, is quite dense and is well
suited for the high stress levels produced by a breaker. It also lengthens the nitrogen recharge cycles, according
A common misconception in breaker construction is that tool diameter is perceived as a sign of durability (i.e. the larger the tool diameter, the longer the breaker will last) and this is simply not true, according the Pinchuk. Breakers are built to last and their durability depends
largely on how well they are maintained. Most breaker manufacturers will tell you that the chisel requires five to six shots of grease every two to four hours. Also, be sure to inspect your bushings and replace them when they have reached their wear limits.
“Lubrication, lubrication, lubrication. The tool bushings in the hammer are the biggest concern in the lubrication process,” says Springer. “Many models still require lubrication every two to three hours, but now there are automatic lubrication systems that take the worry out.”
When it comes to serviceability, simplicity is the key. Breakers perform tough jobs and need to be serviced more than any other attachment. You want a breaker that can be serviced in a matter of hours, not a matter of days, to
eliminate that dreaded downtime. “What features lend themselves to easy serviceability?” should be at the top of your list of questions.
Bits and Pieces
Breakers come with their fair share of optional features. Breaker bits including moil points, nail points, chisels, asphalt cutters and blunt tools are available and designed for specific material breaking applications, and these
bits can be changed as easily as you change your shoes,
says Pinchuk. You may also want to inquire about soundproofing. Whether soundproofing is standard varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but it generally does the same thing, which is absorb the sound waves to cut down on noise.
“In a perfect world with unlimited time and unlimited resources, you could grab as many different breakers as you want and try them out to find the one that fits the productivity and dependability you need,” Pinchuk says. Since the world isn’t perfect, Pinchuk recommends that you consider the manufacturer’s reputation and word-of-mouth to help determine a breaker’s quality, as well as its performance characteristics.
In the end, asking for a one-day demonstration from the dealer or, if that doesn’t fly, renting the breaker before
buying is the best method of getting the right tool for the job, says Springer. Once you step on the dealer lot, be
prepared with your list of questions: What are your variety of breaker attachments?; What’s in your attachment
inventory?; Do you repair breakers?; Do you have
replacement parts in stock?; Will you be able to deliver
the attachment quickly?
A hydraulic breaker is not an attachment you can
rush right out and buy; it has to be researched in order
to find the best equilibrium between value and price. Lighter breakers retail for around $3,000 to $5,000 and increase in price as you travel up the weight spectrum. Once you find that one special breaker, you’ll want to
follow the manufacturer’s servicing guidelines, as well as the previously mentioned tips to prolonging breaker life.
Of course the best way to add years to your breaker’s life is to use it appropriately. A breaker is not designed for
carrying items, breaking metal or, the most infamous
misuse, prying. While some blank firing is inevitable, you will also want to avoid excessive blank firings.
“A blank fire is when the breaker is operated but is not touching any material,” Voxland explains. “When there is nothing there to absorb the shock from the piston, it can lead to premature wear.”
In addition, breakers should not be used under water (which shouldn’t be a problem unless you have that cool new submersible skid steer) or in environments where temperatures can reach upward of 800 to 900 degrees such as around a blast furnace. While these recommendations seem a tad extreme, Voxland says that these faux pas occur more often than you think.
After purchasing that perfect breaker, you may want to consider an attachment for you hard-hitting hammer. Some manufacturers offer a bucket that can be secured onto the end of the breaker to save you time switching attachments when moving the material you just broke. “Time is money,” and, often times, when you need an attachment, you need it now. Just remember productivity, dependability and simplicity will never steer you wrong on your search for the perfect breaker.
Jason Morgan is editorial assistant of Compact Equipment.