Mini stand-on skid steers (often called compact tool carriers or compact utility loaders) are valued for their ability to do almost any task, and today one job that many utility and landscaping contractors are using these machines for is trenching. With a quick and simple connection of a trencher attachment, the machine can start digging out dirt and cutting through rocky soil to support efficient installations of fiber, irrigation and other utilities.
But there’s a lot to consider before you make an investment. A lot of machines and attachments are available on the market, and finding the pairing that’s right for you involves first understanding what you want to do on the jobsite and then determining which specific machines and attachments can help you best accomplish that.
Attachment vs. Dedicated Trencher
Before you start looking at mini stand-on skid steers for trenching jobs, first make sure they’re the right tool for the job. A mini stand-on skid steer with a trencher attachment and a walk-behind trencher are two different machines. Each has its own place on the jobsite based on what you need to get done.
For example, if you’re looking to take on jobs where trenching will make up most of the work, a walk-behind trencher is the better option. The machine is purposely built for trenching, delivering the power and a dedicated chain, teeth and sprocket design to help you trench as efficiently as possible. A walk-behind trencher can also help you trench in constrained areas like tight residential yard spaces, where you need to maneuver through fences and around sheds, gardens and other structures.
If you need versatility on the jobsite, a mini stand-on skid steer with a trencher attachment is the better fit. It allows you to perform short trenching runs and then jump to the next task using other attachments that can be quickly and easily swapped out. By using a single machine to do a wide range of jobs, you can reduce the number of machines you need to transport to and from jobsites, while also simplifying training for operators.
A stand-on skid steer with an attachment can also help you cost effectively take on new work. For example, if you’ve traditionally subcontracted out trenching on jobsites because it wasn’t enough work to justify purchasing a walk-behind trencher, you can now do that work yourself and more quickly recoup the investment by using a trencher attachment.
Because trenching will only be one of multiple uses of your mini stand-on skid steer, it’s important to think about the full range of jobs that your machine will support. This will help guide your decision on what specific machine and attachments are right for you.
Mini stand-on skid steers are available with a range of power and performance capabilities. A 24-hp machine can suffice for small-trench jobs, where you may only need to dig 2 ft deep and 4 in. wide. But a more powerful mini stand-on skid steer, like a 37-hp option, can deliver more power to hydraulic attachments to help you be more productive in trenching and other jobs. Also, to help make sure you can cut through rock and debris, consider using a machine with a hydraulic system that achieves a pressure of 3,500 psi or more. Less powerful machines could struggle in challenging conditions.
When it comes to trencher attachments, machine manufacturers vary in what they offer. Some offer one trencher attachment for all their machines. Other manufacturers offer multiple trencher attachments that are designed to be paired with specific machines. The latter approach allows you to choose a trencher attachment that performs well with the machine that you’ve identified as the best fit for your job.
When buying a trencher attachment, some contractors choose to go with a larger boom and use it for trenching at various depth, but this approach can create challenges. For example, trying to dig at 2 ft with a 4-ft boom can lead to workers guessing if they’re trenching at the right depth, resulting in a lot of measuring, double-checking on the jobsite and unnecessary downtime. By using the right-sized boom, you can plunge it all the way and know you’re trenching at the right depth.
Get More from Smaller Crews
In today’s tight labor market, easing work and improving comfort for machine users is more important than ever. Mini stand-on skid steers can help ease the demands put on your crews in various aspects of your operations:
- Training: A key benefit of using a mini stand-on skid steer for trenching is its small learning curve. If your team is familiar with the machine and has used it for other functions, then they’re already well on their way to knowing how to run it as a trencher. Perhaps the biggest change that they’ll need to adjust to is simply that trenching is done with the machine in reverse.
- Operating: Improvements to hydraulic systems over the years have led to improvements in operator comfort on stand-on skid steers. In the past, operating hydraulics may have felt like a feat of strength. But today’s hydraulic systems allow users to move joysticks with minimal pressure. Some machine models also offer a choice of single- or double-joystick control, allowing users to choose the control method that they’re the most comfortable with and efficient in operating.
- Changing: The process of replacing attachments on many machine models is simple and straightforward. Two hydraulic hoses with quick-connect couplets allow users to easily unplug to disengage the hydraulic power and then connect a new attachment — all in a time span of about one minute. Drip-free and flat-faced couplers also prevent oil from dripping off a machine when disconnecting an attachment. This can simplify jobsite cleanup and improve overall environmental footprint.
- Maintaining: Modern mini skid steers and their attachments incorporate a variety of design features to help ease maintenance and extend uptime. Some machines offer color LCD displays with direct visibility into engine diagnostics. High-drive track systems with interchangeable bolt-on rollers can provide longer-lasting performance. On the trencher attachment, features like an 11-tooth forged sprocket can give you faster chain speeds and increased chain life, and replaceable boom stubs can reduce both downtime and repair costs.
Maximize your Productivity
Using good maintenance and operating practices for mini stand-on skid steers and their attachments can help you stay productive and extend the life of your equipment. Perhaps the simplest step workers can take is monitoring a trencher attachment’s chain, teeth and sprockets for wear and tear. If the rollers start to look like an apple core or if the pin is visible, it’s time to replace them. The same goes for a sprocket when its teeth start thinning.
Another area for workers to keep their eyes on is chain tension. Chains that become too tight can create wear on the sprocket or sidebars. On the other hand, chains that start sagging can vibrate the equipment and also cause wear. Some manufacturers apply carbide to reinforce the strength of the trencher teeth. When that carbide begins to wear down to the base steel, the teeth can become worn, which can diminish machine efficiency and risk breaking off. Crews should either immediately replace worn-down teeth or replace all the teeth together.
Workers should also make sure they use the appropriate teeth on trenchers for the ground conditions to help maximize both tool life and operator efficiency. For example, a cup tooth is designed to dig in soft and medium-type soils, while a shark tooth is well suited for breaking through harder soil. An alligator tooth is designed to chip away at and dig through rocky soil. As always, local dealerships are often knowledgeable about local soil conditions and can help you set up your machine for success.
Brant Kukuk is the compact equipment product manager for Ditch Witch.