Walk-behind trenchers are the perfect machines for operators who need to slice through the dirt with precision and ease. They help everyone from contractors and landscapers to maintenance crews and municipalities dig trenches quickly and efficiently.
“From fiber-optic installation to landscaping, a walk-behind trencher excels on projects that need a quick cut on tight jobsites,” says Brant Kukuk, compact equipment product manager at Ditch Witch. “Walk-behind trenchers should be a contractor’s first choice when they are on a constricted, residential jobsite. Obstacles such as landscaping settings, fences, gates and vegetation can complicate a trencher job, but with its compact design and maneuverability, walk-behind trenchers keep operators nimble enough to avoid those obstacles.”
When looking to buy or rent a walk-behind trencher, it’s important for an operator to consider the jobsite and projects he or she expects to perform. This includes soil conditions, obstacles and the specifications of the project at hand.
“A good rule to follow is that if the project requires a cut less than 250 ft long, then a walk-behind trencher is a perfect machine to use,” says Kukuk. “Also, jobsites with tight areas that require operators to navigate around obstacles, a smaller compact trencher will help increase efficiency and maneuverability. When determining the depth and soil conditions, it is important for renters and buyers to look at the right combination of size, teeth configuration and power, especially on installation jobs for irrigation lines, drainage lines, electrical lines or sprinkler systems. Cutting a trench 26 to 48 in. deep and 8 in. wide is simpler when paired with the right tools to help cut through a combination of soil conditions.”
Speaking of teeth, selecting the correct boom chain configuration will ensure an operator can provide a clean trench efficiently. Manufacturers such as Ditch Witch, Vermeer and Toro all offer options to work on different jobsites.
“Vermeer manufactures different boom chain configurations to accommodate a variety of soil conditions,” says Matt Hutchinson, Vermeer product manager for tree care, rental and landscape. “For example, a full cup-type chain can be used to move light material when working in loose, sandy soils, while individuals working in more difficult ground conditions can select a combination chain with both cups and shark teeth.”
Toro marketing associate Kaitlyn Ingli adds, “Because there is a wide range of both soil and project types, Toro offers 2-, 3- and 4-ft long booms and a variety of 4- and 6-in. chain choices. Soil and cup chains are designed for light to moderately compacted, sandy, loam soils and loosely packed gravelly soils. The dirt cup teeth carry the dirt up and out of the trench. Rock and cup combo chains are heavy-duty and used when the ground is compacted, rocky or frozen. Shark [rock] chains and bullet [alligator] chains have very aggressive designs for slicing and breaking tough, extremely rocky soils.”
Some other considerations to make when selecting a walk-behind trencher involve ways to make operating more comfortable. This includes picking a machine that offers great visibility and maneuverability, as well as easy-to-use controls.
“Comfort often comes from making machines simpler and easier to maneuver,” say Kukuk. “Some trenchers, such as those in Ditch Witch’s CX Series, focus on operator comfort through ergonomic hand grips that alleviate the need to hold onto a machine for long hours. The CX Series also is built with one track that is shorter than the other, which allows for better counterbalance and traction, enhancing digging performance. Operator visibility is another important aspect of operator comfort. The ability to easily see obstacles is important for damage mitigation and the comfort of the operator. Similarly, visibility of the chain allows operators to see how it is digging and if it stalls, increasing productivity.”
Hutchinson points out that the usability of a trencher’s controls is vital for operator comfort and efficiency.
“Vermeer pedestrian trenchers feature VZ Steering that allows the operator to make precision turns using only handlebars instead of levelers and steering wheels,” he says. “These bars also provide additional leverage when operating in difficult terrain.”
Toro’s walk-behind trenchers feature differentiated traction controls that are easy to learn and use — providing operators a comfortable, productive experience.
“Operators appreciate Toro’s easy-to-use TRX trencher valve handle and boom lift lever, as well as independent traction control for the left and right track,” says Ingli. “The hydraulic valve enhancement on boom lifts ensures that the boom moves up and down smoothly. Intelli-Trench technology, an innovation that optimizes the machine’s hydraulic flow for the digging conditions, automatically diverts the hydraulic flow from the traction motors, providing more power for the trencher head. As a result, the traction handle can be held in one place without requiring constant adjustment, reducing operator fatigue and optimizing performance. In addition, the Intelli-Trench feature decreases track wear and maintains engine rpm for efficient engine cooling.”
Walk-Behind Trencher Maintenance
Ditch Witch’s Brant Kukuk Discusses Five Tips for Keep Your Machine Up and Running
Although walk-behind trenchers do not require a lot of maintenance, it’s still important to keep an eye on your machine and follow recommended service intervals. Here are five simple tips to extend the life of a trencher and get the most return on your investment.
- Look over your machine to check for signs of wear and tear before starting a new project.
- If your trencher has broken or worn teeth, replace them immediately. DO NOT continue to operate. This can cause further damage to your digging components.
- Replace chains and sprockets simultaneously to increase overall system life.
- Monitor digging chain tension and adjust as needed.
- It’s not just wearables that cause downtime. Make sure your engine is taken care of by keeping up on engine oil, hydraulic service intervals and changing filters when recommended.