A backhoe is a multi-purpose piece of heavy equipment that’s primarily used for excavation and earthmoving tasks. It’s used for projects like light demolition, farming, trenching, and landscaping.
In this article, we give you a step-by-step tutorial on how to use a backhoe, including how backhoe controls work, so you can operate one confidently.
How to Operate a Backhoe (Step-By-Step)
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned backhoe operator, you operate a backhoe loader with the same basic steps.
1. Familiarize Yourself With the Backhoe
Before you operate a backhoe, you need to know its parts and their functions. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the specific vehicle and model you’re using. A backhoe has three major sections: the loader, the tractor, and the backhoe itself. Backhoes also have several other parts that support their functions.
Here’s an overview of the parts of a backhoe.
- Front loader: The front loader, or front end loader, is the bucket positioned in front of the loader. Often used to plow debris, it lifts and moves materials using hydraulics.
- Tractor: The tractor is the core structure of a backhoe loader, situated between the front end loader and rear backhoe.
- Cab: The cab contains the operator’s seat, providing protection from flying debris.
- Backhoe boom: The boom is the part of the backhoe arm that’s attached to the tractor. It can move the backhoe up, down, left, and right.
- Stabilizer legs: Stabilizer legs are located behind the rear wheels to prevent the vehicle from tipping over.
- Backhoe bucket: The loader buckets at each end of the vehicle are used to perform functions like digging holes, trenching, and backfilling.
- Dipper stick/arm: The dipper stick or arm is the other component of the backhoe arm. While the boom attaches to both the tractor and the dipper, fixing the arm in place, the dipper attaches to the boom and the bucket, aiding in excavation and earthmoving.
2. Understand the Backhoe’s Controls
Backhoes are generally pretty similar, but you should always consult the specific operator’s manual for the equipment you’re using.
In general, backhoes have two main control levers plus stabilizer control levers. Here’s what the controls usually look like:
The patterns for the control levers can differ depending on if they’re International Organization for Standardization (ISO) controls or Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) controls. The main difference between them is that opposite joysticks control the boom and dipper.
The controls above are ISO, which John Deere machines use. Here’s how they work:
- Dipper and swing (left): The left control corresponds to the dipper and swing. Using this lever extends the machine’s stick, preparing you to dig.
- Boom and bucket (right): The right control corresponds to the boom and bucket. It both lowers and raises the boom. Once you’re positioned to dig, using this lever opens the bucket.
- Stabilizer controls: The stabilizer levers are usually to the left of the main backhoe controls. Pushing the right stabilizer lever forward lowers the right stabilizer, and pulling it back lifts it up. The left lever works the same way for the left stabilizer.
- Throttle control: The throttle control regulates the amount of power you’re using to dig. You can directly adjust engine revolutions per minute (RPM) and power up or down as necessary.
- Boom lock: The boom lock keeps the backhoe boom disengaged until you’re ready to use it. It can be a lever or a floor pedal.
The key to operating a backhoe efficiently is knowing how to handle the controls. Experienced heavy equipment operators who are comfortable with backhoe controls can operate the two controls simultaneously. Beginner operators might want to practice using each control or lever direction one at a time until they get the hang of it.
3. Start the Backhoe
When you’re climbing into the backhoe, always maintain three points of contact and a firm grip. Make sure your hands aren’t greasy or wet to prevent slipping and falling. Before you start the machine, make sure to put on your seatbelt and adjust the mirrors.
Avoid using any controls before you start the backhoe — parts may still move even without power. Check all fluid levels before you start the machine and check for damaged or worn parts.
To start the backhoe, make sure the parking brake is engaged and that the direction control levers are in the neutral position. Check for obstructions and turn the ignition. Rotate the seat to use the backhoe controls.
To drive the backhoe, rotate the seat to the front. Controls vary depending on the model of the tractor, but backhoes generally drive similarly to cars. They have similar parts, like steering wheels, brakes, and throttles. Make sure the stabilizers and buckets are clear of the ground before you drive.
4. Use the Backhoe to Dig
Both right and left controls are involved in using a backhoe to dig. To recap, here’s how the right and left lever controls work for ISO machines:
- Dipper and swing:
- Left control moves left: Swing the entire arm left
- Left control moves right: Swing the entire arm right
- Left control moves forward: Extend dipper away from you
- Left control moves back: Bring dipper toward you
- Boom and bucket:
- Right control moves left: Curl bucket in (to close)
- Right control moves right: Curl bucket out (to dump materials)
- Right control moves forward: Lower the boom
- Right control moves back: Raise the boom
Once you’re ready to dig, here are the steps to follow:
- Make sure the area is clear and free from any debris or hazards, like construction materials or overhead and underground utility lines.
- Lower the stabilizers to support the back end of the machine.
- Disengage the boom lock and use the throttle control to set an appropriate RPM.
- Lower the boom and extend the dipper to the length you need.
- Curl the bucket in and bring the dipper in to graze the surface of the ground with the bucket. Position the bucket teeth horizontally to cut through the ground.
- Raise the boom and swing several feet to the right or left of your excavation site. Curl the bucket out and dump the materials.
- To dig in layers, repeat these steps.
Remember: It’s okay to use one motion at a time to dig, and work your way up to using the levers simultaneously once you become more familiar with how they work.
5. Use the Front Loader
Driving controls vary by equipment model, but using the front loader follows the same steps on most backhoes:
- Rotate the seat to use the front controls.
- Take the parking brake off. Use the shifter and throttle to drive and use the wheel to steer into position.
- Pull the lever to your right back to raise the bucket up. Move it forward to lower the bucket.
- Move the lever to the right to open the bucket. Move it left to close the bucket.
- Lower the bucket flat to the ground and move forward to scoop the material. To get a full scoop, pull back to slightly raise the bucket up as you drive it in.
- To dump the material, reverse and raise the bucket. Drive into position with the tires at the base of the pile, and open the bucket.
3 Essential Safety Tips for Using a Backhoe
A backhoe is a heavy duty piece of equipment, and anyone who operates one should go through the necessary tractor loader backhoe operator training first. Here are some general safety tips to follow when operating a backhoe.
1. Check Your Surroundings
One of the most important aspects of operating a backhoe safely is knowing your work environment. Whether you’re dealing with uneven terrain, a lot of on-site personnel, or other worksite obstructions, check your surroundings before you power the machine on. Always check clearance for overhead electrical and other utility lines, as well as the location of any buried lines before you dig.
2. Ensure Stability
Never exceed the weight capacity of the backhoe. You can find the specific weight capacity of your backhoe in the operator’s manual.
While using the backhoe, if the load you’re carrying seems unstable, lower it and reposition. Be aware that a lighter load will have the same tipping effect as a heavier one if the boom and dipper are fully extended.
Make sure the stabilizers are extended before digging. You may need to set them differently depending on the level of the ground.
3. Maintain Your Equipment
Make sure that your backhoe is in good working condition before you use it. Try to avoid using older equipment if you don’t know how well it’s been maintained.
Check fluid levels to make sure they’re adequate and inspect the machine for damaged or broken parts. This is generally part of standard protocol in a professional setting, since equipment like this has to be inspected before every shift.
Reading the operator’s manual can help you learn how to use specific controls and gauges.
Rent a Backhoe from BigRentz
Need a backhoe? You can confidently rent a backhoe from us for your upcoming project.
BigRentz has the latest equipment for all your excavating and earthmoving needs, and our step-by-step tutorial takes you through all you need to know for safe operation. When you rent, you can also rest assured that the equipment is well-maintained, ensuring the best for your team in terms of both function and safety.