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How To Operate a Mini Excavator

How To Operate a Mini Excavator

One of several , a mini or compact excavator offers a more compact, agile, and versatile frame, making it perfect for a wide range of projects. These compact machines range from 2,000 to 20,000 pounds, and you can outfit them with a variety of attachments for many different jobs from digging and demolition to plowing snow.

If you think a mini excavator may be what you need on the job site, this guide can help. We break down what a mini excavator is, what kind of versatility they offer, how to use them safely, and how to find the right one for your next project.

Mini Excavator Parts

It’s important to know what each part of a mini excavator does and how it contributes to the operation of a mini excavator. You should be familiar with these common excavator parts.

  • Undercarriage: This is the bottom section of the excavator. It’s the portion of the machine that allows the vehicle to move about.
  • Boom: This is the part of the apparatus that is attached to the cab.
  • Arm: The arm is supported by the boom and is sometimes called a dipper or stick.
  • Bucket: The bucket is at the end of the arm that scoops out the earth.
  • Cab: The cab is the part of the excavator where the operator sits, controlling the vehicle.
  • Excavator tracks: These are the steel-reinforced rubber tracks that move the machine.
  • Idlers: These are large metal wheels within the undercarriage that keep the tracks running correctly.
  • ROPS: The rollover protective structure, or ROPS, protects the operator in the case of a rollover.
  • Counterweight: This counterbalances the excavator when its center of gravity begins to shift when digging, lowering the risk of tipping.
  • Main control valve: This valve controls things like oil pressure and the power to hydraulic systems.

Operating a Mini Excavator

While you should always refer to your operation manual first and foremost before operating any construction equipment on the job site, we list some important tips for operating a mini excavator safely and effectively:

tips on how to use a mini excavator

  1. Read the excavator’s instruction manual and understand the controls. Each mini excavator can be different, so be sure to check your manual to be sure you understand the controls and how to operate each function you need for the job.
  2. Enter the cab of the mini excavator, ensuring three points of contact, and put on your seatbelt, start the excavator, and pull the safety lock lever down. These steps ensure that the excavator is ready to safely operate. Mini excavators use either a standard ignition with a key or a digital keypad.
  3. Raise the stabilizer bar before you start driving. The mini excavator comes equipped with two control joysticks. The right joystick controls the boom and bucket curl. The left joystick extends the stick out and it also controls which direction you want your excavator to be facing (called the “swing”).
  4. Locate the track pedals to begin moving the mini excavator. Be sure to set your engine speed and adjust your stabilizer bar using the machine’s control levers. Go through all the controls and get a feel for the machine.

By using the hand controls together, you can move the machine forward and backward. It takes a while to get used to turning and moving these machines, though, making proper training even more essential.

  1. To begin excavation, extend the machine’s boom away from you and push the boom level forward until the bucket’s teeth contact the ground. Then, pull back the bucket through the soil toward you. You can also swing the boom and move the excavated soil to an appropriate dumping location.

What Is a Mini Excavator Used For?

While it may be smaller than a standard excavator, a mini excavator is bigger than a backhoe loader, making it a vital piece of heavy equipment for a variety of different tasks in many industries, from landscaping to trenching to demolition.

The sheer number of possible attachments and the light frame make the mini excavator such a versatile machine. The following examples showcase some construction jobs that are ideal for using a mini excavator.

what is a mini excavator used for

  • Repairing sewer lines: For basic sewer line repair jobs, a mini excavator often makes a better option than a full-size machine, such as a trencher.
  • Installing pools and hot tubs: You can also use mini excavators to install pools or large hot tubs outside of homes. The compact nature of mini excavators makes them perfect for navigating a backyard that might not fit a larger digger.
  • Plowing snow: Mini excavators can clear snow effortlessly using a special blade attachment. Their compact size and low weight help these machines get around snow-covered roads quickly.
  • Demolishing small structures: Because they are such versatile pieces of equipment, they can get around small areas efficiently and fit into tight spaces such as through gates.
  • Digging holes: A mini excavator’s ability to move and swivel in difficult areas on job sites makes it the ideal machine for digging holes, particularly in tough-to-reach spots.

Mini Excavator vs. Standard Excavators

You should choose the right size of excavator for your project, and that’s not always the mini excavator. Understanding some key differences between standard and mini excavators can help you figure out which works best for your job:

  • Lighter and smaller: As the name implies, mini excavators are smaller. This means they cannot handle some of the weight loads that standard excavators can. On the plus side, they don’t cause as much ground damage.
  • Easier to maneuver: Because mini excavators are smaller, they are also more agile. They can access harder-to-reach areas and cramped spaces that standard excavators can’t reach.
  • More precise: Sometimes, you need more precision with your digging. Mini excavators have the advantage in terms of precision, making them ideal for smaller jobs.
  • Last longer: Because mini excavators don’t get the punishing loads that standard excavators do, they experience less strain over time.
  • More versatile: Because mini excavators can use a wide variety of attachments, you can use them for a wide variety of jobs. Standard excavators are best for standard digging projects when you just need a lot of earth moved.

Safety Tips Before Operating a Mini Excavator

Before you ever get into the cab of a mini excavator, you should have a thorough understanding of how it works and how to operate it safely. Here we offer some general safety precautions and tips you should practice, but always check the user manual for more information about your specific machine.

Inspect the excavator for any damages

The first thing a mini excavator operator should do is inspect the vehicle for any damages. Fluid leaks, low levels of oil and coolant, damage to the tracks, loose wires, and other potential issues can create a real safety hazard for both the operator and nearby workers.

Check your surrounding area

A mini excavator operator should always check their surroundings before starting to use the vehicle. They should look for nearby workers who may be too close to the vehicle, or for any machinery, obstacles, and debris that could create a collision risk. Wet weather could cause the ground to become slippery or result in the vehicle getting stuck. The operator should also be aware of any slopes or uneven areas that could cause the vehicle to tip.

Know the machine’s limits

Understand the mini excavator’s lift capacity and maximum digging depth. Make sure the machine is on flat, dry ground before you start digging. These precautions will reduce the risk of the machine tipping over.

Use compatable excavation attachments and take safety precautions

Perform a connection test whenever you use an attachment. Attachments can expand the number of jobs your mini excavator can do, but keep in mind this creates some safety risks.

Always check and follow proper procedures before installing or using any excavator attachments. Improper installation or use of an attachment creates the potential for injury to the operator or those around the vehicle. You also put the machine at risk: Not properly installing an attachment, or installing one that is incompatible to the machine, can cause significant damage.

Considering Renting a Mini Excavator?

If you’re ready to rent a mini excavator for your next project, BigRentz offers a range of mini excavator equipment rental options for you to choose from. Even better, we have experts who can answer your questions about what attachments are available for the jobs you want to do, the top mini excavator brands, and the different sizes of mini excavators we offer—anywhere from 2,000 to 20,000 pounds.

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