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8 Trenching Tools for Your Next Project

8 Trenching Tools for Your Next Project

Trenching involves digging narrow trenches in the earth. You may need to use a trenching tool for laying pipes or drainage systems on construction projects or installing landscape borders in a backyard. Various tools are used for trenching — from handheld instruments to heavy equipment — and which you need depends on your project requirements.

Machine trenchers are best for larger projects, such as making a long trench for drainage pipes. If you don’t need to guarantee uniformity or are working on a small project, such as a flower bed or an invisible pet fence, you can use handheld trenchers.

This post explains the most common trenching tools and how to choose which one you need for your project.

Explore All Trenchers

Machine Trenchers

A trencher is a piece of earthmoving equipment designed to create ditches with flat bottoms and smooth walls. Trenchers range in size from handheld tools to walk-behind models to large ride-on machines.

Machine trenchers are often categorized by their blade type:

  • Wheel: Uses a toothed metal wheel that can cut through rocks
  • Chain: Has a chainsaw-like design best for digging narrow and deep trenches
  • Micro: Uses a thin metal blade for cutting “micro trenches” from 0.5 to 2 inches wide, such as to lay fiber optic cable

Types of machine trenchers

1. Handheld Trenchers

Portable handheld power trenchers can be used to complete smaller jobs like laying pipe, installing wire, and performing landscaping tasks faster than digging with hand tools. They’re lightweight and easy to transport, and can typically dig 10 to 20 inches deep. Handheld trench diggers can have a wheel or chain blade.

In addition to handheld machines, there are other types of small, specialized trenchers you may want to consider for specific projects. These include:

  • Edging trenchers: Edging trenchers dig small trenches up to a few inches deep next to flower beds and paths to install edging material.
  • Cable installers: These machines dig a trench up to 7 inches deep, install wire, and then cover it.

2. Walk-Behind Trenchers

Also known as landscape trenchers or manual trenchers, walk-behind trenchers allow you to create shallow, narrow trenches with less effort and more precision. Walk-behind trenchers excavate soil as you walk backwards, pulling the machine toward you. They commonly have 6 to 31 horsepower and can typically dig trenches from 12 to 48 inches (1 to 4 feet) deep.

Suitable for a wide range of jobs, walk-behind trenchers offer a balance of power, size, and affordability. Because you’re moving the machine yourself, this type of trencher may not be suitable for cutting through the hardest soil or rocks. Walk-behind models commonly have a chain blade.

Model & Size Daily Weekly Monthly
12-in Walk-Behind Trencher $169 $521 $1,447
24-in Walk-Behind Trencher $131 $359 $976
36-in Walk-Behind Trencher $99 $282 $768


3. Ride-On Trenchers

Ride-on trenchers are larger machines that you sit on like a tractor, which can dig wider and deeper trenches through more difficult terrain. They’re less maneuverable but more powerful, so you can use them for more heavy-duty construction, industrial, or agricultural applications. They can have chain or wheel blades. Ride-on models commonly have 35 to 120-plus horsepower and can dig trenches 12 to 60 inches (1 to 5 feet) deep.

BigRentz offers 36-in Ride-On Trenchers. Prices vary by location and duration, so contact us for specifics.

Handheld Trenching Tools

Many people use handheld garden tools for digging small trenches on DIY projects, such as landscaping, planting, or laying pipes. Common trench-digging tools include the following:

Types of handheld trenching tools

4. Trenching Shovel

Also known as a ditch shovel, this tool has a long handle and narrow rectangular head. It is often v-angled for effective soil penetration. Trench shovels are indispensable for landscape gardening, digging irrigation ditches or compost trenches, laying pipes, and removing deeply-rooted plants.

5. Drain Spade

Also called a tile shovel, drain spades feature a thin, narrow blade with bent sides that curve inward and a circular tip for precise digging. Though thin, these are typically made with durable steel blades and may have a straight wood or fiberglass handle or a D-handle. Drain spades are great for cleaning existing trenches, removing weeds, and transplanting flowers without disturbing entire root systems.

6. Mattock (Grub Axe)

Similar to a pickaxe, mattocks have an axe blade (or a pick) on one side and a horizontal adze on the other. Pick mattocks are useful for digging through hard, rocky soil, and cutter mattocks are ideal for cutting tree roots.

7. Trenching Hoe

Also called a grub hoe, trenching hoes have a long handle with a sharpened blade on the end. Primarily used for breaking up and tilling soil, grub hoes can also be used for digging deep, narrow trenches.

8. Clean-out Shovel

After using a trench digging shovel to make the trench, you can use a clean-out shovel to remove the loose soil from the bottom. These tools feature a hollow-back shovel head with a long handle.

Trenching Attachments (for Tractors and Skid Steers)

You can also get trenching attachments for other machinery, such as tractors and skid steers, and use them much like a ride-on trencher for larger jobs and tougher soil conditions. Built with powerful motors, they come in a variety of sizes and auger diameters to enable dig depths from two feet (24 inches) to five feet (60 inches). If you already have a tractor or skid steer, a trencher attachment may be a good solution for you.

Trenching Safety

When digging a trench, remember to take appropriate trenching safety measures. If you’re working on a personal project rather than a job site, you should still follow best practices, such as wearing protective clothing and knowing how to use a trencher.

OSHA requires professionals to adhere to the following standards (1926.651 and 1926.652):

  • Call 811 before digging so that underground utilities are marked, helping you avoid digging in areas where those lines are located.
  • Ensure that excavated soil remains two feet or more from the edges of the trench.
  • Be prepared, when digging a trench greater than four feet deep, to test for hazards like fumes, gasses, or low oxygen.
  • Utilize a protective system if the trench you’re digging is five feet or more deep unless you’re making the entire trench in stable rock.

Tips for Choosing the Right Trenching Tools

When choosing a trenching tool, the next sections give you factors to consider.

How to choose the right trenching tools

1. Understand the Project

The type of trenching tools you need depends on the project:

  • Handheld tools or portable trenchers are often best for small landscaping or garden projects that don’t cover long distances.
  • Walk-behind trenchers are good for small projects like installing irrigation, plumbing, and cable systems.
  • Ride-on trenchers are best for larger projects, like sewer line installations, construction, and agricultural work.

The name of the trencher is typically the depth it can dig, such as a “12-inch walk-behind trencher” or a “36-inch ride-on trencher.”

2. Consider the Soil Type

Different trenchers can handle different soil types. For example, wheel trenchers are best for rocky soil, pavement, or concrete. Chain trenchers are not suitable for rocky soil because the chain may not be strong enough or will cause kickback if it hits a rock.

3. Compare Renting Versus Buying

Buying handheld tools is the most convenient option for smaller projects. However, if you need a ride-on or walk-behind trencher for a larger project, it may be more cost effective to rent.

Rent a Trencher From BigRentz

Whether you need a small walk-behind trencher for running wires or a ride-on trencher for large-scale irrigation work, BigRentz has you covered. When you rent a trencher, you can get the machine you need for the duration you want. You’ll have access to the latest technology while saving money on maintenance, storage, and insurance costs.

Explore All Trenchers

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