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What is a Trencher? 6 Common Uses

What is a Trencher? 6 Common Uses

If that job calls for moving a lot of earth, then chances are you’re going to need a trencher. There are many different types of trenchers and lots of tasks that trenchers can be used for from cutting pavements to snipping roots.

We’ll introduce you to the primary types of trenchers and the variety of jobs they’re suited for, plus provide tips for determining which type is best for you and your project.

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What Is a Trencher?

Trenchers are heavy machines designed for earthmoving. No matter what specific type of trencher you’re using, they all have the same basic components.

Trenchers have a metal chain with teeth made of high-strength steel. This allows the machine to tear into the ground, lifting and moving massive amounts of earth. Because of the sheer size and strength of the machine, trenchers are capable of tearing through heavy tree root systems and densely packed earth.

If you’re thinking that a trencher sounds an awful lot like an excavator, you’re right. The main difference is the kind of ditch the machines create:

  • An excavator produces a ditch that is significantly wider at the top than the bottom, leaving you with a lot of backfill to deal with.
  • A trencher produces exactly what the name implies: A clean trench with a flat bottom and smooth walls.

Trenchers are more beneficial for digging trenches that are smooth and straight. They also allow you to work faster than excavators. However, excavators are more versatile. They can work on different types of terrain and dig sloped trenches.

Types of Trenchers

There are styles of trenchers, differentiated by how you operate them. Walk-behind trenchers, or portable trenchers, give you the ability to dig trenches more easily in a more narrow space. Ride-on trenchers give you higher performance and cover greater digging depths when compared to the walk-behind variety. Within these styles, there are multiple types of trenching tools including:

  • Chain trenchers: Chain trenchers have a chainsaw-like design. They use a digging belt or chain to cut into the ground. Due to their flexibility, chain trenchers can cut narrow and deep trenches for utility companies.
  • Wheel trenchers: Wheel trenchers, also called rockwheels, have a toothed metal wheel that you can use for hard or soft soils. Wheel trenchers work best in areas where there are many rock formations.
  • Micro trenchers: Micro trenchers are used for cutting “micro trenches” — ones with dimensions significantly smaller than those cut by conventional trenchers — ranging from 0.5 to 2 inches wide and around 2 feet in depth.

Trenchers have multiple uses, and some types are better suited for certain types of projects than others.

What Is a Trencher Used For?

6 trencher uses
Though the primary purpose of a trencher, no matter the type, is to move earth and create a smooth trench, there are lots of different ways this might happen. For instance, you might need to remove pavement, or you may need to use your trencher to create a ditch for drainage. These scenarios can call for a different kind of trencher.

1. Cutting Pavement

If you need to cut through rock, concrete, or pavement, then a wheel trencher is probably going to be your best bet. Wheel trenchers (also called rockwheels) have a large, toothed metal wheel on the front that can cut at varying depths through both soft and hard soil as well as rock and concrete. Wheel trenchers also allow you to push excavated materials to the side using spacers and ejectors. These trenchers are ideal for roadway repairs and excavation.

Similarly, micro trenchers, often referred to as “small rockwheels,” are most often used in urban settings to reduce traffic disturbances while creating mini trenches for laying fiber optic cables. Micro trenchers are fitted with a small cutting wheel designed to dig these small, narrow trenches.

2. Creating Drainage

If you need to dig a drainage trench to manage water or sewage runoff, then a chain trencher can do the job quickly and easily. Chain trenchers are usually portable and are best for cutting narrow trenches that run between 12 and 36 inches deep.

Chain trenchers allow you to remove smaller amounts of earth for running irrigation lines underground. The belt wraps around a metal frame, also called a boom, and you can easily adjust it to control the depth of the cut.

3. Digging for Electrical Wires

A chain trencher allows you to dig a trench for installing your electrical cables or telecom wires. The trencher’s conveyor belt removes the excavated materials, which means that you can spend less time working on the trench and more time tending to the installation of the wires.

4. Piping Work

Very much like using a trencher to create an underground pathway for your electrical or telecom wires, you can also use a chain trencher to dig a space for water and sewage piping. The key is to dig deep enough to protect the pipes — and any humans or animals that may try to reach them.

5. Shoveling

Small walk-behind trenchers, or portable trenchers, are great for digging trenches that are just 3 to 4 feet deep. If you have a home improvement project that calls for some intense digging, such as an ambitious landscaping project, renting a walk-behind trencher will likely be money very well spent, since walk-behind trenchers are lighter and more compact than most other types of trenchers.

6. Snipping Roots

Dealing with thick tree roots can be just as much of a headache as trying to demo rock, concrete, and pavement. Portable trenchers have a blade on the end that allows them to function a lot like a rotary lawnmower blade, enabling you to slice through roots quickly and easily.

If you encounter roots while working the soil, hold the trencher’s chain blade in place while the blade spins. Slowly inch the blade forward and let the blade cut through the roots.

Trencher Safety Tips

Though trenchers are generally safe and easy to use, you should always follow these precautions before using a trencher:

  • Contact the utility companies. Before you start digging up the ground, you should contact the local utility companies to determine if the area is safe for digging and mark the utility line locations to avoid injuries or fines.
  • Select the right trencher. You should be careful when selecting the type of trencher to use for your project. For example, while rockwheels are designed to cut through rock, using other kinds of trenchers around rock-prone areas may damage the machine. The teeth found on some trenchers cannot cut through solid rock or areas with rock-like sediments. Torn teeth can cause shards of metal to become stuck and cause problems with the machinery.
  • Establish clear safety measures. In addition, to avoid injuries and heighten safety practices around the construction site, you should install access and exit points for workers entering and exiting trenches, establish safety signs, and have engineers install protective systems to prevent cave-ins. Also make sure you have the proper trenching and safety equipment before beginning your project.

trencher safety tips

Although you can use trenchers for a variety of construction projects, it’s best to rent these types of machines instead of purchasing them to ensure that you have the best one for all your needs. If you need additional help finding the best trenching equipment for your project, talk with the experts at BigRentz. You can also contact us directly at (888) 325-5172.

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