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Excavator types, where do we begin! Excavators come in all shapes and sizes, and have a wide range of designs depending on their function.

From small-but-mighty mini excavators used for tight-access jobs, to dragline excavators used for mining projects, these machines make light work of construction projects.

There’s a lot to cover, so we’ve compiled a quick run-down and all the excavator types out there. Let’s get right to it!

Excavator Types Overview

We’ve compiled a list of the most common excavator types and their uses. In this article we’ll cover excavator types including:

  • Compact
  • Backhoe
  • Crawler
  • Spider
  • Wheel
  • Vacuum
  • Dragline
  • Long reach
  • Knuckle boom

Compact Excavator

Excavator types—compact excavator

Pictured: Kubota Mini Excavator KX040. Source: Machines4U.

Compact excavators, also known as mini excavators, are perfect for small to medium-sized jobs. They’re versatile machines that can do most things the larger machines can, just on a smaller scale.

Being pint sized has its advantages, including:

  • Easy access
  • Easy to transport
  • Less wear and tear
  • Cheaper operation

Mini excavators are manufactured using tail swing configuration and small undercarriage width, which helps the machine easily manoeuvre in confined spaces. Because they have a lower machine weight than standard excavators, owners can also expect to save on fuel costs.

Compact Excavator Tonnage & Brands

Generally, excavators that range from 0-7 tons are classed as mini excavators, this may vary slightly from brand to brand.

Some major brands in the mini excavator field include:

  • Kubota
  • Takeuchi
  • Caterpillar
  • New Holland

Take a look at mini excavators at auction here.

Backhoe Excavator

Backhoe Excavator

Pictured: Joblion Backhoe. Source: Machines4U

A backhoe excavator is common on construction sites thanks to its versatility. A number of attachments can be used with a backhoe, which allows them to perform a variety of tasks other than excavation such as, stump grinding, compaction and grading.

The main benefit of the backhoe excavator is the bucket attached to the boom. The bucket works to extract soil towards the driver before lifting for greater visibility during operation.

Backhoe excavators are commonly used for:

  • Soil extraction
  • Dumping materials
  • Unloading waste & debris

A backhoe excavator is suited to small to medium-sized projects like foundation building and residential constructions.

Backhoe Excavator Brands

Some backhoe excavator brands include:

  • JCB
  • Volvo
  • Hitachi
  • Caterpillar
  • New Holland

Crawler Excavator

Crawler Excavator Type

Pictured: Case CX300C Crawler Excavators. Source: Machines4U.

Crawler excavators, also known as track excavators, are the most common type of excavator found on construction sites. The crawler excavator has greater stability, balance and efficiency than wheeled excavators thanks to the chain tracked wheel system.

A crawler excavator is best suited to:

  • Lifting
  • Boring
  • Cutting
  • Crushing
  • Grading soil
  • Earthmoving
  • Landscaping
  • Trench digging
  • Material handling

Although slower than wheeled excavators, the crawler excavator is balanced and stable. With the ability to handle a range of attachments including hydraulic breakers, augers, grading blades and grapples, the crawler is a diverse machine—no wonder it’s a popular choice!

Crawler Excavator Brands

The most popular brands make crawler excavators. These include the most searched* brands:

  • Kubota
  • Hitachi
  • Kobelco
  • Komatsu
  • Caterpillar

Spider Excavator

Spider Excavator

Pictured: Euromach Spider Excavator. Source: Machines4U.

Spider excavators are up next, and no, we’re not talking about the arachnid! These spider excavators get their name from their odd, spider-like legs. The mechanical legs allow them to work in tough terrain including water, mud and steep-access sites. The spider excavator is one of the more unique excavator types not seen on regular construction sites. But they are ideal for forestry applications where steep cliff faces are more prominent.

Spider Excavator in Action

Disclaimer: The spider excavators in this clip may be overseas models. The Australian model may vary from above.

Wheel Excavator

Wheeled Excavator

Pictured: Cat M314F Wheeled Excavator. Source: Machines4U

Wheel excavators offer mobility, speed, power and reliability. They aren’t as popular as the standard crawler excavator, but they do have their advantages, which can include:

  • Added lift capacity
  • Lower cost of operation
  • Ability to drive across work sites easily
  • Two-piece hydraulically adjustable boom

Obviously these can change depending on the excavator make, model and year.

The main things to consider when looking at wheel excavators is the terrain you’ll be working on and the applications. Wheel excavators do lose some digging depth as the carriage sits higher than the crawler excavator. With a higher carriage you also get increased center of gravity, which means operation on slopes should be done with care.

In saying that, the wheel excavator performs well in lifting performance thanks to its two-piece hydraulic boom, which is adjustable. The addition of stabilisers is also an advantage, especially when doing road work, as you don’t lose lifting capacity.

Wheel Excavator Brands

Some of the brands leading the way in wheel excavators are:

  • JCB
  • Volvo
  • Hitachi
  • Caterpillar
  • John Deere

Vacuum Excavator

Vacuum Excavator

Pictured: Vermeer Vacuum Excavators. Source: Machines4U.

Vacuum excavators, also known as suction excavators, work as the name suggests. They have a high-pressure vacuum and water jets to loosen the ground for trench and utility digging.

There are 2 types of vacuum excavators:

  • Truck mounted
  • Trailer mounted

Trailer mounted machines are small and perfect for landscaping and construction hydro-excavation jobs. The truck mounted machine is larger and typically used for underground utility operations. They have a suction pipe, containing sharp teeth at the edge, which vacuums up loose soil and debris.

The suction can also be switched on and off during operation, so if an object is too large to pass through the pipe, it can be switched off temporarily.

Vacuum Excavator Brands

The main players in vacuum excavators are:

  • Vermeer
  • Ditch Witch

Dragline Excavator

Dragline Excavator

Pictured: Cat 7395 Dragline Excavator

For large-scale operations the dragline excavator shines. It’s much bigger in size than the standard excavator and is suited to much bigger operations, such as:

  • Road excavation
  • Deep pile driving
  • Surface mining
  • Port construction
  • Under-water operations

Dragline excavators feature a hoist rope which attaches to the bucket. The bucket is attached using a dragline. The hoist rope works to lower and raise the bucket, while the dragline is used to pull the bucket toward the operator.

Small dragline excavators weigh around 8,000 tons, while the larger models can get up to 13,000 tons or more!

See other giant excavators here.

Long Reach Excavator

Long Reach Excavator

Pictured: Case CX210 Long Reach Excavator. Source: Machines4U.

As the name suggests the long reach excavator has the ability to reach further than standard excavator types. With its extendable arm it can reach more than 30 metres—perfect for those hard-to-reach locations!

This excavator is best suited to demolitions and dredging large amounts of material from waterways. You can also use different attachments to perform cutting and crushing jobs.

Long Reach Excavator in Action

Disclaimer: The long reach excavator in this clip may be an overseas models. The Australian model may vary from above.

Knuckle Boom Excavator

Knuckle Boom Excavator Types

Pictured: Komatsu 13.5T Knuckle Boom Excavator. Source: Machines4U.

While the knuckle boom excavator looks just like the standard, the defining difference is the extra joint in the arm. This extra joint allows the machine to swing left and right, giving it more maneuverability and precision when digging.

The knuckle boom excavator can also reach areas that a standard machine can’t, thanks to this extra joint. This makes it ideal for tight spaces and excavating around obstacles.

So, there you have it! 9 different excavator types and their uses, all valuable in their own way. Which would be your pick? Let us know in the comments below. You can also find excavators for sale here and at auction here.


*Data has been curated from Machines4U listing information, accurate at the time of publication.

Sources: forconstructionpros.com, cat.com, heavydutydirect.ca, purchasing.com, bigrentz.com, vermeer.com, casece.com

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