Home » Posts » General » Excavation & Excavating Equipment
Stuart Brown1 week ago

A rock-solid guide to excavation

Before handing the apprentice or kids a bog-standard shovel, check out our complete guide on how different types of excavation machinery and tools can help make light work of your trenching, hole digging, utility location or other earthmoving job.

Excavating involves a lot more than just digging a hole. Considerations such as permit approval, utility location, accessibility, soil type and safety all come in to play, and this is before even thinking about how to do the actual excavating.

It goes without saying, before undertaking any excavation job, ensure you have the right permissions from your local council. Some jobs, such as pool excavation and removal are best left to the experts.

Trenches

A trench is a type of hole where the length of the excavated area is greater than the width—aka longer rather than wider. Trenches have a wide variety of uses including laying pipework and cables, allowing for proper drainage, creating access tunnels, gardening trenches and much more.

Hand tools are ideal for smaller trenches, but there are many types of excavation equipment you can use to reduce the amount of labour required. While you may not require a ticket for smaller trenching machines, wet hire (where you hire a machine, and a qualified operator along with it) may be your best option for larger jobs.

Plumbing & Utility Trenches

Trenches dug for plumbing and utility purposes require rigid procedures to prevent pipe damage. When digging a trench for pipework, the trench needs to allow room for work around them, generally leaving around 200mm around them.

Plumbing Trench

The size of the pipe will dictate how large a trench is required, in return, what type of excavation equipment is needed to complete the job. For small pipework jobs, a walk-behind trencher or hand tools may be sufficient. Larger projects, such as those for civil works, ride-on or chained trenchers will help reduce labour time.

Drainage Trenches (French Drains)

French drains are often installed to alleviate excessive moisture on a property, normally as a result of being positioned at the bottom of a slope.

Drainage trench

Once an optimal drainage position has been chosen, a trench is dug, drain laid and the area filled.

Drainage trenches are regularly dug in residential properties with hand tools or mini excavators.

Field & Agricultural Trenches

Similar to drainage trenches, this type of excavation helps to eliminate water saturation in agricultural and sporting fields.

Agricultural Trenching Machine

The method of creating two deep trenches around crops enables excess rainfall to flow downhill, which still keeps the nutrients in the soil. A similar technique is used on sporting fields to keep water away from the playing area.

Recommended Tools & Machinery

The types of excavation equipment you use will depend on the size of the trench required. See below what machinery and equipment will help speed up the labour time as well as fit your project budget

Tile & Drainage Spades, Sharpshooter Shovels

Drainage spade

This long, narrow bladed spade comes in a long and short-handled variety. Construction crews and landscapers often use the long-handled drainage spade, whereas DIYers and plumbers favour short-handled models. The drainage spade creates a rough, rounded-bottom trench, and is best used for shallow drainage projects.

Pros

  • Best for shallow trenches
  • Penetrates hard soil, sod and dirt with rocks
  • Longer handles are good for taller people

Cons

  • Shouldn’t be used when a smooth-bottom trench is required
  • Not ideal for deeper trench or large volume excavation
  • Can be quite heavy, so prolonged use can be tiring

Cost

$15—$250+ new

$5+ used (check sites such as Gumtree.com.au)

$15+ per day to hire from your local hardware store

Other Considerations

No operation tickets or training is required to use a drainage spade.

Trenching/Grubbing Hoe

Trenching Hoe

Using a chopping and dragging method, a trenching hoe is used to abrade earth and rocks to make a trench. A trenching hoe is made up of a long handle, with a flat blade attached at a right angle.

Pros

  • Ideal for tilling gardens and digging smaller trenches, such as a drainage trench
  • Can be swung to dig into hard surfaces
  • Quite light in weight

Cons

  • Cannot lift soil as a shovel or spade would
  • Not suitable for large trenching jobs

Cost

$15—$70+ new

$5+ used (check sites such as Gumtree.com.au)

$15+ per day to hire from your local hardware store

Other Considerations 

No operation tickets or training is required to use a trenching hoe.

Machinery & Powered Equipment

Ride-On/Mini Trenchers

Ride on mini trenching machine

For medium-sized trenches where a hand tool would take too long but a full-sized trencher would be overkill, a ride-on or mini trencher is the type of excavation equipment you require. Depending on the tonnage of the machine you need, you may need a ticket to operate this type of excavation machinery. For smaller models, a competency test will be required. Check with your hire company for confirmation.

Pros

  • Less labour time
  • Less physical labour required
  • Ideal for medium-sized trenches

Cons

  • Will require a ramp and large tray or truck transportation
  • Can be expensive to hire depending on size of project

Cost

$250+ per day dry hire

$4,000+ purchase new or used

Other Considerations

You may be required to refuel the equipment or pay a refuelling fee prior to returning to the hire company. No ticket should be required for smaller models, however please check with your chosen hire company prior to ordering.

Full-Sized Chained or Wheeled Trenchers

Large tracked trenching machine

When it comes to tackling a large trenching job, you need the real deal. Full-sized trenchers come in both wheeled and tracked models, enabling you to work on almost any surface. Consisting of a main cab, a full-sized trencher uses a large chained blade to cut through the soil, again, similar to a chainsaw. You will definitely need the right tickets for operating this machinery, and it is advised you hire a contractor.

Pros 

  • Reduced physical labour and labour time
  • Is used for large jobs
  • Deep trenches are easily excavated

Cons

  • Will need a licensed operator/contractor
  • Will need transportation (truck or delivery)
  • Tracked models tear up surrounding surfaces

Cost 

$4,000—$500,000+ new or near new are you sure about these numbers?

$2,500—4500,000+ used

The cost of hiring a trenching operator will depend on the size of your project and the location. Contact your local contractor for an accurate quote.

Other Considerations

A contractor is required for completing a job with a full-sized trencher.

Trenching Attachments

If you’ve hired another type of excavating equipment for your project you may be able to save money by also renting a trenching attachment. Some larger trenches can be dug with a bucket attachment, but most machinery hire companies will have the option to add on trenching attachments for excavators and skid steers for an additional amount.

Cost

$50+ per day

Limited Access & Confined Spaces Excavation

When you’re choosing what type of excavation method and machinery you need, take into consideration any stairways or tight access points. While most excavation machinery can travel stairs, check prior to hiring or purchase if you need a winch. Also consider narrow stair access where you may need a mini excavator or even vacuum excavator with a long boom.

Under-house Excavation

Most people think of a house expansion as an aboveground project, but sometimes adding a basement to a property can add value, as well as extra space. For the average homeowner, the thought of processing council applications, zoning and hiring machinery can seem too much, while an avid DIYer or tradie working on their own home may consider doing the work themselves. Mini dozers (Bobcats) and mini excavators are commonly utilised for excavating in under-house projects.

Small Backyard & Courtyard Excavation

Another important aspect of choosing what type of excavation machinery you need is allowing room for movement. In the average backyards or courtyards, a full-sized excavator would barely have enough room to turn around. A mini excavator will lighten the workload while still having plenty of room to move around.

Recommended Tools & Machinery

Mini & Micro Excavators

Pros

  • Perfect for small or confined-space jobs
  • Multiple attachments
  • More affordable than full-sized excavators
  • Less labour time than hand tools
  • Perfect for trenching

Cons

  • If purchased, repairs are costly
  • Will need adequate transportation
  • Not very good for large-scale projects

Cost

$19,000–$70,000+ New

$13,000–$60,000+ Used

$275–400+ Hire per day

Other Considerations

Please check with your hire company prior to ordering to establish if a ticket is required. In most cases, a competency test will suffice. You may be required to pay an extra fee for refuelling or fill fuel tanks prior to returning the mini excavator.

Mini Skid Steer, mini loader or mini dozer

A mini skid steer is really a one-stop shop when it comes to different types of minute excavating equipment. With the right attachments, a mini skid steer can break and lift rocks, load trucks, plough snow, trench, excavate—the list goes on. Plus, since they’re small they can easily access almost anywhere.

Under house excavation on a mini backhoe

Pros

  • Multiple attachments
  • Ideal for small or confined-space jobs
  • More affordable than full-size models
  • Better for earthmoving

Cons

  • Will require transport
  • Not good for large-scale projects
  • If purchased, repairs can be costly

Cost

$17,000–$69,000+ New

$14,000–$45,000+ Used

$220+ Hire per day

Other Considerations

We recommend checking with your hire company prior to collection if you require a ticket for operation. Normally a competency test is all that is required. Please note, you may be required to refuel the machinery prior to returning to the hire company or pay an extra fee to have the tank filled.

Utility Location Excavating

Underground utilities, such as optical-fibre cabling, power lines, gas and water pipes and telecommunication lines require gentle excavation methods to minimise the chance of damage. When doing any type of excavation, you need to locate any pipes or wiring underground, and sometimes you’re even looking for utilities to repair them. If this is the case, then typical types of excavating machinery just won’t do.

Hydro Excavation & Vacuum Excavation

A hydro excavation truck consists of a tank and hose, which is normally mounted on a tray and attached to a truck. Using high-pressure water blasting, earth material is effectively excavated from around pipes without damaging them. Even the oldest or most fragile pipes can be sought with a hydro excavator.

Vacuum excavator truck and operator

Pros

  • Gentle excavation method
  • Easily transported
  • Good for large-scale projects
  • Works on most soil types

Cons

  • If water runs out, need to refill before resuming work
  • Pipes and wiring can be damaged with improper pressure adjustment

Cost 

$180+ an hour hire with contractors

$245,000+ purchase newer model

$30,000+ for used trailer only 

Other Considerations

Hydro excavation done incorrectly can damage pipework and cabling. We recommend using a professional if you’re new to this type of excavation work. Contractor hire prices depend on the location of the project, the equipment used by the business, the number of people required and how long the job will take to complete. Access to a water source may be required.

Pier/Post & Tree Hole Digging

Digging holes for posts can take hours—well, only if you don’t have the right tools. By choosing the right type of excavation equipment and attachments, you’re not only make light work of digging the holes but can have the machines lift and place the poles for you. The same can be done for digging holes for and placing trees.

Recommended Tools & Machinery

Posthole Pincer

If you haven’t got many holes to dig, a posthole pincer will do the job with a little arm work. Squeezing the two long handles, this piece of excavation equipment pinches the earth, which can then be lifted up and disposed of or scooped out.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Easy to use
  • Depth is not restricted by a drill bit

Cons

  • Required manual labour
  • A crowbar may be required to break up hard rock
  • Not ideal for large projects unless multiple people are onhand to help

Cost

$29—$83+ new

Contact your local hardware store for hire options ($10+ per 4 hours).

Other Considerations

Dampening earth may make pinching easier.

Post Hole Auger Digger

Post hole hand auger machine

This type of excavation equipment looks like a hybrid of a pogo stick and large drill bit. The top of the auger is made up of two handles and a motor, which powers the long drill bit into the soil, creating the posthole.

Pros

  • Less labour involved than with a manual pincer
  • Can be hired or purchased
  • No ticket is required for operation

Cons

  • Depth is only as much as the drill bit
  • Requires ute or truck for transportation (or delivery)
  • Fallout requires removal 

Cost

$170+ hire per day

$230–$750+ new

$200+ used

Other Considerations

Refuelling the auger or paying a refuelling fee may occur if hired.

Auger & Digger Attachments

For even less manual labour, auger attachments can be hired or purchased for almost any excavator or skid steer, including mini varieties. Depending what type of machine you have will depend on the price, however most can be hired for an addition $50 or more onto your hire price.

Pros

  • Less manual labour
  • Different attachments for different depths and surfaces
  • Can drill through hard rock 

Cons

  • Need the machinery to use
  • The wrong attachment can cause the machinery to run ineffectively

Cost

$496–$2,000+ new

$200–$2000+ used

Additional cost for hire on top of machinery ($50+ per day)

Prices depend on the equipment you are getting an attachment for and the type of attachments. The above price range is a rough estimate.

Driveway Excavation

As with any construction project, you will need to receive approval to build a driveway on your—or anyone else’s—property, as well as find out if there are any utilities—such as pipes or cabling—where you intend to lay the driveway. How you prepare the surface for the driveway will depend on the earth you are laying on, the material you are using and preferences. Here are a few types of excavation machinery to perform different areas of driveway construction.

Driveway excavation photo

Recommended Tools & Machinery

Shovel

If you’re only constructing a small driveway, you may be able to use a shovel to do any levelling and earthworks. A shovel is cheap, easy to use but will require a fair amount of manual labour.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Almost anyone can use
  • Different sizes for your height and earth type

Cons 

  • Requires a fair amount of manual labour
  • Shovels can be quite heavy
  • Can be time consuming

Cost

$7–$70+ new

$2+ used

Check out your local hardware store for hire options ($10+ per 4 hours)

Compactors & Power Tampers

Power tamper, earth ramming machine

An even, firm surface is a vital step before laying any driveway materials. A push compactor is ideal for ensuring your surface is in ideal laying condition, meaning a long-lasting driveway.

Pros

  • Less labour than manually compacting
  • Does not require a ticket for operation
  • Affordable to hire

Cons

  • Requires some manual labour
  • Larger model may require a ute for transport

Cost

$450–$15,000+ new

$200–$12,000+ used

$30–$60 hire per 4 hours

Mini & Micro Excavators

If you’re constructing a long driveway, this type of excavator may halve the time of your job. Using bucket attachments, you can easily scoop earth materials and lay backfill too. You can also attach drill bits to break up hard earth or rocks.

Pros

  • Lessen the time of the job
  • Multiple attachments
  • Less manual labour

Cons

  • If purchased, repairs are costly
  • Will need adequate transportation

Cost

$19,000–$70,000+ New

$13,000–$60,000+ Used

$275–400+ Hire per day

Other Considerations

Please check with your hire company prior to ordering to establish if a ticket is required. In most cases, a competency test will suffice. You may be required to pay an extra fee for refuelling or fill fuel tanks prior to returning the mini excavator.

Site Preparation

Excavators play a major role in preparing surfaces and foundations for construction. Land clearing is usually involved in this step, which you can learn more about further below. Generally the same types of excavation machinery are used for site preparation, which are listed below.

Muck Excavation

Nothing dampens a project quite like rain. Areas that are prone to flooding or holding excess water may be excavated to create firmer, more stable ground or to remove waterlogged earth. In these cases the spoil can rarely be used for fill and the type of excavation machinery you use needs to take into consideration any water or sodden earth.

Recommended Tools & Machinery

Shovel

If there is only a small amount of muck that needs to be removed, a shovel may do the job—although it may get quite messy.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Almost anyone can use
  • Different sizes for your height & earth type 

Cons

  • Requires a fair amount of manual labour
  • Shovels can be quite heavy
  • Can be messy

Cost 

$7–$70+ new

$2+ used

Check out your local hardware store for hire options ($10+ per 4 hours)

Loaders

Loaders effectively remove and transport large quantities of muck with their front-loaded bucket. Mini models are available for smaller jobs.

Pros

  • Can transport large amounts of muck at once
  • Less manual labour

Cons 

  • Will need transportation to get to site (truck)
  • Can be costly to buy, hire & maintain
  • Will require ticket operation

Cost

$3,000–$70,000+ used

$220–$500+ hire per day

Other Considerations

Some hire companies are restricted to a certain number of days you can hire a loader; for example, a minimum of 2 days or a week.

Site & Land Clearing

Also known as block preparation, land clearing is done in some way or form before every construction project. While handsaws, shovels, pickaxes, rakes and hoes can help with smaller blocks, larger jobs will require a larger machine.

Demolition

While demolition isn’t specifically a type of excavation, it’s useful to know how different kinds of excavation machinery attachments can make small to mid-sized demolition easier.

Claw & Bucket Attachments

A claw attachment is able to grab onto and lift materials that may be too heavy or too high to do so by hand. Similar to this is a bucket attachment, which often has a claw function to grab onto fixtures. Both can be used to transport materials or dump debris straight into skip bins or pits. For looser materials, such as smaller rocks or bricks, a bucket may be more efficient.

Drill Attachments

A drill attachment is used to break up concrete and hard surfaces, such as foundations. A handheld jackhammer can be used for smaller jobs, however a drill attachment for an excavator is recommended for those bigger demolition jobs, such as an entire house or building.

Spoil Calculator

So you’ve dug a hole and now you need to know how much material you need to fill it. A spoil calculator will be able to precisely tell you exactly how much earth, sand or mulch you need to complete the job. Here are a few useful spoil calculators.

https://www.soilyourself.com.au/calculator/

http://www.soilworx.com.au/volume-calculator.html

http://parkleasandsoil.com.au/quantity-calculator/

Excavation Glossary

A helpful list of terms associated with different kinds of excavation and construction projects and machinery.

Excavation: The action of digging, uncovering or unearthing. A site that has been excavated.

Construction: The process of building something.

Wet hire: The hire of both machinery and operator.

Dry hire: The hire of machinery or equipment only.

Trench: A hole that is longer than it is wide.

Pier/Post Hole: A hole dug for the placement of a pole.

Foundation: The bottom supporting structure of a building.

Footing: A supporting structure of the foundation.

Land Clearing: The process of clearing land, including the removal of trees, stumps, vegetation, rocks and other obstacles.

Backfill: Using material dug from an excavated hole to refill the space.

Muck Excavation: The process of removing material containing an excess of water and undesirable soil.

Demolition: The process of tearing or knocking down a structure, such as a house or building.

Topsoil Excavation: The excavation of the top layer of earth.

Earth Excavation: The excavation of the layer of soil directly beneath the topsoil tier.

Spoil: Excavated earth.

Rock Excavation: The excavation of hard rock, which requires specialised equipment.

Unclassified Excavation: The excavation of materials that do not come under topsoil, earth, rock or muck specifications.

Basement Excavation: Excavation performed below ground level.

Borrow Pit Excavation: A pit excavated for the sole purpose of the disposal or storage of sand, soil, gravel or other materials.

Shares