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Mini Excavator Operating Tips — How to Use a Mini Excavator

Mini Excavator Operating Tips - How to Use a Mini Excavator

On construction jobs with tight deadlines and high quality standards, you need to have a way to get more done without wearing out employees. You also need lightweight, maneuverable equipment that can fit through gates, travel over rough ground and turn without damaging surrounding structures or equipment.

Mini excavators are often the perfect solution. They provide the power you need to get jobs done efficiently while offering exceptional maneuverability and minimized damage. In the guide below, we’ll explain how to operate a mini excavator, provide some safety tips for using a mini excavator and discuss how these machines can benefit a variety of projects.

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What Is a Mini Excavator?

A mini excavator is a versatile piece of equipment often used in construction projects. Lighter and smaller than a standard excavator, it can perform a variety of essential functions with ease. Mini excavators generally include several main components:

  • Cab: Users sit in the cab to operate the mini excavator.
  • Engine: The engine powers the mini excavator, allowing the operator to control the boom and drive using the hydraulic tracks.
  • House: The house of the mini excavator holds the cab, engine and hydraulic cylinders. It is mounted on a pivot above the undercarriage and can rotate a full 360 degrees.
  • Undercarriage: The bottom of the mini excavator connected to the house is known as the undercarriage. It supports the machine’s weight and holds the motor, gears and track roller that allow the mini excavator to move.
  • Stick: The stick is the long hinged and hydraulically operated arm. It can connect to different attachments like trenching buckets, grapples, thumbs, and blades. The stick connects to the boom.
  • Blade: The blade of a mini excavator attaches to the undercarriage. It is useful for grading, and it can be positioned at the front or back of the mini excavator to provide stability during digging.

Mini excavators come in different sizes and weights, so you can easily get the machine that’s right for your project’s needs. You can also rent a mini excavator if the purchase price doesn’t fit your budget. About 40% to 50% of the market for mini excavators is rentals, so you’ll be able to find the options you need in a rented machine.

Mini Excavators vs. Standard Excavators

How are mini excavators different from standard excavators? Let’s take a look at a few ways they differ:

Mini Excavators Size

  • Size: As their name suggests, mini excavators are more compact and lightweight than standard excavators. The market for mini excavators currently includes machines weighing 10 tons or less.
  • Attachments: Mini excavators can accommodate a variety of attachments that boost their utility.
  • Environmental impact: Because of their lighter weight, mini excavators tend to make less impact on the environment. Mini excavators leave fewer and lighter track marks and do less damage to soil and plants.
  • Site suitability: Because they are smaller, mini excavators can be useful to have on more compact or crowded sites. They are easier to tuck into corners and won’t get in the way of other equipment.
  • Maneuverability: Mini excavators tend to be easier to maneuver, especially around other objects and vehicles. Mini excavators can also move through crowded lots with ease.
  • Transportation: Because of their lighter weight, mini excavators are easy to load into trailers and transport to and from the job site. Where a standard excavator may be too heavy for a trailer or utility truck to accommodate, a mini excavator may be light enough.

How to Use a Mini Excavator

You can get started with using your mini excavator by following these steps:

  • Lower the blade: Use the control lever to lower the blade until it tilts the machine up slightly.
  • Use the throttle for power: If you are new to using a mini excavator, consider using half power for a while until you get more comfortable operating the machine.
  • Position the stick and bucket for excavating: To start excavating, push the primary stick to extend the stick outward. When the stick is about halfway extended, use the bucket control to angle the bucket. Lower the boom until the bucket’s teeth meet the ground. Use the joysticks to finesse your angle as needed.
  • Dig with the stick: Pull on the stick to make the bucket dig into the earth. Then pull the primary boom lever to maintain your grade. If you have a swing boom or variable-angle boom, you can swivel the boom and dump the dirt. Or turn the mini excavator and drive the dirt to the established dumping location.

Mini excavators’ light frames and extensive arrays of attachments make them versatile enough for use on many different job sites. Below are a few different uses for mini excavators:

1. Digging Holes

Digging Holes

Mini excavators excel at digging because of their unique ability to maneuver into hard-to-reach places and the variety of attachment options they provide. Old-fashioned shoveling is tedious and exhausting, and this method of digging could dramatically extend a project’s completion time. But digging with a mini excavator is efficient and effective.

2. Landscaping

Mini excavators help make landscaping quicker and less laborious. Rather than shoveling dirt by hand, you can use a mini excavator to dig for planting trees and shrubs or for irrigation ditches. A lightweight mini excavator can also maneuver around the property without leaving heavy track marks or damaging the soil or plants.

3. Demolishing Structures

Mini excavators are useful for demolition as well. Though you’re unlikely to use a mini excavator to demolish a full-sized building, many construction projects require tearing down smaller structures like sheds and other outbuildings. Mini excavators are much more efficient and safer than using hand-powered tools to take small structures apart, and their compact size means they can maneuver through gates and tight spaces on the job site.

4. Installing Outdoor Structures

When a project calls for installing structures like pools and hot tubs, you need a convenient, effective way to excavate all that dirt. Mini excavators can help. Shoveling would be a tiring, time-consuming effort, but a mini excavator can get the job done easily. And it won’t tear up the surrounding dirt or get stuck trying to get to the excavation site.

Mini Excavator Operating Tips

Knowing the best methods for approaching work with your mini excavator is vital — it helps you get the best performance out of your machine. Here are a few helpful tips for operating a mini excavator:

Mini Excavator Operating Tips

1. Read the Instruction Manual

The operator’s manual often contains valuable information about how to use a mini excavator. It tells you how to use each control, where warning labels and fire extinguishers are located and the conditions under which you should and should not operate the machine. A thorough reading is often beneficial. But even if you don’t read every word, be sure to take a look through the manual and make sure you understand the basics of the mini excavator’s operation.

2. Inspect the Machine Before Use

As with any vehicle or piece of machinery you operate, you should make a habit of looking over your mini excavator frequently. Check for loose hoses or fluid leaks that could pose hazards and impair your machine’s performance. Check the oil, lubricant and coolant levels, and inspect the tracks for damage.

3. Test the Mini Excavator

Before using your mini excavator for the first time, it’s a good idea to test it and become familiar with how it works. Different makes and models have different layouts, so your latest mini excavator may differ from the last one you used. You can test the machine in a large, flat and open area. Try out all the controls, and practice moving the boom and rotating the cab. Getting a feel for how the mini excavator responds to controls helps make your work more precise, reduces overcorrection and improves safety.

4. Practice Driving on Tracks

Most mini excavators drive on rubber tracks, which handle considerably differently than wheeled axles do. The right and left tracks can even move separately to improve turning. If you’re new to mini excavators, practice driving so you can get a good feel for how the tracks respond to the controls and the terrain.

5. Ensure Correct Balance

Especially with smaller machines, if you don’t balance the weight of your mini excavator correctly, you can end up tipping. Be sure to balance your mini excavator by extending or retracting the stick.

Safety Tips for Mini Excavators

Below are a few essential mini excavator safety tips to follow on the job site:

1. Wear the Proper Personal Protective Equipment

The right personal protective equipment (PPE) helps ensure operator safety. Wear a reflective vest to make yourself more visible and durable work boots to protect your feet. You should also wear a hard hat and clear or tinted safety glasses. For some applications, you’ll want to protect your hands with gloves and wear ear protection.

2. Maintain Three Points of Contact When Entering and Exiting

When you’re entering or exiting your mini excavator, be sure to maintain three points of contact with the machine at all times. Those three points of contact can be either both feet and a hand or both hands and a foot. Maintaining these contact points helps improve your stability and reduces the chance of slips and falls.

3. Wear Your Seat Belt

Even though a mini excavator doesn’t move nearly as fast as a car, wearing your seat belt is still essential. The retractable seat belt, a feature built into all Cat® mini excavators, helps protect you if the machine overturns or collides with something.

4. Use the Safety Interlock

Cat mini excavators come equipped with a safety interlock. The safety interlock prevents you from bumping into levers and accidentally moving the excavator in a way that would injure you as you exit the machine. Raising the safety interlock gives you more space to get out and locks the mini excavator’s components in place, ensuring you can exit safely.

5. Use the Camera Feature

Some mini excavators come with cameras for enhanced safety. You can use the wide-angle shot or switch to a close-up view of the area behind the machine. The camera feature helps you view the area around the mini excavator to avoid people or colliding with nearby objects.

6. Maintain Proper Blade Positioning While Digging

For balancing and safety reasons, proper blade positioning with your mini excavator is essential. With a mini excavator of more than 8 tons, you’ll generally want to keep the blade in front. But with smaller mini excavators, particularly those weighing less than 3 tons, positioning the blade in the back can provide much-needed stability and balance.

With smaller excavators, if you try to dig with the blade positioned in the front, the cab will tip backward as the bucket digs into the soil. In this case, it’s best to move the blade to the back of the mini excavator. It can grip the earth to provide stability and prevent the cab from tipping as you dig.

Contact Quinn Company for All Your Mini Excavator Needs

Now that you’ve read some mini excavator tips, it’s time to put them into action. To see the benefits of using a mini excavator for your next project, partner with Quinn Company.

Since 1919, Quinn Company has been here to help you achieve success in your construction, excavation and landscaping projects. We offer an extensive catalog of mini excavators with a range of sizes and capabilities. And we back our equipment with factory-trained staff ready to lend on-site support, as well as the most comprehensive parts in the industry.

Contact us or give us a call today at 888-987-8466 to learn more or visit one of our convenient locations.

Quinn Company Mini Excavators