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What Are the Different Types of Excavators, and Which One Should You Use?

23 March | 569 views

Excavators are the workhorse of any construction project. Apart from excavating, different types of excavators can also lift and move heavy objects from one location to another. A type of earthmoving equipment, an excavator has many more applications beyond construction. They are used in jobs ranging from landscaping and trenching to mining and forest mulching.

In this article, we’ll cover details on the heavy equipment excavator, its types as well as its uses. This information will be helpful if you’re trying to decide which type of excavator is best for your needs.

Definition of Excavator

An excavator is a kind of heavy equipment generally used to remove soil, rocks and other materials from the ground. You can usually find many types of excavators on building sites or anywhere that materials need to be turned up, trenched, dug or moved.

Excavator equipment’s primary components are a bucket, an arm, a boom and a cab. These sit on a “house,” a platform that can rotate 360 degrees.

Additionally, an excavator has hydraulic motors and cylinders, which makes it an extremely powerful piece of heavy equipment. It’s ideal for industrial projects like rock blasting and building demolitions, as the operator can easily and efficiently dig, move and dump heavy materials like rocks and dirt. With the rotating cab, it can do all these without moving the entire machine.

Types of Excavators and What They Are For

Crawler Excavator

Also known as a standard excavator, this type of excavator equipment is one of the most commonly used. It runs on two parallel tracks, and it is capable of moving up and down sloping ground. These tracks lend stability to the excavator and provide better balance, even on uneven terrain.

This heavy equipment excavator is suited for various applications due to its durability and versatility. The crawler excavator comes in various sizes to suit any project need, from mini excavators for tight spaces to large, heavy-duty excavators that can be used for heavy digging projects involving massive amounts of materials such as rocks and soil.  

Wheeled Excavator

This type of excavator is nearly the same in appearance and function as a crawler excavator, except for the fact that it runs on wheels instead of tracks. Additionally, its wheels make it easier for the operator to drive the excavator from place to place.

Wheeled excavators move faster than crawler excavators. However, they don’t perform as well on uneven ground. For this reason, wheeled excavators are most commonly used in roadwork, urban areas and other project sites where most of the surface is flat. 

However, it’s possible to install outriggers to a wheeled excavator to improve its balance and stability in case project demands require it to move back and forth between even surfaces, like concrete, to uneven ones, like rocky soil.

Long Reach Excavator

This type of excavator has a boom and arm that extend further than that of a crawler or wheeled excavator. It’s often used in long-distance applications, such as waterway and canal maintenance, ditch cleaning and slope finishing.

Long-reach excavators are also commonly used in projects involving demolition. The arm of this type of excavator can be used to reach the upper stories of buildings to pull them down. Using long-reach excavators allows for more controlled demolitions, unlike wrecking balls.

Zero Swing Excavator

A short or zero swing excavator is a hydraulic excavator specifically designed for work in small or enclosed spaces. It has a narrow body and a superstructure that allows the rear to swing within the track platform. This helps reduce the risk of collision with the excavator’s rear and makes it easier to work in confined spaces.

Dragline Excavator

This type of excavator was invented in 1901 and named after draglines, a type of bucket that miners of that time often used. Back then, draglines were massive pieces of equipment. While the gigantic draglines of yesteryear are no longer used, many modern versions are still very large compared to other types of excavators. Dragline excavators can range in weight from 8,000 to 13,000 tons.

Draglines function similarly to cranes. The shovel or scoop, used to load materials, is affixed to a lifting cable hanging from the mast’s top. A drag wire is also attached to the machine body and the shovel. The dragline’s operator controls the lifting cable to move the shovel up and down, while the drag wire allows the shovel to move forward and backward.

Dragline excavators are typically used in mining operations, particularly in open-quit quarries. They are also utilized for the construction of roads and ports as well as for pond and canal dredging.

Suction Excavator

This type of excavator is not commonly used, but it can be beneficial in applications that other types of excavators cannot handle. It loosens and removes soil or other materials through the use of a powerful jet of air or water. The suction evacuator then sucks the materials through an intake nozzle into the holding tank.

Suction excavators can be used in projects involving deep excavation, drainage clearing, water and gas utility construction and even soil improvement.

Excavator Attachments

An excavator’s arm opens, closes, lifts, lowers, extends and retreats. Without an arm, an excavator is only a cab that can move itself. The arm is what allows an excavator to dig, load, throw and bail soil, rocks, sand and other materials.

Many types of hydraulic attachments can be installed on an excavator’s arm to meet a variety of purposes. These include:


If someone refers to an “excavator with a claw,” they likely mean any excavator with a bucket attachment. Also called a dipper, this tool is attached to the excavator’s arm. An excavator with a claw or bucket can dig into the ground and scoop up debris and other materials.

The most common type of bucket is the digging bucket. However, there are others, including:

  • Rock Bucket: This heavy-duty, toothed attachment is ideal for digging through rock, which is why it is commonly used in quarry operations.
  • Skeleton Bucket: This is used to sort and separate large materials like rocks from sand and soil. Some models can also be used for grading.
  • Trenching Bucket: As its name suggests, the trenching bucket is suitable for digging trenches. Some models come with teeth, and which one you should use depends on the application.
  • V-Shaped Bucket: This type of excavator attachment is suitable for digging trenches.
  • Clean-Up Bucket: This helpful tool can be used to “clean up” sites by scooping up material. It can also be used to spread smooth and coarse materials.
  • Crusher Bucket: A crusher or crushing bucket allows excavators to crush concrete and transform it into aggregates that can be used elsewhere on-site.


A mulcher attachment gives excavators the ability to mulch standing and fallen trees, stumps, shrubs and brush. For this reason, they are typically used in land-clearing operations.

Concrete Cutter

Used mostly in demolition tasks, a concrete cutter is capable of cutting through concrete, rock and other hard materials. Concrete cutters on large excavators can be even more powerful than road saws.


This attachment enables excavators to drill holes for construction, landscaping and agricultural purposes. For instance, you can use an auger to dig holes for posts, fences, retaining walls and crops.


Choosing an Excavator

When deciding which excavator to rent or purchase, you must first determine whether you need a standard crawler or wheeled excavator, or one with more unique capabilities. You should also consider the main criteria for selecting an excavator: Intended use, size and budget.

Intended Use

If you plan on using an excavator for a variety of projects, you might want to benefit from using a versatile and powerful crawler excavator. Meanwhile, if your project involves working in a confined space, you should consider a zero swing model.


Choosing an excavator size requires considering factors such as digging depth, lifting capacity, worksite conditions and counterweight options. For instance, if most of your digs are deep, you should consider an excavator that has the reach to meet your requirements. Keep in mind that larger excavators are much more powerful and capable of lifting heavy materials.


Larger excavators are more expensive than smaller ones. However, you might make an even costlier mistake if you buy an excavator that is incapable of handling your project requirements. On the other hand, powerful and large excavators might not be a good investment if most of your projects only require the capabilities of a smaller model.

If you don’t regularly use excavators in your projects, renting an excavator is much more cost-effective and practical.

A Trusted Provider of Heavy Equipment Rental Solutions

National Dispatching is a professional procurement services provider and full-service equipment rental group. Our company is available to meet the needs of our industry clients by providing access to a wide range of rental heavy equipment, from excavators and other earthmoving equipment to specialty industrial tools.

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