Both an excavator and a trencher look rather similar and they can do the same job – well kind of. The thing is, there’s a clear distinction between them both. Read our little showdown between the trencher and excavator and which one is a better fit for your job. 

Because this is a trencher vs excavator article, we’re going to primarily focus on their abilities to make trenches. There is no doubt an excavator is the better fit for rubble and earth moving, so it’s no contest there. But when it comes to installing trenches, it’s a bit more interesting because a number of construction companies still use excavators – perhaps out of tradition.  

The difference between a trencher and an excavator 


Excavators have an arm with a bucket at the end of it, which is great for moving large amounts of rubble, dirt, and essential pieces of equipment. Another benefit is that there are a number of attachments available for excavators. You can get a hammer attachment, a larger or smaller bucket, grapples, and more.

A trencher also has an arm, but in place of a bucket it has a chain with large teeth. This is designed to lift up the dirt and deposit it out of the way, making it the perfect tool to lay down underground utilities and services.

Can’t excavators do that too? Yes they can, but the problem is that they are unwieldy and inaccurate. Underground utilities require precision accuracy and if you need a clean trench an excavator isn’t the best fit for you. 

Quality of work


When it comes to a job well done, as with most things it’s down to the abilities of the operator. Due to the nature of the bucket teeth on an excavator, the result is a trench with jagged and uneven walls and base. There is also the issue of over-excavation which could result in a larger amount of backfill required to reinstate the trench. 

The flat bottoms and vertical walls of a trenching machine result in cleaner and more precise trenching. Even in really rocky soils, the trencher excels compared to an excavator. This is because the teeth on the arm of a trencher can quickly pick up all of those annoying little rocks, whilst keeping everything precise and clean. 

The quality of work between them really is no contest. Even walk-behind trenchers are great machines to cut into the ground, and can even lift up the heaviest materials like clay and cobble. For the quality of work, the trencher wins. 

Efficiency and time


Time is money. Most job sites require things to be done in a timely fashion. At times though, this can be slowed down due to unforeseen circumstances, such as large rocks. Excavator buckets have trouble handling large rocks and there is a high chance they will cause large damage to the surrounding earth when trying to remove them. This really isn’t ideal, especially if the job has to be done with precision. 

Fortunately, there is a machine that can help with this issue. Again it comes down to the purpose built nature of a trencher that allows it to do a job fast and precisely. Even with some of the most difficult ground conditions, a trencher will get through it easily. Hard soil and large rocks aren’t really a problem. Set the trench depth, and it’s ready to go. 

Sizing and prices


Excavators come in a number of sizes, prices, and designs. If you’re looking for a proper full-scale excavator, they’re going to set you back anywhere between $70,000 and $150,000. For mini-excavators, they can be around $15,000, though keep in mind they still require the operator to sit in an open cabin. Nonetheless, that’s quite a price difference. You might be thinking that you could save money by getting a mini-excavator. But if you need one for the purpose of trenching, your money will be better spent elsewhere. 

For a full-scale excavator-sized trencher that is ideal for installing big-scale utility lines, the price will be around three times that of a large excavator, but will provide better and faster trench excavation. In terms of money, the trencher is the best choice if you need speed and precision on your construction site. 

And the winner is…


For the three categories mentioned here, the trencher wins the showdown. They’re faster, cut more precise trenches, and give a better return on investment. With that said, excavators are good at what they do too, excavating. If you’re in the construction industry you know that most times you’ll need a specific tool for a job. Digging trenches, installing utilities, and cutting pavement are all jobs that are best done with a trencher and not an excavator. 

Before you go


If you have decided you need a trencher, then check out our range here at Vermeer WA & NT! We provide the quality construction and mining equipment in Australia – from large machinery like pipeline trenchers and vacuum excavators, to smaller ones like stump grinders and skid steers. Call us on (08) 9479 4994 for a quote or information about our products. Our friendly team is always happy to help! 

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