What Can You Do With a Backhoe Loader?

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As one of the most versatile pieces of heavy equipment available, backhoe loaders are the jack of all trades for landscapers, contractors, farmers and many other professionals using heavy machinery. They can complete many different tasks across small, mid-sized and large projects easily and quickly, with various designs offering maneuverability and strength. Plus, they’re compatible with plenty of attachments for even more versatility.

What exactly can you do with backhoe loaders? And how do they work? We’ll take a deep dive into backhoe loaders and all the benefits they can bring your business.

How Does a Backhoe Loader Work?

A backhoe loader combines two popular functionalities of heavy equipment — digging and moving. On one side is a loader bucket for pushing, lifting and carrying materials, and on the other side is a backhoe for easy digging. Between the two are stabilizer legs that reach onto the ground and provide support for the machine during wobbly digging tasks. Usually, this equipment features a swiveling seat that faces the loader but can spin around to control the backhoe.

Backhoe loaders are all about working smarter, not harder. One of the most valuable aspects of a backhoe loader is its ability to bring together so many different functions into one piece of machinery. You can perform many different tasks, but you can also perform two at the same time. With the arms on either end, you can dig on one side, turn around, and lift with the other. Adding attachments provides extensive options.

These multitasking pieces of machinery help you avoid purchasing additional equipment while streamlining your fleet management needs. Advantages include minimizing storage space, reducing maintenance requirements and limiting fuel usage. It’s especially helpful on job sites that don’t have much room for equipment, such as close-quarters landscaping and remodeling work, since you can minimize the number of machines on-site.

We know it can do a lot, but what does a backhoe do? Possible tasks include digging a trench with a backhoe, moving rubble off a work site or leveling a surface, all with one tool. Backhoe loaders feature a particularly stable design to prevent tipping with the balanced arms and stabilizers on each side. The safe, enclosed cab can keep drivers protected from rocks, dirt and other hazards on the job site. Backhoe loaders also work well on a variety of terrain types, from rocky soil to hard-packed ground on flat or inclined surfaces.

These machines are sometimes compared to excavators, as they feature similar digging capabilities. However, excavators are typically only available in large, tracked varieties, while backhoe loaders can be found in small and full-sized wheeled versions. These options make them suitable for many different applications and projects.

How to Use a Backhoe Loader

Backhoe loaders feature fairly straightforward controls, with the following primary components:

  • Left arm control: This stick moves the first section of the rear arm, the boom.
  • Right arm control: The right stick controls the second section of the rear arm and the bucket.
  • Stabilizer controls: In between the left and right controls are stabilizer controls, which offer independent functioning for finding stability on uneven terrain.
  • Throttle control: By adjusting the revolutions per minute (RPMs) of the engine, you can change the level needed for different attachments or project requirements.
  • Boom unlock: This control is typically a floor pedal and keeps the boom arm in place until you’re ready to start digging.

As with any type of heavy equipment, operators should only use a backhoe loader if they’ve been properly trained to use it. They should also conduct inspections before every use and ensure both the machine and the environment are safe for operation. They may need to check fluid levels, equipment condition and the presence of any utility lines nearby.

Other safety considerations to keep in mind when working with backhoe loaders include the following precautions:

  • Don’t raise the bucket too high. This can affect the balance of the loader and increase the risk for tipping.
  • Never work on uneven ground, steep inclines or close to an edge. All these scenarios can lead to an overturned backhoe loader.
  • Never exceed the maximum operating weight of the machine. Check this amount in the manual to avoid a higher risk of equipment damage and injury.
  • When moving loads in the bucket, keep them low and close to the ground to minimize imbalance.
  • Always wear a seat belt. Falling out of the cab poses a risk to yourself, the equipment and anyone around you.
  • Keep your speed on the work site to 5 miles per hour or slower to reduce safety risks.
  • Always put the stabilizers down when digging. Stabilizers provide necessary tipping protection, regardless of the incline on the ground.
  • Plan thoroughly. The work site should be surveyed, the equipment checked and the plans followed precisely.
  • Always stay aware of surroundings. Watch for blind spots, areas of low visibility and nearby objects.

Applications for Backhoe Loaders

There are many things to do with a backhoe, and you can find them in a wide range of job sites:

  • Landscaping: In the world of landscaping, a backhoe loader can accomplish everything from digging up whole trees to excavating space for a pond, fence post or water feature. It can transport soil, boulders and other materials around the job site and dig trenches for irrigation lines, among many other tasks.
  • Construction: Both residential and industrial construction projects benefit from the versatility and maneuverability of backhoe loaders. They make small demolition tasks easy and can help with grading, material hauling and breaking up pavement across all job sizes.
  • Agriculture: Agricultural applications for backhoes can involve everything from laying irrigation pipes to burying dead livestock and lifting hay bales. A smaller piece of equipment doesn’t take up much space and provides a range of capabilities for whatever unexpected needs appear on the farm.

These industries are far from the only ones that can take advantage of backhoe loaders. With the help of a massive assortment of attachments, these machines can provide specialized work to those working in fields like logging, roadwork and material handling.

Some of the attachments you can use with a backhoe loader include:

  • Breakers and hammers: Hammer and breaker attachments for backhoe loaders can plow through asphalt, rocks, concrete and other tough materials, making them great for projects in construction, mining and excavation.
  • Tamper or compactor: Compactor or tamper attachments make it simple to pack down loose soil with more power than a hand-operated compactor. They’re good for minor spot-tamping requirements.
  • Tiger tooth: A tiger tooth attachment allows for easy penetration into frozen ground or rocky terrain. It’s a useful tool to have if you work in colder Northern climates.
  • Thumb buckets: Maneuver oddly shaped materials around the job site with the help of a hydraulic thumb on the opposite side of your bucket. It’ll hold material in the bucket and make it easier to work with a wider range of materials.
  • Rippers: A ripper attachment can have one tooth, similar to the tiger tooth, or several in a row for covering more ground. In both instances, they’re good for busting through hard or frozen ground.
  • Brooms and street sweepers: Ready to clean up the work site after the job’s done or the sidewalk after a storm? A sweeper can make quick work of cleaning tasks.
  • Snowplows and snow pushers: These attachments offer simple snow clearance for the winter months and offer enough power for even large piles of snow.
  • Augers: Augers penetrate the ground with a sharp tip and use a helical spiral to rotate dirt out of the hole. They’ll create cleanly cut holes ready for a variety of tasks, like post installation, tree planting, pipe laying and drilling footing.
  • Fork pallets: For operations involving materials handling, fork prongs can support pallets. These attachments can be a valuable addition to many businesses looking to move things around the work site without additional machinery.
  • Specialty buckets: Many projects benefit from buckets with different emptying mechanisms such as tipping from up high or to one side. V-shaped ditching buckets can also make the process of digging a ditch much easier and simpler.
  • Log grapples: In logging or tree removal operations, these grapples fit the specific shape required for quickly moving logs around and lifting them without leaving the cab.
  • Stump grinders: Can a backhoe remove tree stumps? Absolutely. Many landscaping projects can benefit from the quick work that a stump grinder attachment can offer, removing the wood quickly and creating even ground for other tasks.
  • Crushers: Crushers can attach to a backhoe loader and pulverize a range of materials, like concrete debris, masonry, asphalt and rock. It’s also good for separating concrete from rebar.

Keep in mind this isn’t an exhaustive list, and you can find many types of attachments for backhoe loaders.

What Size Backhoe Do I Need?

Backhoes can be found in a range of sizes, making them great for many different types of work. You can find them big enough for massive jobs and small enough to round tight corners and keep terrain in good condition for minor work. The size range adds to their versatility and makes it possible to find the necessary capacities for your work. With so many options, it’s usually not too hard to find the size you need, whether you’re looking for new or used backhoe loaders or rental backhoe loaders.

Here’s how some common sizes stack up:

  • Mini backhoes: If you’re working on smaller jobs, like residential remodels or construction work, mini backhoe loaders can often get the job done. They can usually dig around 6-8 feet and are very maneuverable.
  • Full-sized backhoes: These standard-sized backhoes are good for mid-sized jobs, and can dig up to 14 feet. They typically fall into the range of 65-110 horsepower.
  • Large backhoes: For harsher terrain or bigger jobs, a large backhoe can make quick work of heavier tasks. Backhoe loaders that are over 15 feet long have greater than 127 horsepower.

When trying to decide which size backhoe loader is best for your work, consider the following aspects:

  • Digging depth: The digging depth of your backhoe loader can vary based on the size and is a significant consideration based on your typical line of work. You may need extended dippers for extra deep or wide holes.
  • Hydraulic flow and pressure: These factors determine how hard the bucket is pushed and pulled in a backhoe. Hydraulic flow and pressure requirements will vary by application.
  • Horsepower: The larger the backhoe and the heavier the load, the more horsepower will be necessary to operate the equipment. Generally, backhoes under 15 feet fall into a classification between 68 and 107 horsepower, while those larger than 15 feet are 124 horsepower or more. If you’re working with particularly heavy loads and large machines, consider how much horsepower is available.
  • Rear bucket size: Your rear bucket determines the loads you’ll be able to lift in terms of volume and weight. Compare this rating with the typical size of the load you’ll be working with.
  • Front bucket width and style: Similarly, you’ll want to consider the size and style of the bucket to ensure it meets project demands. A bucket without any sharp corners can create a smoother surface for leveling jobs, while multipurpose buckets can provide even greater versatility. Just as there are many types of attachments, you can find many buckets, such as those with side dumps or clamping jaws.
  • Operating weight: If you’re working on terrain that needs to stay in top condition, such as a manicured lawn or golf courses, a lower operating weight can be helpful. It makes the machinery less likely to trample the ground and leave marks behind.

Other features to look out for include quick-attach systems and operator comfort tools. If you plan to use a lot of attachments in your work, a quick-attach system can be a big time-saver. Traditional systems can take a while, depending on the attachment and machine, but quick-attach couplers allow the operator to switch attachments easily, sometimes without even leaving the cab. Operator comfort and assistive features are also important and can help them stay productive and healthy while working. These might include steering assistance or air suspension seats.

There are a lot of factors that go into choosing a backhoe loader, and it’s not always a straightforward process. You may need to weigh several pros and cons against the needs of your business. One way to get more peace of mind with your purchase is to work with professionals. Here at Gregory Poole, our representatives are well-versed in equipment purchasing and are happy to help you through the process.

Backhoe Loaders From Gregory Poole

If a backhoe loader sounds like a good fit for your North Carolina business, look no further than Gregory Poole. Whether you’re looking for a shiny new backhoe loader, want to save on a reliable used model or need to rent a backhoe for short-term or long-term use, you can browse our wide selection of available products from the trusted manufacturers at Caterpillar and many other respected brands.

Regardless of your line of work or what you’re looking to get out of your backhoe loader, our experienced professionals can help you find it with competitive prices, flexible financing options and ongoing service. To discuss a new backhoe loader for your business, reach out to us today!