An inexperienced trencher operator can cause costly mistakes. From start to finish, educate yourself on the task at hand—know your digging conditions, recognize potential safety hazards, and understand the relationship between your trencher attachment and prime mover. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to operate your trencher attachment like a pro, saving time and money.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Inspect your jobsite and take notice of any potential hazards in the area. Trenching through a hidden utility line could cause electrocution and death. Call all utility companies and have them plot out all of their lines before operating your trencher attachment or dial 811 before you dig. Prior to starting a trench, it is always a good idea to plan your job. Consider several variables before trenching:
- Trench requirements
- Potential safety hazards
- Digging conditions
- Trencher tooth pattern
- Digging chain tension
Before your trencher touches the dirt, match the tooth type and pattern with your soil type. Talk with your dealer or manufacturer representative about the soil type you will be digging into; then choose the proper teeth for your application:
- Cup: The most common teeth chosen for trencher attachments and ideal for good digging; cup teeth are useful for applications, like black dirt, loam, moist clay, sand, and sandy clay.
- Shark: Shark teeth are ideal for rocky, abrasive, or compact conditions, like caliche.
- Frost: Frost teeth are ideal for the most extreme trenching applications, like coral, frozen ground, and fracturing rock.
Trencher attachments do have their limitations, so match not only your trencher teeth to your digging conditions, but also the machine’s hydraulic capabilities and your trench depth. When trenching, it’s important to have your trencher chain properly adjusted. You do not want the chain too loose or too tight depending on the style of boom and tensioning system you are using. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions in your operator’s manual for proper adjustment. Never work on or adjust any part of your trencher attachment while the unit is running. You could be caught in the chain or digging teeth, which could cause severe injury or death.
STARTING AND STOPPING YOUR TRENCHER
The prime mover’s auxiliary hydraulic system supplies power to most trencher attachments. In this case, the trencher itself does not have an on/off switch; the prime mover’s auxiliary hydraulic control mechanism operates it. To start your trencher, engage the auxiliary hydraulics. To stop your trencher, disengage.
The flow coming out of the auxiliary system determines trencher speed and power, which is dependent on the prime mover’s engine speed. To increase trencher speed, increase the prime mover’s engine speed. To slow down your trencher, decrease the prime mover’s engine speed.
TIME TO TRENCH
When first starting a trench, set the prime mover’s engine to half throttle. This will reduce the shock to the prime mover and trencher attachment when the digging teeth first contact the ground. Position your prime mover with the trencher boom directly over the center of where you will dig your trench. It will take about 4 feet of trenching before the trencher will be able to operate at the desired depth, so plan for this and position the trencher about 4 feet behind where you want the actual trench to start. Once you start the trench, set the engine back to full throttle.
Slowly lower the trencher arm into the ground to start the trench by lowering the trencher attachment with the loader arms and loader bucket controls. Carefully creep backwards as you roll the trencher boom down into the soil with the bucket and lift arms of the loader. Make sure the crumber end does not catch on the trencher and continue to creep backwards. Once you have reached your required depth, you should be at a 60- to 65-degree angle with the trencher boom. A 48-inch boom will give you 48 inches of digging depth at a 65-degree angle.
When trenching, remember to keep the discharge auger running about an inch off the ground; typically, the skid shoe on the right-hand side of the machine will keep the auger at that height. This will keep the dirt pushed back away from the edge of the trench to help eliminate the spoil from falling back into the trench and prevent cave-ins.
AVOID A WRONG TURN
Turning your prime mover is easy. Add a trencher attachment to the mix and you have to be a little more cautious. Avoid making turns with your trencher attachment. While you can perform a gradual turn or radius, you will put side loads on your trencher boom, causing excessive chain wear and possible damage to the boom and trencher assembly. Turning too tightly while trenching will cause the trencher boom to bend and jam in the trench and stall, leading to excessive oil temperatures. Be cautious at all times when turning. To make sharp turns and 90-degree angles you will need to dig two trenches.
COMPLETING YOUR TRENCH
Once you’ve dug your trench, remember that the trencher boom is at an angle and that you must continue trenching until the end of the boom has dug past the proposed end of the trench. Once you dig the end of the trench, keep the trencher running and raise the loader arms to lift the unit clear of the trench. When the trencher has cleared the trench, disengage the auxiliary hydraulics to stop the trencher and then drive the prime mover away from the trench. After digging the trench, keep equipment away from it so the weight of the unit does not cause a cave-in.
“Remember, your trencher attachment’s performance is directly related to the power available from your prime mover’s auxiliary hydraulic system,” says Dave Aldrich, light construction dealer development and service manager for Paladin Attachments. “If the trencher seems to lack power or speed, it may be due to a lack of sufficient auxiliary power. Be sure to match the size of your trencher attachment with the hydraulic capabilities of your machine.”
Trencher performance is also related to how well it is maintained, digging tooth wear and type, and size of digging chain, crumber boom, and shoe used. Consult your operator’s manual for maintenance tips or ask your local dealer. At the end of the day, taking the time to operate and maintain your trencher attachment correctly will allow you to save time on the job and put money back in your pocket. ■
About The Author:
John Thomas is the vice president of marketing and business development for Paladin Attachments, which includes Bradco Attachments, based in Dexter, Michigan. For more on Paladin Attachments, visit www.paladinattachments.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, March 2015
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