Types of Excavators and Their Best Uses

Excavators are invaluable heavy construction equipment for digging, lifting, and moving earth, rock, debris, and other materials at construction sites […]


Excavators are invaluable heavy construction equipment for digging, lifting, and moving earth, rock, debris, and other materials at construction sites and for heavy industrial jobs. With different designs and capabilities, various types of excavators are suited for specific applications and terrains.

Understanding the range of excavator options allows contractors to match the suitable machine to their unique project requirements. This guide covers the most common excavator types available and their best uses.

An Introduction to Excavators

Excavators are heavy construction equipment that consists of a cab situated on a rotating platform or house, usually connected to an undercarriage with either tracks or wheels for mobility. They utilize robust hydraulic systems to manipulate different components and attachments for digging, lifting, and moving earth, demolition materials, and heavy objects.

Key Components

Excavator Boom

The movable arm on the excavator connects to the dipper and holds the bucket. It can swing, extend, and retract to scoop and dump material. Booms are made from high-tensile steel for durability.

Excavator Arm/Dipper

The section connecting the boom to the bucket. It contains cylinders for opening and closing the bucket clamshell. The combination of boom, dipper and bucket provides the reach for an excavator.

Excavator Bucket

The buckets or claws on hydraulic excavators are made from reinforced steel with rugged cutting edges or teeth to scoop, crush, and carry loose and semi-solid materials like dirt, rocks, debris, etc. They come in various sizes.

Excavator Cab

The enclosed compartment houses the controls and seats for the excavator operator. Cabs are designed for visibility, ergonomics and comfort with adjustable chairs, heating and air conditioning.


The undercarriage consists of either tracks, wheels and axles or a platform providing stability and mobility to traverse rough terrains with heavy loads. The tracks and some wheels can be steered.


Excavators have heavy counterweights built into the rear end to improve balance when lifting heavy buckets of material or using attachments. This weight compensation prevents the machine from tipping forward.

Common Uses

Foundations and Trenches

Excavators dig holes for piles, foundations, poles, or trenches for pipes and drainage more precisely than manual labor.

Grading and Landscaping

Hydraulic excavators efficiently grade soil and move massive amounts of earth using their bucket and boom for landscaping, agriculture, or terraforming construction sites.

Demolition Projects

With hydraulic attachments like breakers, excavator buckets and arms tear down concrete walls and steel structures while the main body lifts and moves heavy debris using hooks and slings.

Forestry Operations

Tree harvesting, brush clearing, and even creating fire breaks to contain forest fires benefit from excavators equipped with grapples, feller bunchers and hydraulic shears.

The wide range of excavator sizes, designs, and tool attachments allow them to serve numerous specialized applications in various industries requiring heavy lifting or digging.

See also: What Are Mini Excavators Used For? A Comprehensive Guide

Mini Excavators

Mini and compact excavators are smaller, more maneuverable options perfect for narrow or indoor spaces. With advanced swing boom capabilities, they can dig precisely with minimal ground disturbance.

Compact Excavators

Overview: Compact excavators like 2 tons mini excavator Boleo ZEWEIT X, and 4 tons mini excavator Boleo ZEWEIT R have a tilt bucket for grading and vehicle loading. The adjustable track width strengthens stability on uneven terrain.

What Are Mini Excavators Used For

Ideal For: Light utility work, landscaping, minor demolition

Considerations: Limited reach and capacity for heavy digging

Zero Tail Swing Excavators

Overview: The Kubota U25-3 zero tail swing excavator has tracks that remain within the track width during rotation. These compact revolution capabilities prevent collision damage to surrounding structures.


● Reduced risk of damage to existing structures

● Easy transport between sites

● Smooth combined operations

● Advanced hydraulic system

Ideal For: Urban building sites with space constraints

Wheeled Excavators

A wheeled excavator

Wheeled excavators like the Volvo wheeled excavator offer faster transport speeds between work sites since they can travel directly on roads without needing a trailer. Outriggers improve stability for demands.


With the same horsepower and performance as crawler excavators, Volvo’s wheeled models offer greater flexibility in tight spaces thanks to quicker turning capabilities. The firm has optimized the position of components like pumps and valves to reduce stress when using hydraulic attachments.


● Increased speed and transportability

● Optional outriggers for stability

● Optimized component positions

● Quick change attachments

Ideal For

Roadwork, demolition, confined area digging

Crawler Excavators

A crawler excavator

These are tracked excavators that express better grip on most ground surfaces (gravel or loose dirt). Although slower, they are better suited to scale uneven surfaces and work uneven terrain.


The EC750D model offers industry-leading lift capacity and reach height thanks to reinforced structures. Operators can customize hydraulic power and flow rates to match the output of their work perfectly. The spacious, comfortable cab includes an adjustable seat, ergonomic controls and air conditioning.


● Excellent lifting capacities

● Continuous undercarriage rotation

● Reinforced, sturdy structures

● Customizable hydraulics

Ideal For

Large construction sites, mining, quarrying

Long Reach Excavators

A long reach excavator

With extendable arms reaching up to 100 feet, long-reach excavators like the Hitachi ZX890LCH-6 allow excavation of hard-to-access areas. The foldable arm feature enables easy transport between sites.


The ZX890LCH-6 model offers power and precision with its DIG Plus hydraulic system, maintaining constant fleet pressure. Operators can customize pressure and flow rates for smooth combined operations. The anti-drift system supports perfect arm positions without wavering.


● Extendable 100-foot arm

● DIG Plus customizable hydraulics

● Foldable arm for transport

● Anti-drift lock system

Ideal For

Working over water, demolition projects

Suction Excavators

Vactor suction excavators utilize high-powered vacuums to loosen and extract soil precisely. The hydro excavation causes minimal surface damage, making it ideal for delicate projects.


The Vactor HXX Paradigm features a dynamic digging system that blasts away materials with a highly pressurized water jet. The loosened debris enters a suction tube flowing at 200 mph toward debris bodies as large as 42 cubic yards.


● Minimum surface damage

● Precision soil extraction

● Large debris capacity

● Watertight waste containment

Ideal For

Underground utility and delicate digging projects

Dragline Excavators

Giant heavy-duty diggers like Hitachi’s EX8000-7 dragline excavators utilize rope hoist buckets to extract tons of earth. With digging depths exceeding 200 feet, they are built for major mining and civil projects.


The 370+ ton EX8000-7 is powered by dual engines generating over 5000 horsepower combined. Dragline functionality allows 360-degree slewing for optimized project progression. Operators enjoy a spacious, ergonomic cab with customized joysticks.


● Massive digging capacity

● 5000+ horsepower

● Slewing superstructure

● Joystick controls

Ideal For

Surface mining, underground mining, canal dredging


How Many Types Of Excavators Are There?

While options seem endless, excavators mainly fall into several categories:

Crawler (standard), Wheeled, Compact (mini), Long reach, Dragline, Suction (vacuum), And more niche styles like cranes or shovels

What Are The Different Types Of Excavators?

The most common excavator types are:

Crawler – all-purpose, track wheels;

Wheeled – faster with road travel ability;

compact – smaller yet powerful;

Long Reach – extended arms for hard-to-reach spots;

suction – precise, delicate digging;

Dragline – heavy-duty with rope buckets

What Type Of Excavator Is Best For My Project?

Matching your excavator type to the intended application is vital:

Tight spaces: Compact zero tail swing, Frequent road use: Wheeled with outriggers, Heavy-duty digging: Large crawler or dragline, Hard-to-reach areas: Long reach boom, Underground utilities: Suction vacuum, Canals/Strip mines: Large Dragline

Carefully assess the site conditions and project scope before selecting an excavator.

How Do I Transport An Excavator Between Sites?

Crawler excavators usually require a trailer for transport, while wheeled models can drive directly between sites. For long-reach excavators, folding up the arm enables easy transportation.

What Safety Measures Should I Take When Operating An Excavator?

Always wear personal protective equipment, follow manufacturer operation guidelines, never overload the excavator, ensure the surrounding area is clear of people and objects, and use trained spotters when vision is obstructed.


With such a vast range of excavator sizes, designs, and capabilities, contractors must select the suitable machine for the unique requirements of every construction or demolition job site.

The optimal excavator depends on considerations like the project scope, site access, terrain type, required attachments, and operator skill level.

By understanding key features and ideal applications for compact hydraulic excavators, crawler excavators, long-reach excavators, and heavy-duty suction and dragline models, contractors can improve job site safety, efficiency and productivity through their equipment investments.

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