What is an Excavator?

Carol Francois

An excavator is a construction vehicle used to dig or move large objects. It is made up of two parts: a driving base and a powerful boom arm with an attachment designed for digging. The operator sits inside a small cab attached to the base and controls the arm.

An excavator is used for digging or moving large objects.
An excavator is used for digging or moving large objects.

The base has two sets of articulating tracks that are attached to the side of the excavator. The tracks operate like wheels to move the unit, but provide a larger surface area that creates in a more stable base for the machine. On top of the base is a platform that rotates between 180° and 360°.

Excavator operators must be licensed and certified.
Excavator operators must be licensed and certified.

The operator sits inside the cab and has two sets of controls. One set moves the actual unit forward and backward, and the other set moves the unit on the horizontal plan and controls the arm. These controls determine the angle and speed of the movements of the arm and bucket along the vertical axis.

An excavator is designed for use on construction sites and is quite expensive to purchase. Many smaller construction companies lease or rent these units to avoid the expensive overhead costs. The lease and rental rates vary, depending on the length of the contract, the location, and the volume of business with the leasing firm. The more equipment that a company leases or rents from the same firm, the better the pricing will be.

All operators are required to obtain a license for the safe operation of this machine. Failure to obtain this qualification can result in a construction site being closed by the workplace health and safety inspector until a valid certificate holder is available to operate the equipment. In addition, many insurance policies are void if the equipment is not operated by a properly licensed operator.

Excavators come in a wide range of sizes and capacities, and the heavier the unit, the greater the lift capacity will be. Some are small enough to fit through a standard doorway, while others are much larger. The most important factor for a person to consider when looking at smaller excavators is the amount of workgroup movement. The greater the degree of movement, the more flexibility he or she will have to work.

When selecting an excavator for purchase or rental, the construction worker should carefully consider the work that he or she plans to do with it. He or she should make sure that the weight capability is large enough to safely accommodate his or her requirements. The person should also explore the different accessories and hydraulic systems in place to find one that will work best for him or her.

The bucket of an excavator, which is attached to the end of its boom, or 'arm', is used to dislodge and move earth.
The bucket of an excavator, which is attached to the end of its boom, or 'arm', is used to dislodge and move earth.

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Discussion Comments


@irontoenail - You have to pick your moments though. Unfortunately, even the smallest excavator is going to have a relatively big impact on your land, so if you've got a heavily planted area and you want to make a pond in the middle of it, you aren't likely to be able to get even a mini excavator in to dig, unless you want to be replanting after it's gone.

There are different levels of machinery and tools that can be used for every job. If you've got something you want done, and aren't quite sure what the best option is, it's a good idea to go and get the advice of a professional landscaper.


It can really be worth getting in an excavator if you're starting a big project at home. When I was a kid my father was really into trying to develop our property by ourselves and we would often find ourselves doing things like digging out an area for the swimming pool. Not only was it really hard, dirty work (not necessarily a bad thing for kids to some extent) but it took a long time.

When we decided we wanted to create a small lake in a boggy area of our land, dad decided the best option to get it done faster was to get a mini excavator in as a rental.

In about two hours they cleared more land than we could have in weeks. It was really awesome and not nearly as expensive as you might expect. It's definitely something you'll want to consider, even if you are into trying to get things done by yourself.

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