Digging Deep: Understanding Trenchers & Their Uses

Digging Deep: Understanding Trenchers & Their Uses

Whether you’re working on a home extension or landscaping project - when a construction job calls for the transportation of large amounts of earth, chances are you’ll need the help of a trencher to get the job done. There are several different types of trencher, as well as many tasks that they can be used to complete. 

If you’re wondering whether a trencher is the right piece of machinery for your project, in this blog we’ll take you through the main types of trencher available and the variety of jobs they’re most suitable for to give you a better idea. 

What is a Trencher?

Trenchers are heavy-duty pieces of machinery designed for moving earth. No matter what specific type of trencher you choose to work with, they are all pretty much made up of the same basic components. 

Trenchers typically consist of a metal chain with teeth made of strong steel. These teeth allow the machine to tear into the ground, lifting and moving large amounts of earth as it travels. Because of its sheer size and strength, trenchers are capable of tearing through heavy tree root systems and densely packed earth. 

Now, you might be thinking that trenchers sound an awful lot like excavators, and you’d be right to an extent. However, the key difference between these two types of machinery is the kind of ditches they create: 

  • Excavators produce ditches that are significantly wider at the top than the bottom, leaving you with a lot of backfill to deal with afterwards. 
  • Trenchers do exactly as their name suggests: they dig clean trenches with a flat bottom and smooth walls. 

Because of this difference, trenchers are more beneficial for digging trenches that are smooth and straight, while excavators are a little more versatile. Having said that, trenchers allow you to work much quicker and more efficiently. 

Common Types of Trenchers

Trenchers are typically told apart by how they are operated. For example, walk-behind trenchers (or portable trenchers), give you the opportunity to dig trenches easily in narrow spaces. Ride-on trenchers, on the other hand, provide higher performance and cover greater digging depths when compared to walk-behind varieties. Within these two key operation styles, there are several types of trenching tools available, including: 

  • Chain trenchers: With a chainsaw-like design, chain trenchers use a digging belt or chain to cut into the ground. Due to their flexibility, chain trenchers can cut narrow and deep trenches for utility companies. 
  • Wheel trenchers: Also known as rockwheels, wheel trenchers have a toothed metal wheel that you can use for hard or soft soils. Wheel trenchers work best in areas where there are many rock formations. 
  • Micro trenchers: As the name suggests, micro trenchers are used for digging “micro trenches” - which have dimensions significantly smaller than those cut by conventional trenches - ranging from 0.5 to 2 inches wide and around 2 feet in depth. They are fitted with a small cutting wheel designed to dig these small, narrow trenches.

What is a Trencher Used For?

While the basic primary function of a trencher is to shift earth and create a smooth trench, there are lots of reasons why this might happen. As such, different situations call for different kinds of trenchers to get the job done.

Cutting Pavement

If you need to cut through rock, concrete or pavement, a wheel trencher is likely going to be your best bet. As well as hard or soft soils, the toothed metal wheel on this type of trencher is also capable of cutting through rock and concrete. Wheel trenchers also allow you to push excavated materials to the side using spacers and ejectors. This makes them ideal for road repairs and excavation. 

Similarly, micro trenchers are most often used in urban settings to reduce traffic disturbances while creating mini trenches for laying fibre optic cables. 

Creating Drainage

If you need to dig a drainage trench to manage water or sewage runoff, a chain trencher can get the job done quickly and efficiently. Chain trenchers are typically portable and best for cutting trenches between 12 and 36 inches deep. They allow you to remove smaller amounts of earth for running irrigation lines underground; the belt wraps around a metal frame, otherwise known as a boom, which can be easily adjusted to control the depth of the cut.

Digging for Electrical Wires

Chain trenchers allow you to dig a trench for installing electrical cables or telecom wires. The trencher’s conveyor belt removes the excavated materials, which means you’ll spend far less time working on the trench itself and more on the actual installation process itself. 

Piping Work

Much like using a trencher to create an underground pathway for your electrical or telecom wires, chain trenchers can also be used to dig a space for water and sewage pipes. The key in this instance is to dig a deep enough trench to protect the pipes - as well as anyone who may try to reach them. 


Small walk-behind trenchers are ideal for digging trenches that are just 3 to 4 inches deep. As such, if you’re working on a home improvement or landscaping project that calls for some intense digging work, purchasing a walk-behind trencher is sure to be money well spent. 

Snipping Roots

Dealing with thick tree roots can be just as challenging as trying to cut through rock, concrete and pavement. Fortunately, portable trenchers have a blade on the end that allows them to function a lot like a lawnmower rotary blade, allowing you to slice through roots with relative ease. If you encounter roots while working the soil, hold the trenchers’ chain blade in place as the blade spins, then slowly inch the blade forward and let it cut through the roots. 

Additional Safety Tips

While trenchers are typically very safe and easy to use, like all heavy-duty machinery you should always take following precautions whilst operating:

  • Contact local utility companies: Before you start digging up the ground, you should contact local utility companies to determine if the area is safe for digging, and mark the utility line locations to avoid accidents or fines. 
  • Choose the right trencher: You should take care to select the right type of trencher to use for your project. For instance, while rockwheels are designed to cut through rock, using other kinds of trenchers around rock-prone areas may damage the equipment. 
  • Establish clear safety boundaries: To avoid injuries and heighten safety practices on the worksite, install access and exit points for workers entering and exiting the trenches, install safety signs and have workers build protective systems to avoid cave-ins. 

Buy Trenchers & More with Rock Machinery

No matter what type of heavy-duty machinery you’re looking to purchase, Rock Machinery should be your one-stop shop. For trenchers, we supply the RT600 13hp Trencher - a high-quality piece of kit. Weighing 184 kg, this beast of a machine is powered by a Briggs and Stratton XR2100 professional engine can dig to depth up to 600mm with ease, making it perfect for laying cables, field drainage and much more.

Alongside trenchers, we supply everything from diggers to earth augers and mini excavators. Not sure what equipment you need for your project? Our expert team will be able to guide you through our extensive range and point you in the right direction. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today!