5HP Max Depth 600mm farm trencher

How to Choose the Right Tools for Digging a Trench

5HP Max Depth 600mm farm trencher

For a project that requires digging a trench, such as a backyard development, laying irrigation pipes, or installing underground cables, its fruition depends on selecting the right tools for the job. With so many options out there, how can you choose the right trench digger?

This guide aims to explain how to choose the right tools for digging a trench and the different types of tools available in the market. 

Trenching equipment market size

A mini trench digger machine

Market experts estimated the global trencher market to be worth USD 390.2 million in 2022 and expect the size to surpass USD 513.8 million by 2030. It will grow at a 3.5% CAGR rate over the 2023-2030 forecast period.

Drivers for the growth of the trencher market erupt from a huge demand for this equipment to build roads, highways, and railway lines. The demand will further explode over the coming years because of urbanization and the rising global population, which requires new infrastructure projects.

Types of trenching tools

1. Manual trenching tools

When breaking ground on a trenching project, manual tools are necessary for any serious digger. Shovels, picks, and pry bars allow users to dig narrow and shallow trenches with control and precision.


BS512 Metal shovel with steel handle

A shovel with a pointed blade and a handle is perfect for cutting into the soil. Scoop shovels are great for moving loose soil, while spade shovels have a sharp edge for cutting into packed earth. Opt for a pick-ax shovel for rocky or clay soils that can easily break through tough material.


A folding shovel with pick

Picks with a pointed tip are ideal for breaking up compacted, stony ground. They require more effort than shovels but are necessary for digging in rocky areas. Some picks even have a pointed tip on one end and a chisel tip on the other, giving users options for different kinds of soil.


Prybar isolated on a white background

Pry bars, also called digging bars or trenching bars, have a wedge-shaped tip and long handle to provide leverage. They are perfect for loosening packed soil, prying out rocks and debris, and maneuvering obstacles. Hand trench diggers with a tempered steel head and a handle over 3 feet long make work feel effortless.

2. Powered trenchers

Powered trenchers are heavy-duty tools designed for efficient and high-volume work when digging trenches. There are three main types: walk-behind trenchers, tow-behind trenchers, and skid steer trencher attachments.

Walk-behind trenches

walk-behind trencher in dark background

Walk-behind trenchers are self-propelled units that users guide as they walk behind them. The small trench-digging machine is a good choice when digging in tight or confined areas where maneuverability is key. Some offer optional attachments like backhoes or bulldozer blades to help move soil and debris.

Tow-behind trenches

Tow behind trencher on a tractor

Tow-behind trenchers are trench-digging equipment that attach to the back of a tractor, ATV, or utility vehicle and are towed to excavate long trenches. They can dig wider and deeper trenches than walk-behind trenchers, up to 36 inches wide and 8 feet deep. 

Some tow-behind trenchers come with hydraulic controls, allowing the user to adjust the digging angle and depth from the towing vehicle. These ditch-digging tools are a great option if there is a lot of ground to cover.

Skid Steer Trencher Attachments

Skid steer for digging a trench

A skid steer trencher attachment can turn it into a powerful trench hole digger if one already owns a skid steer loader. These hydraulic attachments feature a toothed digging wheel on an arm that attaches to the skid steer’s quick coupler. 

Depending on the model, they can excavate trenches up to 48 inches wide and 10 feet deep. Skid steer trenchers allow users to take advantage of the power and maneuverability of their loader to dig trenches with speed and precision.

How to choose the right tools for digging a trench

1. Size and scope of the trench-digging project

Heavy machine trench digger for drainage pipes

Will the trench diggers be used to put in a small sprinkler system or dig a foundation for an addition? The larger and deeper the trench, the more powerful tools are needed.

For small jobs under 2 feet deep, a shovel, trowel, and garden spade should work fine. A pointed shovel for initially breaking ground and scooping out dirt, a spade for digging narrow trenches, and a trowel for smoothing edges and corners. These manual hand trenching tools are inexpensive but require much work for big projects.

Power tools will make the work much faster if digging a trench over 2 feet deep or 100 feet long. Walk behind models with an auger can dig trenches up to 3 feet deep. These are great for sprinkler or drainage systems.

A skid load steer tool is useful when moving large amounts of dirt and digging deeper trenches. However, trenching attachments are required to do the actual digging.

For major projects, an excavator suits the job. A full-sized excavator can quickly dig very large, deep trenches. It is not a DIY tool for most homeowners but can be rented. Investing in power tools for digging trenches is often well worth the time and effort saved.

2. Price

Compact models, suitable for residential use, typically range from US$2,000 to US$10,000. Heavy-duty mechanical diggers designed for commercial use often start at around US$50,000. Of course, more powerful models with additional features like extendable arms or interchangeable attachments will cost up to US$100,000 or more.

3. Soil type and hardness

Skid steer trench attachment in a factory

The type of soil and how compact it is will determine what kind of trench digger will work best.

A trench digger with a broader blade, like a backhoe or walk-behind trencher, would work well for loose, sandy soil or soil with a lot of clay and rocks. The wider blade can scoop up more soil in one pass, moving the job along faster. In extraordinarily rocky or uneven terrain, a mini excavator may be needed to dig around obstacles carefully.

A standard walk-behind trencher with a narrower blade can create a clean trench in dirt or loam soil. The spinning teeth on the chain can quickly and efficiently chew through the soil. A manual trench digger may suffice for small tasks in compacted dirt. An auger attached to a power drill can also bore narrow holes in the ground.

4. Suitability

When selecting a trench digger, it’s essential to consider the tool’s suitability for the specific job. The trench’s geographical appropriateness, depth, width, and available space determine which trench digger will work best.

For instance, a basic shovel will suit shallow trenches in a small residential backyard. However, a more robust trenching shovel or a mechanical digger in mining and construction sites will be better suited to cut through and remove the rigid soil. Mechanical trenchers equipped with augers or chain attachments are ideal for most projects, as their powerful motors can churn through dirt efficiently.

An all-purpose trenching shovel or a small walk-behind trencher suits light residential digging for typical utility lines or drainage pipe installation. However, for extensive trenching in commercial applications or on large properties, a ride-on trencher will likely be necessary to handle the increased workload while minimizing physical strain.

5. Speed

Tractor with trench digger in snow

When choosing a trench digger, speed is an important factor depending on the project’s scope. A compact trench digger will work efficiently without excess power for small jobs like installing sprinkler systems or digging utility lines.

However, a more robust model will save time and labor for large agricultural, construction, or landscaping projects. Trench diggers come in a range of sizes for both residential and commercial use. More sturdy models with 10 to 30 horsepower can dig at speeds up to 9 feet per minute, allowing workers to complete hundreds of feet of trench in an hour.

While powerful trench diggers speed up an excavation, they require experienced operators to handle their size and torque. A compact trench digger with 3 to 8 horsepower is ideal for most homeowners and small contractors. These lighter models can achieve digging speeds of 3 to 5 feet per minute, quickly completing a small trenching job. 


This guide provides the lowdown on picking the tools needed to dig a trench. Whether laying some irrigation pipes, installing a fence, or doing major landscaping, they have the knowledge to choose wisely. Head to Alibaba.com and shop for the best tools for digging a trench today.





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