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How to Choose the Best Mini Excavator For Your Next Project

Insight - 67 Min read

June 13, 2024

The excavator is a piece of heavy operating equipment that comes in a broad range of sizes.

Common excavator sizes include:

Mini excavator or compact excavator (range 5,000 to 14,000 pounds)

A smaller excavator is best used for jobs in tight spaces or that require a lighter machine. This makes them the easiest to transport between job sites and offer the best fuel efficiency. Compact excavators are commonly used for driveway or landscaping projects.

Komatsu Mini Excavator

Medium-rated excavator or mid-sized excavator (range 14,000 to 90,000 pounds)

Standard excavators are used when power comes into play. These excavators can break into harder surfaces such as thick concrete foundations.

Large frame excavator (range 90,000+ pounds)

Large excavators are intended for major industrial projects such as mining. These are intensely powerful machines, but can difficult to transport and store if you intend to move the equipment frequently. These are also the least economical excavator option, particularly as it relates to fuel consumption.

Transporting Cat Excavator by Trailer

Important Mini Excavator Specs

In deciding between compact construction equipment versus standard excavators, you will want to consider the following important factors:

  • Frame size

  • Operating weight

  • Maximum digging depth

  • Maximum dump height

  • Bucket breakout force

  • Tail swing

Let's explore what these metrics mean, and then we can run through the top mini excavator brands and best mini excavator models.

Size Dimensions

First, compare the mini excavator size to that of the construction site you will be working within. Will it fit when being used in the direction or angle you need to complete the project?

Operating Weight

Operating weight means the total weight of the mini excavator when fuel, attachments, and the human heavy equipment operator's weight are each accounted for. Ask: is this machine too heavy? Will it damage utilities or the terrain underneath?

2022 Bobcat E35i Compact Excavator

Maximum Dig Depth

Maximum dig depth means exactly what it sounds like. Max digging depth is the furthest into the earth the mini excavator can reach. How deep does your mini excavator need to dig without tipping?

As part of this consideration, you will also want to factor in the maximum vertical dig depth. This means how far deep the machine can dig a vertical wall without endangering the operator.

Maximum Dump Height

Max dump height measures how high the mini excavator's arm can extend and empty a full load without tipping. This requires comparing the max dump height to the height of the truck or surface materials will be dumped into or onto.

Bucket Breakout Force

Bucket digging force or breakout force is the amount of power a mini excavator can exert against the material it is digging into. Breaking into dense, solid materials such as concrete will require a greater breakout force than working with loose soil or gravel.

Tail Swing Configuration

Tail swing design can come in zero tail swing or conventional tail swing. The mini excavator market is primarily comprised of zero tail swing excavators. That means they can rotate over the undercarriage width as compared to their conventional tail counterparts, which include a counterweight that extends beyond the machine's undercarriage width.

The advantage to zero tail swing configuration found in compact models is greater maneuverability in small spaces. That is why a reduced tail swing design can be found on most compact models.

Orange Doosan Excavator with Front Shovel Bucket

Now that we understand the most important factors to consider when choosing between compact models and traditional excavators, let's take a quick look at the considerations that apply to selecting all types of construction equipment.

Pro Tip: How to Become A Heavy Equipment Operator

Factors to Consider in Choosing Any Construction Equipment

The best mini excavator features overlap with many of the most important considerations for any piece of heavy duty construction equipment.

The best construction equipment often comes down to asking yourself:

  1. Was it made by a reputable manufacturer?

  2. Is the price appropriate for the benefits to be gained by its typical project?

  3. How much does fuel consumption costs regularly add to the expense?

  4. Is this construction equipment compatible with the right attachments?

  5. Does the machine's hydraulic power provide high enough capacity to carry heavy loads?

  6. Does this equipment have sufficient engine speed?

  7. Is the cab a type that allows the operator to maneuver the machine as needed?

  8. Do you prefer fuel-powered or electric mini excavators?

Reputable Mini Excavator Brands

The top mini excavator brands -- you won't be shocked to find -- are built on the same high-performance reputations for making construction equipment of all types.

The first mini excavator ever made was the Takeuchi TB1000. This mini excavator was made in Sakaki Japan in 1971 and was designed with the digging depth required for home foundations. Compact excavators have evolved greatly since 1971.

7 of the best mini excavator brands in 2023 include:

  • John Deere

  • Kubota

  • Yanmar

  • Sany

  • Bobcat

  • Komatsu

  • Caterpillar

  • Wacker Neuson

John Deere mini excavators

Compact John Deere excavators range between 3,800 and 13,500 pounds and maximum dig depth of 7 to 12 feet.

One of John Deere's most popular compact excavators is the 2018 John Deere 25G Excavator.

Kubota Mini Excavators

Kubota's smallest mini excavator is the Kubota K008-5 which weighs in at 2,315 pounds with a 5' 8" max digging depth. The Kubota U Series and Kubota K Series compact excavators are some of the best mini excavators on the market today. The difference between these series generally comes down to the compact machines' zero tail swing configuration or reduced tail swing design.

One such model that has established Kubota's reputation as a top-ranked mini excavator brand is the 2017 Kubota KX080, which is one of the excavator brand's largest mini excavators.

Yanmar Mini Excavators

The smallest Yanmar mini excavator, the ViO10-2A Yanmar excavator model, weighs a mere 2,700 pounds with a maximum dig depth of slightly over 6 feet deep.

Sany Mini Excavators

A Sany mini excavator, even a used Sany mini excavator, will typically come at a higher price point due to its high-quality construction inside and out.

Sany's smallest mini excavator is the Sany SY19E Electric Mini Excavator, which has an operating weight of 3,900 pounds and maximum dig depth of approximately 7 1/2 feet.

One of the best mini excavator models that Sany has to offer is the 2020 Sany S795 Mini Excavator.

Bobcat Mini Excavators

The most "mini" of Bobcat compact excavators is the R-Series Bobcat E10 Mini Excavator. This mini excavator weighs in at 2,593 pounds with a maximum dig depth of 6 feet.

The 2017 Bobcat E50 Excavator is one of the most compact Bobcat models sold as a used mini excavator here at Boom and Bucket.

Komatsu Mini Excavators

The smallest excavators Komatsu offers has an operating weight of 6,812 pounds, making it one of the largest mini excavator brands.

The popular 2018 Komatsu PC8US-10 small excavator weighs approximately 18,000 pounds. Komatsu's compact excavators balance size with power for a versatile machine.

Caterpillar Mini Excavators

These mini hydraulic excavators weigh between 2,200 pounds and 20,000 pounds.

One of Caterpillar's most powerful mini excavators is the 2019 Caterpillar 308CR mini excavator model that comes in on the high end of this weight range at 20,000 pounds.

Wacker Neuson Mini Excavators

The smallest Wacker Neuson zero tail excavator today has an operating weight of approximately 5,412 pounds and a maximum digging depth of 9 feet. This is the 2023 Wacker Neuson EZ26 Zero Tail Excavator.

Wacker Neuson produces a wide range of compact excavators that vary in price point. A particularly popular Wacker Neuson model is the Wacker Neuson EZ38 mini excavator.

Calculating Costs of Mini Excavator Purchase

The Cost-Benefit Analysis When Buying Mini Excavators

The key idea here is to measure the cost to operate, maintain, store, and transport your equipment against the profit to be gained by its use.

Important considerations here include such expenses as:

  • Fuel and engine oil costs

  • Electric charging if you do decide against a diesel engine

  • Cost to transport the excavator from Point A to Point B, and how frequently it will be transported

  • How much storage space does the machine require and what that costs

  • Level of wear and tear it will take and the resulting maintenance costs

  • The type and number of attachments the job requires

These expenses can vary widely between small and medium scale projects such as repairing sewer lines compared to large-frame industrial excavators that are used as agricultural machinery or taking on massive mining projects.

Mini Excavator Attachments

There are hundreds of options to choose from when it comes to excavator attachments. Many are hydraulically driven attachments that level up a smaller excavator with more hydraulic power.

A few of the most commonly used attachments for compact excavators are:

  • Hydraulic breakers

  • Heavy-duty buckets

  • Grapples

  • Brush cutters and tree shears

  • Pulverizers for demolition

  • Hydraulic compactors

  • Hydraulic thumbs or weld-on thumbs

  • Rippers

  • Backfill blade

  • Standard hydraulic quick couplers

  • Long-reach arms

When purchasing attachments for mini excavators, it is important to review the manufacturer's guidance as to maximum operating weight so as not to cause your machine to reach its tipping point and put yourself and your team members at risk of injury.

It is also important to factor in any additional dimensions when working in tight spaces as is typically the type of job site most mini excavators must function in.

A Mini Excavator's Hydraulic Power and Engine Speed

The engine and the hydraulic system that powers an excavator are two of the most important features of any sized excavator.

To oversimply how these operate: the engine powers the hydraulic pump, which turns mechanical force into liquid force that allows for strong, agile movement.

High-performance engines and hydraulic systems are the reason most of the manufacturers listed above have been ranked as a top excavator brand.

Auxiliary hydraulics -- many of which appear in the section on mini excavator attachments above -- can be connected to this energy powerhouse using an auxiliary hydraulic kit.

Most hydraulic systems are powered by diesel engine. However, today we are witnessing an uptick in electric mini excavator options.

Mini Excavator Cab Models

An important feature that is often overlooked when browsing mini excavators online is the fit, feel, and function of the cab.

The right mini excavator will offer a cab that has intuitive operating system placement, that keeps the heavy equipment operator safe, and provides a comfortable seat. If the cab design leaves the operator frustrated and in a constant state of discomfort they will take more frequent breaks and prolong the project (which often means increased expenses).

The three main excavator cab types are:

  1. Open-top cab

  2. Enclosed cab

  3. Cab-over

Open-top mini excavator brands are most popular because they give the operator the fullest range of visibility.

Another consideration that ties into the excavator's hydraulic system is whether the project requires a fully tilting cab.

Mini Excavator Tracks

Here you have the choice between rubber tracks and steel tracks. The tracks are the part of the mini excavator that crawls across the surface.

Steel tracks are typically preferred for getting good traction on loose surfaces.

Rubber tracks are commonly used when a job site requires that the machine leaves little to no sign of impact.

John Deere Trusted Compact Excavator

Putting the Pieces Together

Let's look at a simple example. My team is currently taking on two projects 30 miles apart. One requires grading a site for upcoming construction, the other project requires digging for an in-ground pool.

At first glance we can see that:

  1. The mini excavator must be strong enough to demolish and grade a job site.

  2. The mini excavator must be delicate and small enough to maneuver through a property owner's yard.

  3. The small excavator must have a maximum dig depth at least the depth of the homeowner's desired pool size. The average inground pool is 8 feet deep.

  4. The cost to transport the mini excavator between the two projects shouldn't outweigh the profit to be made on tackling them. Let's assume my team has its own transport trailer and owned equipment lot for storage, so we only need to factor in fuel costs.

  5. The mini excavator needs to function safely with the attachments each job requires, and have the hydraulic power to work with auxiliary hydraulics.

Construction Equipment Operating

From this analysis, I would select:

  • A manufacturer with a strong brand reputation in crafting and powering a compact excavator (perhaps a Kubota excavator for its mid-range mini excavator sizes or Bobcat mini excavators)

  • A machine designed for precise control in small spaces

  • A middle-weight compact excavator with low-impact rubber tracks and zero tail swing

  • Versatile compatibility with backfill blade, hydraulic thumbs, brush cutters, and the necessary demolition attachments

  • A hydraulic system that is sufficient to make hydraulic attachments operate at their best

  • A maximum dig depth and maximum vertical dig depth that safely allows the operator to dig more than 8 feet deep

The right mini excavator for this job site combination and similar projects in tight spaces down the line could be the 2018 Kubota KX033-4 mini excavator. This machine has a mid-range operating weight of about 7,000 pounds, a maximum dig depth of approximately 10 feet, an enclosed cab with full-functioning heat and A/C, as well as blade, bucket, hydraulic thumb, quick coupler controls and pilot controls.

Ultimately, the best mini excavator brand, make, and model will come down to your most common applications--the types of projects you and your team tackle most frequently. It is best to opt for compact machines like mini excavators when working in tight spaces.

If you're looking for a used mini excavator, or other heavy equipment for your next job, you've come to the right place. Here at Boom and Bucket, our mission is to be the most trusted digital dealer for all things heavy equipment including mini excavators.

We earn that trust through transparency, fairness, and guarantees backed by world-class technology and outstanding customer service. Follow us at @boomandbucket or contact us at boomandbucket.com.

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