The five best practices to keep trenchers from digging deep into your budget.


When faced with the cost of new digging equipment, contractors often look to extend the life of existing equipment in an attempt to get as much use as possible before replacing them.
For trencher chains and their components, some of the best advice from industry professionals to extend equipment life is to be diligent with regular maintenance. As such, the following five tips suggest ways to ensure your equipment will always be in its best condition when you need it.

Know your soil

As with many construction-related projects, success is all about using the right tool for the job. For digging trenches, it’s no different. One of the most important things to know is the kind of soil you’ll be digging into, and use the correct trencher and chain for that specific job.

Chapman Hancock, product manager, parts and productivity tools at Ditch Witch, located in Perry, Oklahoma, points out you need to know the soil and ground conditions before choosing a trencher and chain. “This way you’ll choose the right one for the job, which extends the life of both. If you use an improper chain and teeth, you have the potential to vibrate the trencher enough to speed up wear and tear on it, requiring maintenance or replacement sooner than if you chose the proper chain from the start.”

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He goes on to stress the importance of knowing the soil as an integral part of trencher and chain maintenance. “Matching the components of the digging system to the soil conditions allows you to get the most efficient cut, and ensures you’re using the right tool for the job at hand.”

Watch your tension

As a second step to protect against early wear on equipment, chain tension is also extremely important to extending the life of chains.

“The No. 1 thing people are doing wrong is not having the chain tensioned properly. Proper tension guarantees you get the most use and life out of the chain, so when it’s not done right, you shorten the life of the chain,” says Al Chancellor, marketing manager at Underground Tools Inc. (UTi), located in Lino Lakes, Minnesota.

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Hancock agrees, “Chain tension is key, and it needs to be correct at all times. It really should be checked at least twice a day — at the beginning of the shift and at the end.” He adds that chain tension plays an important role in how the machine operates as a whole, and correct tension can also ultimately prevent lost time and productivity on a job.

Replace parts together

For some types of machinery, parts can be replaced individually as needed, and this applies to trenchers as well. However, by replacing only the chain and not the other components, you really do yourself a disservice, which will end up costing more in the long run.

Chancellor explains, “I tell people all the time, if you’re going to replace the chain, make sure you replace the drive sprocket at the same time. Because if you have a new chain with an old sprocket, they will work against each other, and really accelerate the wear on the rollers. Then you might have to deal with lost time as you replace things internally that will also be affected.”

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Ditch Witch’s Hancock agrees, “If up to 40 percent or 50 percent of the teeth are worn down, replace all the teeth, but make sure you replace all the sprockets at the same time or you’ll regret it later.”

Conduct regular maintenance

Along with keeping a watchful eye on worn-down teeth and chain tension, companies should also maintain regular cleanings of trenchers and chains as another way to extend the life of the equipment. This regular maintenance should include a visual inspection for any broken cutters or loose nuts and bolts, as well as a close-up inspection of the bottom of the chain to make sure it isn’t wearing too close to other parts of equipment.

Chancellor recommends that end-of-day cleaning should be done without hesitation, which will make the next day’s use easier than if the chain wasn’t cleaned — particularly for certain types of soil and what they leave behind.

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“Some moist soils, when not cleaned off right away at the end of the day, can dry almost like cement. What I like to recommend is that users put the boom at a 90-degree angle and spin the chain for a few minutes. This will spin off a lot of that moist soil before it has a chance to dry, and then you can clean the rest of the chain much easier with less debris on it,” he says.

Keep your manual

Industry professionals agree that most questions about use and maintenance can be answered in the owner’s manual for any trencher or chain, which makes it even more important not to throw it away or lose it among files and papers. When necessary, having the specs, usage details and troubleshooting answers can prove invaluable as a preventative measure to downtime and crew productivity levels.

“Many people only keep their operator’s manual for a short time after buying a piece of machinery, when they really should keep it for as long as they own the equipment,” Hancock says.

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“You never know when you’ll need to refer to the specs that were originally intended for its use or maintenance, which could end up being very costly if not followed as directed in the manual.”

By remembering to keep the operator’s manual as a handy reference, companies decrease their downtime by not having to replace the equipment. This increases the life of the equipment as well as their bottom line, which further validates the cost of the original investment.


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