In this article we will explore the technical and design differences between the excavator and backhoe, and we will also explore a more important aspect – which machine is suited for which kind of job? Ultimately that is where one truly understands the difference between these two very vital pieces of heavy equipment.

Hydraulic Excavators are considered heavy construction equipment consisting of a boom or stick, with an attachment on the end, typically a bucket, and cab on a rotating platform, often known as the house. The house sits atop an undercarriage, often known as a swivel, with tracks or wheels. The excavator moves and functions based on a system of hydraulic fluid moving through hydraulic cylinders and hydraulic motors. Due to the use of hydraulic cylinders, their mode of operation is fundamentally different from older cable-operated excavators which used winches and steel ropes to accomplish the same movements and operation.

Modern hydraulic excavators come in a wide variety of sizes. The smaller ones are called mini-excavators and compact excavators. Opinions on weight categories tend to vary. At Solaris Attachments we typically classify mini-excavators from the smallest we know of: The CAT 300.9D, a 2,060 lb (930 kg) micro machine all the way to 14,000 lbs. (6.35 metric tons). Next come mid-sized excavators, also known as midi-excavators, typically 14,000 lbs. (6.35 metric tons) to 90,000 lbs. (41 metric tons). While mini excavators are most commonly used on small residential or public works projects, midi-excavators are popular in the construction business where there is a greater need for larger equipment. These higher-capacity machines are able to damage roads and sidewalks with their larger sizes and weights but are best for most construction and industrial applications. Large excavators weigh more than 90,000 lbs. and are usually used in industrial and mining applications. With the increased size comes a huge price-tag and a challenge in transporting the machine to the jobsite. However, the payoff comes in the form of massive power and capacity. The largest model is the largest excavator available was first developed and produced by the Orenstein & Koppel, Germany, until the takeover 2011 by Caterpillar, named “RH400”), now the CAT 6090, which weighs over 2,160,510 pounds (980 metric tons).

Backhoes are construction machines with a loader on one end and a boom, stick and bucket on the other end for excavating dirt. Backhoes are wheeled machines that are designed to be nimble and quick, often able to get into hard-to-reach areas that excavators may not have access to. The backhoe operator sits on a seat that swivels from the excavator side to the loader side. Unlike an actual excavator where the entire chassis swivels 360 degrees, the backhoe only allows the seat to swivel around inside the cab. A backhoe almost always features a boom that can rotate from side-to-side as well as up and down. In contrast, very few excavators feature a side-to-side motion (known as excavators with knuckle-booms). Backhoes can also exchange the bucket with other attachments at the end of the boom. More often, backhoes offer much more auxiliary hydraulic power at the end of the boom than an excavator because the backhoe, unlike a hydraulic excavator, is propelled by an internal combustion engine and can reserve most of its hydraulic power for digging, loading and the occasional other attachment like a log splitter, mower or other attachment that requires higher hydraulic flow. Backhoes are great for situations where the machine is required to quickly move from one place to another to efficiently finish a job that requires digging and loading. Backhoes are also offered in a few different sizes, although nowhere near the variety of sizes offered by excavators. Backhoe attachments are very popular, particularly among farmers with tractors. Lastly, nowadays backhoe attachments are offered even for skid steers to attach to their universal quick-attach plates – something that is gaining increasing popularity among skid steer owners.