Trench Construction with an Excavator

This Article Includes

  • Trenching With an Excavator 101
  • Long Reach Excavator Attachments by HAWK

Trenching With An Excavator 101


A trench, which typically refers to a narrow excavation 30 feet wide or less, requires a combination of the right technology, techniques, and safety measures to serve its purpose. The most important factors in the trenching process are the competence of the person forming the trench and the equipment they use. Competence is only achieved after the individual responsible for the trench understands:

  • How the soil is classified and its attributes
  • How to employ safety measures for themselves and others
  • Local requirements around safety and operational regulations

Safety Steps

To prepare for a trenching project, you need to ensure that ways of access and egress are provided using ladders, steps, ramps, or a combination of safe methods of getting in and out of the trench. To enable efficient navigation across the trench, ramps should have guardrails to prevent workers and visitors from having accidents.

Materials that need to be accessed by the equipment need to be placed a sufficient distance from the edge of the trench. This prevents vehicles from rolling or people from slipping into your trench.


Trenching Basics

If you’re using a standard excavator, such as a CAT 320, 336, or 349 models, with a normal length arm, after marking the target area, you will first have to get very close to it, likely within 30 feet or less, to ensure safe, effective excavation. You should then:

  1. Angle the undercarriage of your excavator toward your target area. At the same time, ensure your upper house is square during the dig.
  2. Put your tracks in a position that aligns your left track with the trench.
  3. Dig a little at a time, peeling back small layers instead of going to the full depth all at once.
  4. Focus on safety and whether the trench suits its purpose — as opposed to how “nice” it looks. Your trenches will get more polished as you get more comfortable with your techniques and equipment.

Long Reach – Digging Deeper Trenches

When there is a need to dig a trench deeper than what a standard excavator dig, the next step up for digging deeper trenches is the Long Reach Excavator with a Long Reach Boom/Stick Standard reach excavators have a reach up to 40 feet, and long reach can extend the reach up to 100 feet; long reach has the reaching capability of 2X times greater than standard reach.  Long Reach Excavators are more efficient and practical for jobs such as dredging in water, industrial demolition, large digging projects, and digging trenches deeper than what a standard excavator can achieve.

Excavator Attachments Used for Trenching

Trenching jobs often require special attachments, particularly if the terrain is packed with large or awkward objects, roots, or other debris that needs to be removed before you can create a smooth trench. Here are some attachments that many excavating professionals include in their arsenal.


Graptor Rake

A graptor rake consists of two sets of forks that open up like a clamshell and then collapse on each other as you grab an object. They are great for grabbing hold of roots, trees, large rocks, and even vehicles and other large refuse that may be in the way of your trenching job.

Root Rake

A root rake, as the name implies, is designed for grabbing, maneuvering, and removing roots from your trenching terrain. It features forks with tapered ends that make it easier to wedge the attachment in between roots. Also, because the tips come to a relatively sharp point, you can use a root rake to cut through roots, then remove them in sections.

Frost Rippers and Rock Rippers

Frost and rock rippers are engineered to penetrate the hard ground or rocky soils that could make it a challenge to start your trench. They feature a single tooth that is driven into the ground, pushing the upper surface apart. Another primary use of frost and rock rippers is to pry up stubborn sections of frozen ground or large rocks that are revealed partway through your trenching. Their sharp points give you the agility you need to make detailed adjustments to your excavation, making it easier to craft an effective trench.

Long Reach Excavator Attachments by HAWK

The HAWK Long Reach Excavator system enables precise digging, flexibility for positioning materials and debris, and a safer and faster digging experience. While a standard arm only extends around 36 feet, with the HAWK Long Reach system, you can dig up to 2X what a standard reach excavator can achieve, making challenging deep hole digs far easier.

With a combination of the Long Reach Excavator and HAWK Vision, you can dig deeper while ensuring you’re in the exact spot you intend to dig. HAWK Vision uses real-time GPS data in combination with a Wi-Fi hotspot, solar power, custom software, and sensors to enable you to verify your location while digging. This system goes beyond traditional GPS systems in that it also works underwater with the use of a combination of traditional GPS, and Real-time Kinematic positioning (RTK). RTK GPS by HAWK is a combo system that provides Survey Grade Accuracy within 1-inch. Connect with HAWK today to learn more about how the HAWK Long Reach System can empower your deep digging.

The HAWK Excavator Long Stick and Boom extends the reach of a standard excavator from around 38 feet to 70 feet — almost double your normal reach. This enables you to access difficult-to-reach trenching areas without compromising safety.

The stick and boom have all the hydraulic lines you need to operate a range of attachments, including graptor rakes, root rakes, rippers, and other attachments. This makes it quick and easy to switch attachments, saving valuable time without sacrificing safety before, during, and after your trench excavation.

The HAWK Long Reach stick fits standard 26-ton, 36-ton, and 49-ton excavators and is compatible with popular brands, such as:

  • Volvo
  • Cat
  • Komatsu
  • JCB
  • Kobelco
  • Deere
  • Hyundai
  • And more

What’s Included in the Long Reach Kit


With the Long Reach kit, you get a stick, boom, bucket, brackets, slurry hose brackets, and pre-installed hydraulic lines. This enables you to enjoy a plug-and-play experience, enhancing convenience and the quality of your trenches.

To learn more about renting or buying HAWK products, set up a chat with a rep, or give us a call at (619)655-3296.