View Full Version : Recommendation for trenching tools?

Classic Lighting
09-21-2009, 06:24 PM
After doing about a dozen job, I have decided it's time to stop doing it the hard way with a spade. What does everyone use to trench wire into the ground? I'm looking for everything from hand tools to power tools. Any recommendations?


09-21-2009, 07:10 PM
Most of the time you are near structures or plant material that can not handle machine trenchers. Search ebay for "HAND WIRE TRENCHER" and you will see a device that I use when possible. I'll do a dozen a month and they are still done mostly by hand devices.

INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting
09-21-2009, 09:06 PM
A dozen jobs and ready to ditch the spade? :) As Artie Lang would say: "Whaaa"

There are a number of different 'shovels' that we use to do our dirty work. You can find them at better irrigation suppliers. Cleanout shovels that range in width from 1 1/2" to 4" with long fibreglass handles work great for trenching in gardens. In sod you want a good sturdy flat spade for slit trenching. Then of course there is the much beloved pick axe for gravel drives and hard pack clay/forest floor, etc.

Once you have your techniques down you will move much more quickly and cleanly across the landscape than any machine, and do much less damage and clean up after the fact too.


09-21-2009, 11:10 PM
Take this as you will.

This has been discussed in details so flip back thru the pages but.. There is no substitue for good quality digging tools. Keep your spades reasonably sharp. As James said Irrigation tools are a must have. We usually have 5 different types of shovels but my laborers seem to preffer the shorty D handle types as do I.

I still do much of my own burials. One of our selling points is we hand install everything with care. You can usually never tell we were in there once we are done. I touch up mulch or straw if needed and water down lawns.

With that said we also have a trench master machine that cuts 1.5 inches wide by 7 inches deep. It makes a bit of a mess on lawns but can be useful in wooded areas we encounter alot. 99% of the time we still grab the shovels and jump in.

Really the only time I preffer the trencher is when we are prewiring a system before sod goes down. Then it is a lifesaver.

Hand install your systems. Charge accordingly. Your clients and the landscapes will thank you for it. Keep in mind there is also less damage with hand digging. You are much less likley to cut a phone wire or irrigation line when using hand tools. That in itself is a huge time and money saver

INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting
09-21-2009, 11:35 PM
What Billy said! All very good points. :clapping:

David Gretzmier
09-22-2009, 02:29 AM
Ok, I'll take the other side to this. I hate the shovel work too and I almost always have the guys do it. I agree with all the points above, and I think that the trencher is overkill, but that is because the ones out there are really made for trenches for small irrigation lines and usually are an inch wide and can go 7-10 inches deep or so.

we do need a machine that is essentially a souped up modified stick edger that creates a trench 3/8" -1/2" wide and 3-6 inches deep. it would need a good guard for racks and debris and probably an engine in the 60-80cc range, and a 12" carbide sawblade about triple thickness, 1/4-3/8" thick with teeth that you replace.

my employees and I already cut roots, irrigation,cable and telephone lines that are that close to the surface by using my sharp spade and jumping on it to create the slit we currently bury wire in. If I had a super stick edger, I would at least have the benefit of saving money on labor.

09-22-2009, 08:00 AM
David I really wonder how much you would save when you consider these points.

A gas powered digging machine needs alot of maint.

Cost of that maint...fuel...consumables such as the blades

What about clean up ? Nearly no clean up when we slit trench. Just stomp on it and blow it off. When we use the trencher it takes me longer to backfill and make the area look acceptable.

When using a trencher the area settles later leaving a line. I am sure we have all seen irrigation rutts in lawns long after systems have been installed.

Check with your liability insurance carrier about using a trencher. I know it affected mine.

When all is said and done I dont think you will save that much $$ vs hand installing it. If it saved you 50 per job using a trencher I would just charge 50 bucks more.

Sorry for the long post but we are going out to bury a job we installed last week either Wed or Thursday and I will try to post some pics on our burial techniques. I know i need about 250 linear feet of wire buried and I am guessing it will take me and a helper about 1.5 hours.

Steve B
09-22-2009, 08:48 AM

Visit www.dogfencetrenchers.com. If you ask the owner (Andy) he can provide you with a custom wire feeder that is wide enough for 12/2 wire. He made one for me several months ago and it worked great. Dog fences are my primary business, so I already have two of these machines. They have Honda engines, so maint. is pretty much changing the oil twice a year. The blade is 14", 3/8" thick, with carbide blades. It will probably last a lifetime. The machine digs 5" deep. If you're using it in a nicely sodded area, you won't be able to see much evidence where you dug. After the first rain, you won't be able to find any evidence at all. The machines aren't cheap - so it will be up to you if the expense is worth it.

09-22-2009, 09:43 AM
Slit trencher, 4" trenching shovel, hoe, leaf rake, determination and a very large water bottle. nuf said...

09-22-2009, 06:16 PM
bravo tim. If you dont want to bury wire hire labor... if you dont want to bury wire or hire labor find a different line of work.

I still like to be able to tell clients its hand installed. That DMR trencher doesnt go deep enough. You said 5 inches but that is probably in optimal conditions.

Try a nice little D handle spade. Kick it in at about 20 degrees off perpidicular to the sod. Push down... lift up. We like to trench it all first then go back and use the spade like a shoe horn to open the trench and tuck the wire in... 12 inches at bed edges or other probable to cut areas.

Steve B
09-23-2009, 07:47 AM
It will go 5 inches in less than ideal conditions, but it takes more work (just like a spade takes more work when conditions are dry or rocky). More work in that you must lean on the machine a bit and go in 1st gear rather than 2nd.

09-24-2009, 08:54 AM
code is 6 inches. I know there are times you wont be able to hit 6 inches in certain conditions but we always try to push that a bit deeper when conditions allow.

Some areas you should be either deeper or in a conduit.

Transitions from turf to beds

Concrete punches especially at turf areas... edgers can go deeper than you think and even deeper when they use a string trimmer.

Seasonal planting areas.

09-24-2009, 11:30 AM
Surprised no one has mentioned a demo hammer yet.

My Bosch SDS-Max hammer with clay spade is essential in dry, hard, compacted clay soils. The other bits, chisel and bull point, work well for chipping out concrete overpour and are much easier on the operator for breaking out rocks than a pick or bar.

One can usually be had for $700 to $900, maybe less in this economy. Makita, Hitachi, DeWalt and Hilti offer good ones too.

They won't cut roots, but sometimes a Sawzall will if loppers and a hand saw aren't big enough.

09-24-2009, 10:15 PM
we slit trenched a system today. 250 linenear ft of feed cables and I would say about 50 total ft of runs off the main feed. It was 3 T's but we wound the cable along the beds. Proper cable routing can significantly decrease your burial time.

2 guys total... sharp spade... heavy foot. 1 hr and 20 min bury time with moderate roots in a wooded type setting.

I cut the slit and helper put the wires in.

You guys shying away or not wanting to use a spade... are you wearing footware proper for digging? I would hate it too if I were in Nike's. I like the caterpillar i Tech boots. Very comfy

Classic Lighting
09-24-2009, 11:34 PM
Hey guys, great posts. I'm learning a lot about trenching.

David Gretzmier
09-24-2009, 11:47 PM
It amazes me you guys are so passionate about grunt work.

I think you guys need to come down here and put in wire in the ozark mountains. there is no soil or dirt here that was not brought in. we have rock connected by red clay. trenchers here break regularly. unless you bring in 6 inches of topsoil for your lawn, which 95% of the folks just lay bermuda sod over rock, that spade is not going in more than an inch, and that is if a 300 pound farm boy jumps on both steps.

I agree that the spade can work quickly if you are in a bed or lawn area where it has topsoil. sand soil is easy.

The fun part of this job is creating effects on homes, rocks, and plants. the more time I spend on that and the less on grunt work, the happier I am.

Steve B
09-25-2009, 02:30 AM
That's a good point David. The soil conditions vary greatly and make a huge difference. We've got lots of rocks and clay, but it isn't as bad as what you describe!

09-25-2009, 02:46 AM
I've rented a Vermeer LM42 6 times to do big trenching. The things an animal. The best lawn size trencher I've ever used.

So I looked at buying one. They're $40,350. I'm still renting one when I need it.

What I do have is one of the small Vermeer walk behind trenchers. Gas engine, pull start. Faster than a shovel, not as fast as a lawn plow. Thay're between $4K and $6k depending on what size you get. For what they are they're ok. Not very maneuverable, not very powerful, not heavy enough to get good traction.

I also have a trenching attachment for my MT 55. It works, just not very fast. The MT 55 is kind of like a Swiss Army Knife. It does a lot, it just doesn't do everything great. It seems like the hydraulics just don't flow fast enough to keep a trencher or stump grinder working as fast as they should. A MT 55 will set you back around $20K+ w/ attachments.

A good trench clean out shovel is indispensable. Structron is a great brand if you want a good trench clean out shovel.

I've also used a Ditch Witch ride on trencher. Almost every rental yard in the world has one. They're good for long runs. Slow, but steady. Not sure on cost. I'd guess as much as a LM 42, in which case I'd buy the Vermeer.

Scout around for a decent used walk behind trencher. They're not great, but if you can find a used one for around $2K you can get your feet wet without having a huge note.

If you're digging trenches all day, everyday there is a ton of specialty equipment out there for you to try. If youre just using it for landscaping a couple times a week I've found that figuring a rental price into the bid is the best way to go.

Your mileage may vary.

09-25-2009, 09:33 AM
The trenchers your talking about seem like overkill for lighting.

We have alot of rocky clay here too. It varies by yard depending how the site was prepped. Yesterday we got lucky. There is no substitution for a heavy foot. If your using labor put the biggest guy on the shovel. I know I can kick thru roots over an inch in diameter.

By the time you go to the yard... pick up your rental... use it... clean it... return it there is a chance you could have already done the job considering backfilling is just as time consuming as digging it by hand the first time.

I wish I would have taken a moment to take some pics yesterday

09-25-2009, 12:44 PM
I can't speak for other guys, but probably 70%-80% of all our wiring is dug and buried right next to the fountation of the house, (less likely to get located by an errant shovel). Anyway, the digging in the backfill of fountations has always been easy by shovel and you could never get a piece of equipment to do it anyway. The only time I rent any equipment is if, like Billy has mentioned with new construction or if I have some very long runs in grass or if I am putting UF down deep with a cable plough. I don't usually ever trench in existing grass, I only will use a cable plough. Just watch those irrigation pipes you are bound to destroy in the process. I would love to have a lineward cable installer, but I just can't justify the expense when I use them so infrequently.

Steve B
09-26-2009, 08:18 AM

Have you rented the Line Ward? I've never seen one our rental places here. I'm curious how they do with rocky soil.

David Gretzmier
09-26-2009, 09:33 AM
line a few other threads, this one has me thinking. take a stihl 250 r trimmer, with a 40 cc 2.3 horse engine ( about double the horsepower of my current edger) and it accepts an edger attatchment on bottom, convert edger to 10-12 inch, 2-3 stacked carbide sawblades...

Classic Lighting
09-26-2009, 10:28 PM
line a few other threads, this one has me thinking. take a stihl 250 r trimmer, with a 40 cc 2.3 horse engine ( about double the horsepower of my current edger) and it accepts an edger attatchment on bottom, convert edger to 10-12 inch, 2-3 stacked carbide sawblades...
Sounds like a safety nightmare having a large saw blade on the end of a stick edger.

Thanks for everyone's insight. Guess I will stick with the spade. Cast makes a trench tool that I will buy and give it a try. Looks heavy duty compared to spades.

09-26-2009, 10:56 PM
I had a Brown Manufacturing Trenchmaster with a 1/2" clay rotor. The thing was a beast. I'd cut through anything with that bad boy. We hit wires a couple times in trailer parks....hehehe. I had my laborer get the tape out since he hit it.

09-28-2009, 12:10 AM
I have the trenchmaster from brown. It is a beast but like I said we can do it nearly as fast and alot cleaner by hand. Mine is set up with the 1.5x7 inch blade.

On the cast trench tool... I know some guys in use em but they are real havey... picking it up and slamming it down alot really wears me out. I have one here and a wider one I got from fold.

Still preffer a good flat spade... similar to this http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=productDetail&productId=229821-302-1546200&lpage=none but we get the nice fiberglass ones. Lowes also carries a shorty shovel thats great for tight work around transformers and huge tree roots.

09-28-2009, 05:08 PM
I think someone on here had mentioned awhile back they had used this and liked it for running wire http://www.oregonchain.com/pdf/OEP/factsheet_MagnumEdger.pdf
I don't think it would go deep enough being only 8 inches long. Northstar has a real nice spade that has no flex to it while digging.

09-29-2009, 08:53 PM
an 8 inch stick edger blade brand new at full depth will cut around 3 inches deep not to mention it wont be wide enough. I wouldnt even consider it as an option.

04-04-2011, 12:06 AM
Bought one of these a few weeks ago. Works great for hand digging a trench.


David Gretzmier
04-04-2011, 11:32 PM
amazing this thread has been resurrected. after breaking,welding back and rebreaking a half dozen flat spades over the last 18 months, about 6 months ago I welded up a very good tool for cutting a slit in turf and beds. take a tool called the mutt, which looks like a cross between a log splitter blade and a chisel. it has a blade about 4" wide, aprox 1/4" thick, I welded a 1/4" thick, 1 1/2" wide angle iron about 18 inches long onto the top of the metal blade to act as foot pegs. jump on, and unless you hit solid rock, it will easily sink to 4-6" deep. wiggle back and forth, and you have your wire trench.

I still hate it, and 95% of the time have the guys do it. they no longer use the spade because the modified mutt tool is so much easier and faster.

we just completed a tree uplighting job involving about 18 trees that involved a ton of turf, and it would have been far easier and faster to use some machine.

I still believe if hand digging wire was the best way to do turf, then all the invisible dog fence guys would do it that way. they don't.

The Lighting Geek
04-05-2011, 12:31 AM
YEAH, what Tim said! :)

04-05-2011, 08:27 PM
King Spade, trenching shovel and or Turfco bed edger with sod trenching blade.

More often than not.. King Spade is the first in. I wish I had a picture for every situation I have used a KS landscape related and non landscape related.

It makes a great hammer, wedge, breaker bar.. the list is long.

David Gretzmier
04-06-2011, 07:43 PM
I looked at the turfco "edge r rite" a few years ago at the lawn and garden expo, had something similar once. for jobs similar to last weeks tree job, still want the one with the 4 horse honda and v blade. since it works like a sod cutter, you cut the v, remove with grass and roots, put in wire, replace sod and stomp. at about 1500 bucks, not too bad.

I still think there is some way to get a rotary sawblade type tool that can do both turf and concrete. with a 14" blade and 3/8 wide, maybe diamond one for concrete cutting across sidewalks and drives and then a carbide with replacable teeth to do very narrow dirt trenches and cut through roots.