How to Use a Trench Digger


The walk-behind trench digger is the most common trench digging machine landscapers tend to use. It's versatile, easy to maneuver and straightforward to operate. It's important to use the machine with respect and caution; it's very powerful and misuse could result in serious injury. Operating a trench digger is a one-person job; all people not operating the machine need to vacate the trenching area. With the right instructions and the proper safety equipment you'll successfully dig a trench in a matter of minutes.

Things You'll Need

  • Ear protection
  • Safety glasses
  • Gloves
  • Hard hat
  • Work boots
  • Proper work clothing
  • Equip all safety gear and warn other workers and helpers away from the site before starting the machine.

  • Flip the fuel supply and engine start switch to the on position. Pull the starter cord until you feel a slight resistance, allow it recoil slightly and pull it hard until the engine starts.

  • Allow the machine to warm up for a few minutes. Open the throttle by sliding the throttle bar all the way to the right.

  • Unlock the axle by flipping the axle switch to the open position. Hold down the clutch with your left hand on the push bar and use the "Forward" and "Reverse" control with your right hand on the push bar. Position the trencher at the end point of the trench, as you will dig the trench in reverse.

  • Position the "Forward" and "Reverse" control to the neutral position, release the clutch and lock the axle once the trencher is at the end point of the trench. Turn the digging chain control to the on position and hold the control in this position while you squeeze the clutch all the way down.

  • Lower the digging boom slowly with the lever on the push bar, to the desired depth for the trench. Pull the "Forward" and "Reverse" control slightly toward "Reverse" until you reach a comfortable speed to start digging the trench. Adjust the speed if necessary and move the trencher backwards in straight line to the beginning point of the trench.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you experience any problems while trenching, immediately release the clutch held down by your left hand and step away from the machine.
  • The work clothing you wear should fit snugly and have no loose threads or fibers.
  • If you're unsure you where to run the trencher and would like to test your knowledge of safe trenching practice, take the free online trenching safety course offered through the CDC.
  • Check the trenching site for any underground services prior to digging the trench.

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