What size excavator do I need?

There are some jobs that just can’t be done without an excavator. They provide digging power, mobility and the ability to dig out and lift large amounts of earth and waste away almost effortlessly.

Building construction, road construction and demolitions are just a few tasks that require a dependable excavator, but reliability is just one factor when you’re considering excavator types. You’ll also need to decide what functionality, speed and size you require, as well as how to transport and store the excavator.

Here we detail the main varieties of excavator and what you should know about each.

Types of excavators by size

Mini or compact excavators

Usually defined as weighing less than six tonnes, mini excavators are ideal for smaller jobs and those on more built-up sites. For example, they can be used indoors or in areas where space is restricted, thanks to their compact height and width. Some mini excavators have no tail swing, operating within their own small footprint.

Their light footprint makes them ideal for working on softer surfaces or ones which could be damaged by heavier excavators, including gardens and driveways. The versatility of machines like our 1.5 tonne mini excavator is their main attraction, while another benefit of mini excavators is that they’re easier to transport, on a truck or trailer.

If your job doesn’t need the higher levels of reach, dig depth and power offered by larger models, but does need a greater level of precision, mini excavators could be the right option.

Midi excavators

Some jobs will require a little more power and greater reach than mini excavators can give you, while still needing a manoeuvrable and compact vehicle. Midi excavators occupy that middle ground, usually weighing between around 6 and 10 tonnes. At that size, excavators offer both stability and agility.

Unlike larger models, they can be transported and stored relatively easily, and also offer greater fuel efficiency, making them ideal for landscaping and smaller scale construction work. After all, if you don’t need a larger model, it’s wise to get the smallest one possible, both for moving it around and the lower operating costs.

Standard excavators

Standard excavators weigh anything from around 10 tonnes to 45 tonnes. The 13-tonne excavator is the largest of our excavators available to hire

At this end of the excavator size scale, there is greater hauling capacity, allowing you to handle more material in one go and perform heavy duty work. They can also reach significantly further than smaller models, while more weight results in increased stability. Some models have counterweights to allow for extremely heavy loads and most models can support a variety of work tools, to open up a variety of potential tasks.

Standard excavators might not be as manoeuvrable or speedy as their smaller cousins, but larger excavators are sometimes equipped with wheels, making them easier to move than those with tracks. As an added bonus, wheels allow the excavator to travel to the site without the need to be transported via a truck or trailer.

Things to consider when choosing which excavator is right for your project

Job type

The type of project is the main concern when choosing between the various sizes of excavator. Larger, commercial-scale projects justify the use of a standard excavator, particularly if they need vast amounts of material excavating. While smaller jobs, perhaps on individual properties, rarely require larger models. Projects involving excavating around pipes or gas lines are more precise operations, better suited to more compact excavators.

You should also consider how often you’ll need the excavator: repeated use will obviously warrant a higher quality, more durable model.

Worksite space and terrain

Bigger jobs may well require a standard excavator, while smaller models are ideally suited to smaller projects, such as those on gardens or driveways. Works inside houses and other tight areas will also require more compact, lighter models, whereas this isn’t an issue on a sprawling construction site. You should also think about any potential obstacles and the ability of excavators to handle them.

Since most excavators weigh tonnes and tonnes, careful consideration must be given to the terrain supporting them. Softer surfaces, or those with potential to be easily damaged, will require a mini or midi excavator.

Required attachments

Different terrains, materials and tasks require different excavator attachments. Buckets are the standard attachment, used for digging and lifting materials. You can extend your bucket capacity and ability to lift materials by adding hydraulic thumbs.

For more specialised digging, meanwhile, augers have a hydraulic spiral blade, hammers can break up hard surfaces, and rippers are perfect for demolishing structures or digging into frozen ground.

Attachments such as these can speed jobs up, particularly if you use a coupler, which will allow you to switch between tools quickly and easily.

Larger excavators, thanks to their hydraulics systems, are often more adaptable when it comes to attachments.


Smaller excavators are simpler and cheaper to transport, easily fitting onto trucks or trailers. Of course, smaller models are also easier to move around sites and can access spaces that larger excavators cannot.

When transporting any excavator, it’s important to remember the potential need for permits and drivers with licences for moving heavy equipment.

To make them easier to transport, larger excavators sometimes have wheels instead of tracks. As well as being more manoeuvrable on sites, having wheels can mean that excavators don’t require a truck or trailer at all. Although most have slow top speeds, they can be driven on public roads.


Even if a large excavator is better suited to your job, site and timescales, it could be that you simply don’t have the necessary space or facilities to store it on the work site. Safe storage of such expensive equipment is as time-consuming as it is essential.

One solution to the storage issue would be to rent a large excavator and have it collected or transport it back to the hire company once the job is finished. Another way around the problem is to hire a mini or midi excavator.


Above all else, your budget might ultimately determine which excavator you use for your job. The difference in rental costs between compact and larger excavators, even on a weekly basis, will be hundreds of pounds. Spend more and you will get more power, reach and stability, but your budget might not stretch that far.

You might have to settle for a less costly option, which could mean the job takes longer because you can’t excavate and lift such large quantities of material. However, as we’ve outlined, smaller excavators also have their distinct advantages – lower costs is just one of them.

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of the pros and cons of different excavator types, and which is better suited to your needs. Before investing in such an important piece of equipment, it makes sense to spend some time considering the factors at play.

Explore our range of excavators to hire to find the right tools for your job and if you need any help understanding those tools, please contact us.


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