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Kevin Forestell
February 13, 2020

Everything You Need to Know about the Backhoe

Last updated November 14, 2022

Often referred to as the swiss army knife of heavy equipment, the backhoe is great for excavation and earthmoving projects of all sizes. With the back used to dig dirt, depending on the attachment, and the other end to move it around, backhoe loaders are very versatile machines. Because of this, they are popular pieces of construction equipment seen on many job sites.

Backhoe on jobsite digging dirt

Backhoe Specs and Sizes

These digger machines typically weigh anywhere between 4,000 lbs (2 tons) to 24,000 lbs (12 tons) and can dig as shallow as 8 feet to as deep as about 20 feet, depending on the model and its specs. With their bucket front end, they can lift from around 1,500 lbs to about 13,000 lbs at heights between just under eight feet to just over 12 feet.

The most common equipment rental size are ones with a horsepower of either 70 or 90 and operating weights between 15,000 lbs and 25,000 lbs. That's because these machines typically are compact enough to work in any type of environment and provide the right amount of dig depth and earthmoving capacities.

Because of their functionality, there are a lot of similarities and differences between a backhoe vs a mini excavator. We recommend figuring out which one is better for your job by looking at both our mini-excavator spec guide and backhoe spec guide to help make a decision.

The Different Attachments for the Backhoe

The backhoe can be fitted with several hydraulic power attachments. This allows the machine to be used for other tasks besides lifting and digging.

The most common backhoe attachments used by contractors are breakers and hammers, especially when doing road work projects. They allow the operator to break up rocky soils, asphalt, and concrete with more power than a skid steer would be able to have. Another common attachment is the tiger tooth attachment which is good to break through frost or harder soil. This makes backhoes a valuable piece of equipment, especially in northern climates where ice and snowfall are more common.

You can search for backhoe rentals on DOZR, as well as clarify any attachments you might need.

Popular Attachments

  • Buckets with thumbs
  • Hammers
  • Couplers
  • Compactors
  • Rippers
  • Brooms and street sweepers
  • Snowplows and snow pushes
  • Augers

Backhoe with hammer attachment breaking road

Manufacturers of Backhoes

The United States and Europe have many companies that manufacture backhoe loaders. The following list looks at popular makes and models of backhoes.

Caterpillar

Caterpillar manufactures several models and attachments. CAT backhoes include the 415, 416, 420, 420 XE, 430, and 450 models. The CAT 450 is their largest model and features a 131 hp engine, advanced hydraulic system, and the CAT C4.4 ACERT engine. On the smaller side, Caterpillar backhoes include the 415 and 415 IL. These two models have 70 hp engines.

CAT attachments for the backhoe include soil excavation buckets, coral buckets, ditch cleaning buckets, and rock buckets can all be attached to the excavator side of the machine. On the loader side, CAT manufactures rakes, snowplows, angle blades, asphalt cutters, and material handlers.

Backhoe machine on construction site
Image borrowed from For Construction Pros.

John Deere

Producing seven different sizes, the largest John Deere backhoe is the 710L with a 148 hp engine at 2,240 rpm and a max operating weight of 11,607 kg (25,588 lbs). The most compact model is the John Deere 310 backhoe (310L EP if we want to be specific). With 69 hp and an operating weight of 13,882 lbs, it is one of the lightest backhoes on the market. However, it still offers lots of versatility by being able to dig up to 13 feet, 8 inches.

John Deere 510D backhoe machine on dirt

JCB

As the biggest backhoe manufacturer in the world, JCB sells as many backhoes around the world as all other manufacturers put together. Their most popular model is the JCB 3CX 15 Super Backhoe with a 109 hp engine and a backhoe breakout force of 13,730 lbf and loader breakout force of 13,603 lbf.

Their other models include the 1CXT, which is their smallest model, the 3CX Compact, 3CX, 3CX-14, 3CX-14 Super, 4CX-14 Super, and 4CX-15 Super.

JCB backhoe grading dirt and grass on hill
Image borrowed from For Construction Pros.

CASE

Originally starting off creating equipment for road construction and has since grown into one of North America’s leading manufacturers of all construction equipment. In 1957 CASE introduced the CASE Model 320 – the first factory-integrated tractor loader/backhoe.

The CASE backhoe portfolio is comprised of five models in their N-Series. This includes the 580N EP, 580N, 580 Super N, 580 Super N WT, and 590 Super N. In 2017, the CASE 580N Series won EquipmentWatch’s Highest Retained Value Award for the second consecutive year. Their most popular models are the 580 case backhoes.

CASE 580N backhoe driving carrying load
Image borrowed from Construction Equipment

Kubota

With the largest Kubota backhoe model having an operating weight of 8,925 lbs, it's clear that Kubota makes their products for small-scale projects. In fact, they're supposed to be a mix between a tractor and a classic backhoe which is why they're branded as tractor loader backhoes.

Kubota backhoe models include the B26TLB, L47TLB, and the M62TLB. The numbers in the names correspond to the horsepower of the machine and the dig depths for these backhoes range from 8 feet to 14 feet, respectively. Kubota does not manufacture backhoes to compete with other brands on this list but instead competes in its own lane.

Mecalac

Another great OEM is Mecalac as they have been manufacturing backhoes for more than 50 years. Founded in France, they have expanded into North America and have done very well in their compact construction equipment division.

With five models in their portfolio, Mecalac backhoes consist of the TLB-Series 840R, 870, 880, 890, and 990. All of their models could be considered mid to large-sized with operating weights ranging from 16,000 lbs to 19,300 lbs.

VF Venieri

Originally founded in Italy, VF Venieri has brought their equipment to North America. They have only four models in their product portfolio: the VF-series 1.33B, 8.23F, 10.23D, and 10.33C. Despite having a smaller selection, VF Venieri backhoes are actually the strongest. The 10.23D and 10.33C both have loader lift capacities of 12,787 lbs which is the strongest on the market, despite not having the highest operating weights.

New Holland

The last brand to cover on this list is New Holland. While they are primarily known for their work in the farming and agriculture industry, New Holland backhoes are very popular pieces of equipment in construction. Their four models include the B95C, B95C TC, B95C LR, and B110C.

Because none of New Holland's backhoes have a horsepower lower than 95, they are some of the strongest on the market and don't produce any small models. All the operating weights of their machines range between 17,560 lbs and 18,525 lbs with lifting capacities between 7,600 and 8,000 lbs. This also makes them the least versatile manufacturers as their machines really only cover a small, niche range of specs.

Potential Hazards for Backhoe Operation

Like with the operation of any piece of heavy equipment, operating a machine of this size and capabilities can present a series of hazards and dangers. It is always important to only operate the equipment after receiving proper training and to never use a backhoe – or any other kind of equipment – if it is not safe to do so. 

Working too close to an edge and operating on steep or uneven ground are the two leading causes of accidents for backhoes and backhoe operators. Take the planning stage seriously and always review site plans, survey a worksite for hazards, and circle-check equipment before beginning to operate.

Close up of backhoe stabalizer legs
Stabilizer legs can help to keep a backhoe loader stable and even while digging and working. Image borrowed from For Construction Pros.

Other hazards backhoe operators should watch out for include…

  • Raising the bucket too high. This is especially dangerous if the equipment is on unstable ground as it could cause the equipment to tip over. 
  • Operating on a steep slope. They can overturn or flip over so take caution when operating on a steep slope. 
  • Not wearing a seatbelt. Falling out of the cab can put both the equipment, the operator, and others around the machine in danger. Always wear a seatbelt. 
  • Hitting an object. Especially when working on rough terrain, be aware of people, buildings, trees, or other objects that may be around the equipment. 
  • A falling load. When lifting or moving materials, be aware of others around the bucket. Falling dirt, debris, or material can strike and injure another worker.

Putting safety first and taking time to follow procedures will help ensure that all workers go home safely at the end of the day.

Practices for the Safe Operation of Backhoes

Some simple ways to stay safe include:

  • Always wear a seatbelt
  • Never operate the equipment without having the stabilizers down
  • Never exceed the maximum operating weight of the machine 
  • When moving loads, travel with loads low and close to the ground
  • Be mindful of visibility when moving loads or material 
  • Always check blind spots before moving
  • Never use a bucket to lift or carry people
  • Driving speeds on-site should stay around 5 mph (approximately 8 kph)

The History of the Backhoe

Today the market for backhoe loaders has been cut by the use of mini-excavators and skid steers. However, they continue to be adored by contractors everywhere for their versatility and ability to do different jobs fairly well.

The first backhoe was introduced after the hydraulic system was developed and the first backhoe swing frame was invented by Vaino J Holopainen and Roy E Handy, Jr. in July 1947. It was patented one year later and the two men came together to start the company Wain-Roy. The swing frame was a breakthrough invention that allowed the hydraulic guiding arm to swing to the side of the bucket.

An old school backhoe
1949 Sherman Brochure picture showing the Wain-Roy Backhoe. Image borrowed from Construction Equipment Guide.

The very first hydraulic backhoe was sold in 1948 by Wain-Roy Co. Sold mainly through Ford dealers, Wain-Roy sold about 7,000 machines between 1948 and 1954. 

While all of this was going on JCB launched the first European hydraulic loader in 1948. Joseph Syril Bamford started JCB in England with the creation of two-wheeled trailers. This advanced into a four-wheel tipping trailer with the addition of the hydraulic power system and eventually led to the creation of the loader.

In 1953, JCB took their hydraulic loader and added it to one side of a tractor with the hydraulic arm on the other side, and the multipurpose backhoe loader was born. Although JCB didn’t bring their loaders to America until the 1960s, the machines were already making an appearance. 

CASE Corporation introduced the first factory-integrated backhoe loader in 1957. With the production of the equipment on a larger scale, American contractors and farmers already recognized the power and versatility of the backhoe before JCB arrived on American soil.

Original backhoe from CASE

An image of an original JCB backhoe. Image borrowed from Farmers Guardian.

If you're looking for a great piece of machinery for your next job, DOZR has backhoes for rent at hundreds of different equipment rental companies across North America. Find your next backhoe rental on the DOZR Marketplace.

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Kevin Forestell headshot
Kevin Forestell
Kevin Forestell is CEO of DOZR and one of the co-founders. Kevin first got started as an entrepreneur when he founded Forestell Landscaping right after graduating from University. His love and passion for the industry and desire to help solve an equipment problem that contractors faced every day is what brought the founding team to start DOZR. Kevin is proud of the level of efficiency brought to the industry through DOZR and hopes that DOZR will help change the standard way equipment is rented.
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