At AboutMechanics, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is a Trench Digger?

Ken Black
Ken Black

A trench digger is a tool used for digging trenches such as those used for plumbing or electrical applications. The tool is especially useful for installing sprinklers and other such irrigation systems. Trench diggers come in a variety of sizes and a variety of types. Some are powered by engines, while others are simply used by hand.

In some cases, a simple shovel can be a trench digger. Usually, shovels used to dig trenches are narrower than general use shovels. This is because trenches usually do not need to be very wide, especially for general use or residential use. In most cases, trenches only need to be 6 inches (15.2 cm) wide, perhaps less.

Trench diggers are used to install an underground irrigation system.
Trench diggers are used to install an underground irrigation system.

In the vast majority of cases, a trench digger is thought of as a power tool. A walk behind trencher is often used for jobs that require longer trenches, even in residential areas. Commonly, they use chains and vibration to loosen and remove soil, much the same way a chain saw cuts through wood. Some trench diggers are known as vibratory plows.

A trench digger is often chosen based on the job that needs to be done. Basic models can dig trenches 8 inches (20.3 cm) wide and 12 inches (30.5 cm) deep. This will take care of most underground sprinkler and electrical systems. In general, underground sprinklers and electrical conduits need much less space than this.

However, for those who need major project done, larger trench diggers are also available. Even a backhoe can be used as a trench digger. In most cases, this will only be needed for industrial-sized projects, which often require trenches to be very deep and wide. Therefore, more traditional trenching tools will not get the job done.

For those looking for a trench digger, either to rent or to buy, there are a number of factors to keep in mind. The first factors, such as the width and depth, have already been discussed. The other major factor is speed. Each trench digger is rated and the speed is often listed on the machine. It will tell how many feet, or meters, per minute the trench digger is capable of digging. The actual speed may depend on a number of variables, such as trench depth and condition of the soil.

In many cases, a trench digger will do most of the job adequately enough. However, there may be cases where a trench must go underneath a sidewalk. In those cases, a relatively new invention, the Sidewalk Sleever® is used. This is another type of trench digger that is used by hand. This tool allows for passage underneath the sidewalk without breaking it up and having to replace it.

Discussion Comments


@KLR650 - Any place that rents power equipment in your area would likely be able to help you with a trench digger rental. A lot of truck rental places have that sort of thing also, or they can point you to someplace that does.


Where would I go to rent a trench digger if I wanted to put in a sprinkler system?


@ AlphaMale - I know what you mean about backbreaking labor. I recently tried to put in a privacy fence without power tools, and I ended up going out and renting a post hole digger. Made the job 10 times easier. At least nowadays they have a wide variety of powered diggers you can rent (or buy, if you are going to use them a lot) that make the job much easier and faster than the old-fashioned way. It is probably cheaper for the company, too. Even paying a digger minimum wage would be tens of thousands of dollars a year, so by using the available machinery they would save money and time.


Yeah buddy, when I was in my late teens and early twenties I was a trench digger. I'm not talking about those little sprinkler trenches either. I was digging footings for houses.

Eight inches wide and 42 inches deep may not sound like much, but when 300ft of them to dig and only a shovel to do it with; it amounts to tedious, back breaking labor. These types of footings are considered small trenches but that doesn't mean a small job. If you have something like this to do rent a ditch witch, these things are fantastic, they save time, and pain.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Trench diggers are used to install an underground irrigation system.
      By: Sura Nualpradid
      Trench diggers are used to install an underground irrigation system.