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What is a Trencher?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A trencher is a piece of equipment which is used to dig trenches. Trenchers vary considerably in side, from small models designed to be used by people digging trenches in their gardens to industrial-sized trenchers which are capable of gouging out sizable holes in the earth. Numerous construction companies produce trenchers, including specialty heavy equipment which may be made to order as customers need it.

On the small end of the scale, a trencher is designed as a step up from the shovel. To use this type of trencher, people push the trencher through the soil being trenched. The trencher makes the work go much more quickly than it would with a shovel, and cuts a deep, even trench. These types of trenchers can be used to dig trenches in someone's yard for utility lines, irrigation lines, and so forth. Landscaping companies and utilities often maintain this type of equipment, and people can sometimes rent trenchers from tool libraries or equipment rental companies for projects.

Trenchers used in construction and other tasks where heavy equipment is needed are much larger. They may be designed as attachments for tractors, or as standalone pieces of heavy equipment. In both cases, the trencher is controlled by a heavy equipment operator who sits inside the cabin of the equipment and controls the trencher from there, driving the equipment over the ground being trenched and manipulating the depth and speed of the trencher as needed.

Heavy equipment trenchers include wheel trenchers and chain trenchers. Wheel trenchers are used in relatively soft soil, while chain trenchers are capable of cutting into hard ground, operating much like a chainsaw. Both can be dangerous to operate, and special precautions must be observed by the operator and people on the work site to avoid injuries. This type of specialty trenching equipment can also be quite costly.

For those who have been reading novels set in the medieval era and wondering what heavy building equipment was doing at the table, the term “trencher” is also used in a food and dining sense, to refer to a platter used to hold food. The original trenchers were pieces of partially stale bread which were carved into bowls and eaten after the meal, eventually being replaced by wooden plates. Each diner was typically expected to bring his or her own trencher and knife for cutting and manipulating food to the table. Both senses of the word come from the same root, which means “to cut.”

AboutMechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AboutMechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By gravois — On Jan 13, 2012

I have about ten acres of land and last summer I decided to dig a few trenches to help with drainage.

I dug the first trench by hand using nothing but my back, a shovel and a lot of sweat. The trench was about two feet wide, two feet deep and a hundred feet long. It was excruciating labor getting that thing dug.

I realized that I could save myself a lot of time and pain if I just rented a trencher. I got one for pretty cheap at a local home depot and it worked great. I was able to dig the remaining four trenches in the same amount of time that it took me to dig the first. Save yourself a lot of grief and get yourself a trencher.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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