Learn the Basics of a Mini Excavator

SANY Excavators

Excavators come in all shapes and sizes, from some mini excavators that weigh less than 3,000 lbs. gross weight up to massive large excavators with weights exceeding 200,000 lbs. Mini excavators are not suited for the same magnitude of jobs as large or industrial-sized excavators, but their small footprint, lower cost and precise operation make them a valuable tool for smaller scale landscaping, excavation or utility projects.

When we talk about a mini excavator at SANY, we’re looking at the SY16C, SY26U and SY35U, with weights ranging between 4,000 and 8,500 lbs. These nimble machines are relatively simply to operate, but it’s important that operators understand a little bit about how excavators work, along with the appropriate safety measures for operating one. Let’s take a look at what your operators should know before they get in the cab, how to manipulate the controls and what you can accomplish using a mini excavator.

Understanding Your Mini Excavator

SANY SY26 Hydraulic ExcavatorIf you’re not an engineer, you probably don’t need to understand each and every one of the thousands of parts that make up a mini excavator. What you do need is a little bit of vocabulary to help you understand what a mini excavator is capable of and how to operate a mini excavator. Let’s go over the major parts and systems that make up a mini excavator and how each one is used.


The tracks are mounted on the undercarriage of the mini excavator and used in place of wheels found on some models of excavators. Much like tank tracks, the tracks on an excavator are mounted on a set of gears that is connected to the engine by a drive shaft. By rolling the tracks on either side forward or backward, the operator can drive the vehicle ahead or move in reverse, make left and right turns, and perform a rotation-like movement in a tighter arc – useful for operating in closed spaces.


The arm of a mini excavator is perhaps the most important part – it’s what makes everything possible. The arm of your mini excavator will most likely be divided into two sections with each controlled by a hydraulic piston connected by tubes and hoses to the hydraulic pump near the machine’s engine. A third hydraulic piston mounted near the end of the arm controls the movement of the bucket, and controls the tilt of the bucket, allowing it to move forward or backward in a digging or scooping motion.


Atop the frame of the excavator lies the cab, the control center of the machine and the hub from which all controls are given and managed by the operator. In this space, the operator has access to joystick controls to manage movement and control of the arm and bucket, blade controls, movement levers and pedals to control movement of the arm and overall movement speed. The monitor is also located here, delivering information to the operator to understand how the excavator is operating, as well as safety features like the hydraulic lockout controls and the emergency stop switch.


Mounted at the front of the excavator near ground level, the blade can be lowered into the ground for additional stability while digging. By lowering the blade in the front and fully rotating the cab to dig from the opposite side, you can improve the overall stability of the excavator while working. This blade can also be used like a plow blade to push around small materials that are at ground level.

Getting Ready to Operate a Mini Excavator

SANY SY35 Hydraulic ExcavatorBefore you get into the cab and behind the controls of your mini excavator, there are a few steps you should always take. First, ensure that you have a copy of the operator’s manual on hand and that you have reviewed it fully. Every mini excavator is different, and it’s important to understand the specific requirements and guidelines for your machine before attempting to operate it. In addition, you should fully inspect the vehicle to ensure that it is in good working order and review any warning labels or stickers that are attached to the machine to familiarize yourself with specific hazards or concerns unique to the excavator.

Finally, test the excavator’s full range of motion on a clear and level surface before you start working. This allows you to make sure there are no unseen problems with movement, and can be especially important so that you can familiarize yourself with how the machine moves before working in an enclosed space or on difficult or uneven terrain. Plus, this provides an initial opportunity to get familiar with the controls which can prevent operating mistakes that can damage the jobsite or lead to an accident or machine tipover.

Advantages of a Mini Excavator

Mini excavators may have “mini” in the name, but they still pack plenty of power and performance to take on a wide variety of tasks. With the smaller design, they are often a good choice for work in confined or narrow spaces, such as between buildings or in urban construction environments. They also weigh less than other excavators, which can be beneficial if working on a job that has features like concrete walkways or buried utility services that could be damaged by the weight of a larger machine.

These machines also offer versatility to perform many different tasks on a job site without the need for multiple other pieces of equipment. For instance, a SANY mini excavator could tackle digging up broken concrete using the bucket, pushing the debris with the plow blade, and then get refit with a drilling attachment to create postholes for building.

With their nimble design, mini excavators are also quite adept at tackling landscaping jobs like tree removal or digging for a retention pond. Mini excavators are also great at trenching work to install plumbing or buried utility lines. They are even useful in colder climates for removing large snow piles or snow banks with ease.

Find the Right Mini Excavator for You

If you’re looking for the right piece of equipment to help you tackle your jobs, a SANY mini excavator might be for you. Versatile, nimble and fuel efficient, mini excavators offer power to tackle your labor-intensive or time-consuming projects, while still being easy to operate and move around compared with larger machinery. Explore the full line of SANY mini excavators online or find a dealer near you to find the machine you need today.