Mechanized equipment for construction and other heavy work evolved dramatically in the 20th century going clear back to the early years of last century when a tractor manufacturer replaced the machine’s wheels with wooden treads affixed to chains and created the Caterpillar line of powered equipment.
As the evolution continued, manufacturers began to engineer lines of tools that could be attached to a common carrier, thereby turning a loader into a brush-cutter or a pallet-carrier. Today, attaching tools are offered for backhoes, excavators, wheel loaders, skid steers, telehandlers and other heavy machinery.
The variety of attachable tools — or attachments — has multiplied, too. Operators can decouple a bucket and attach a brush-cutter, then switch to a fence post-driver or a tree spade. They can accomplish several wide-ranging tasks in the course of a day from the same operator’s seat. This diversity has practical implications for contractors, who can reduce the size of their fleets and have fewer pieces of equipment sitting idle. For property owners with weekend tasks, the versatility of a single machine increases their productivity at a lower equipment cost.
So, the heavy machinery evolution continues. This buyers guide is laid out to systematically introduce a reader to many of the attachments on the market today and to suggest ways to inspect and acquire them.
As you enter the attachments market, prepare yourself to be overwhelmed. The choices are many, the manufacturers numerous. Here are some suggestions as you weigh your choices:
1) Match an attachment to a particular task
So, you need a new bucket for your compact track loader, but which bucket? Do you mostly load and haul gravel and carry firewood to the house? A general purpose bucket will do. Or will you be cleaning up some woods? In that case, a 4-in-1 bucket is better because it can be used as a grapple to pick up limbs and logs and as a back-drag leveler to smooth a landscape. Will you primarily push and load snow? Get a high-backed bucket with screened sections. Knowing how you will use an attachment can guide you.
2) Match an attachment to your machine’s capacity
Some tools require more horsepower and hydraulic flow than others. Generally, if an attachment has a fast-spinning component to rip or smooth, a higher rate of auxiliary hydraulics is required. So, running a stump-grinder or grinding down pavement with a cold planer requires more gallons-per-minute of hydraulic oil flow than does a grapple simply clamping its jaws on an object and lifting it. Getting too large or complex an attachment for your tool carrier will only frustrate you.
3) Evaluate the manufacturer of an attachment
Simple attachments such as a blade or fork are easily sized up by noting the gauge or thickness of metal used to fabricate them and the overall finish of the tool. But the quality of new attachments with moving parts and hydraulic cylinders and gear boxes is not as easily discerned. Check out a manufacturer to determine its reputation in the marketplace and the value of its warranties. This especially is true in this global era when attachments are manufactured abroad. Do your due diligence.
4) Look beyond dealerships for an attachment
Visiting a dealership for a new or used attachment always is a good choice because it automatically locks in dealer support. A variety of proprietary and aftermarket brands can be found in dealers’ used equipment inventory. However, machinery auctions are another trustworthy source for attachments. Auction houses have been around for decades and have established inspection and warranty policies to protect your investment. Sales are transparent and customer satisfaction drives the process. Consider it.
While renting or leasing an attachment is a relatively worry-free method of acquiring a needed tool, some thought should go into it. Though you will just be using the tool for a limited time, if it does not function for you adequately, your time and money will be wasted.
1) Get the right-sized tool for your equipment
Rental houses and dealers typically have in their equipment yard the more popular sizes of attachments. If you have a mid-sized skid steer, for example, chances are good that a blade or brush-cutter in the rental lot will properly fit it. A rental agent can advise you which model of attachment will function at a high level with your tool carrier. What the rental yard professional needs from you is the kind of coupling on your tool carrier and its auxiliary hydraulic flow level.
2) Know how you will use the attachment and be realistic about your skills
Telling a rental store agent that you need a mower for your skid steer is not sufficient information. Will you be mowing a Kentucky bluegrass horse pasture that backdrops your house? A light-duty mower will suffice. But if you are clearing a bromegrass lot with scrub brush and small trees, a severe duty brush-cutter will be needed. Bluegrass-mowing can be accomplished without a high level of skill, but brush-cutting is something else. Admit your level of expertise so you will be safe as you work.
1) Have the attachment demonstrated
A used attachment at rest can be as deceptive as a sleeping dog. Ask to see the tool coupled to a machine and operated. Do its mechanical parts gratingly engage? Is there shuddering or balking? Does it vibrate noticeably? Do hydraulic pistons respond instantly or reluctantly? While attachments may clank and bang in operation, they should not emit irregular noises or exhibit mechanical spasms. Tools do not draw attention to themselves.
2) Evaluate wear points and linkages
Fixed attachments such as simple push blades do not require auxiliary hydraulic flow, so their inspection is purely visual. Do wear points such as leading edges show excessive loss? Do mechanical pivot points wobble? On hydraulic tools, is there fluid leakage? Are bearings noticeably loose? Do gripping appendages properly mesh? Are surfaces bent or misaligned from abuse? Loss of paint should not alarm you. Loss of function should.
Attachment pricing depends on size, brand and market demand. In a global market, prices for attachments also can vary by region. The more widely you explore the market, the broader your options are apt to be. Hereafter is some examples of pricing.
Rental prices for tool carrier attachments are based on local demand for the tools and area rental competition. An online survey suggests renting a skid steer auger, for example, can cost anywhere from $85 to $125 a day, $300 to $475 a week and $625 to $800 a month. Some rental companies give corporate and fleet customers a lower rate. Equipment rental sources include independent and national rental houses as well as heavy equipment dealerships.
Some Financing Options
Buying a new attachment is a substantial investment for a buyer, especially the more sophisticated tools with auxiliary hydraulic functions. When a buyer is a new contractor or a property owner, funding the purchase is even more problematic. Equipment dealers understand this and offer a variety of ways for buyers to pay for the needed tools. Some dealers offer lease agreements with an option to buy, sometimes at rates lower than traditional financing.
Financing costs vary according to supply and demand, of course. Some manufacturers offer no-interest loans for two years or several thousand dollars in rebates up front. Conventional loan providers that specialize in construction and landscape equipment including tools realize that construction work seasons oftentimes are not 12 months a year and ag work is cyclical and seasonal. So, explore a variety of funding sources before approaching a seller.
Just as a hammerhead without a handle is useless, a tool must be wedded to equipment to have any utility. In the years since they were introduced, the attachment mechanisms have evolved and settled into some standard configurations. In considering an attachment for your skid steer or other tool carrier, you should become familiar with the coupling systems and find a compatible one.
Bobcat invented the skid steer. As the new machine became popular and was adapted to numerous tools, Bobcat engineers also invented a quick-attachment system for connecting a tool to a tool carrier. This universal system was widely adopted. The common interface allows differently engineered attachments to be fitted to a single machine. In some cases, adapters are employed to further extend the utility of the tool carrier. As you shop for a tool, pay attention to the coupling system.
2) Quick Coupler
If attachments were bolted and unbolted, their popularity would be less. Instead, alternatives were developed to speed the process. A manual system requires that an operator, after docking the attachment, leave his seat and throw a release. In a semi-automatic system, once an attachment is in place, an operator manually inserts a pin as a safety device. In a fully automatic system, pins are thrown and locked hydraulically. The tiltrotator is a unique coupling. It functions like a wrist and gives a tool flexibility.
Note: Not every attachments is compatible with every tool carrier because of power, weight, load capacity and hydraulic flow differences. Following are some popular attachments:
Affixing an auger to the front of the boom on a tool carrier greatly multiplies the number of post-holes one person can dig in a day and similar applications. Augers are available in low auxiliary hydraulic-flow and high-flow.
A push blade is a multi-useful tool — snow, gravel, dirt, etc. Its capacity is limited only by a tool carrier’s push power. Some can be adjusted for angle and tilt. Some are engineered as V-blades for path-clearing.
Also called a hammer, this hydraulic striking tool is utilized to break apart rock, concrete, asphalt and other hardened materials. It comes in low-flow and high-flow models and is engineered for a full spectrum of tool carrier sizes.
At clean-up, a rotary broom can handle thin layers of dirt and irregular pieces of debris with equal effectiveness. The broom’s bristles are either polyester or a poly-steel hybrid and the angled sweep of the broom is adjustable.
This is the standard attachment at the end of a boom. Its many variations include 4-in-1, snow, sifting, side-discharge and general utility. The attachment is offered in numerous widths and gauges.
6) Clod-Buster/Topsoil Screener
This hydraulically driven attachment is a bucket with a hood containing an agitator. After the bucket is loaded with dirt, the hood drops and clods are reduced to sifted soil. Rocks and debris are screened out.
7) Concrete Saw
Sometimes called a wheel saw, this attachment cuts through concrete and other pavement to cleanly leave a narrow trench for utility lines. Because of the intensity of the work, high-flow hydraulics are required.
Consisting of two flat struts and an upright back, the attachment is used to slip under wood pallets for lifting. It is commonly employed in shipping and warehousing work, but also is used to transport landscape materials.
The jaws of this attachment clamp onto irregular objects, such as logs or debris, and carry them away. Sometimes the grapple is joined with a bucket or fork to secure a load. The tool comes in light-duty and heavy-duty versions.
10) Hay Spear
This simple device targets agriculture tool carriers with large, round bales of hay to transport. A four-foot-long tine is simply rammed into a bale, the bale lifted and carried away. A spear can carry up to 3,500 lbs.
Tall grass, scrub brush and small trees are no match for these cutting tools. Severe-duty models can chew up trunks 10 inches in diameter. If too large a model is attached to a tool carrier, performance will suffer.
Icy parking lots and hillside paved driveways are hazardous. A salt-spreader on a tool carrier evenly scatters a container of melting salt so tires can regain traction. The attachment comes in assorted sizes and capacities.
Several kinds of attachments work in snow. Simple angled blades windrow snow. Sided blades contain and mound it. Snow blowers with auger collectors blow it to one side out of the path of travel.
14) Tree Spade/Puller
Removing relatively small trees is handily accomplished with these attachments. A spade cuts downward from opposite sides and lifts a ball of earth for transplanting. A puller grips the base of a tree and rips it from the ground.
The spade-making industry hated to see the invention of mechanical / hydraulic trenchers. Now an attachment gives a tool carrier the ability to dig long, straight trenches for pipes and lines. Medium-high-flow hydraulics are required
Major tool carrier manufacturers, such as Deere, JCB, Case and many others, sell branded tools to match, but numerous after-market manufacturers build attachments, too. Reputable commercial attachment-makers include…
1) Blue Diamond
This Knoxville, Tenn., manufacturer opened its doors in 1995 and offers more than 35 tools for skid steers and compact track loaders.
2) Brush Wolf
Brush-cutters of this name are built by Cross-Tech Manufacturing of Crosslake, Minn. It offers two dozen cutter models for skid steers and track loaders.
This 100-year-old family-owned company builds attachments in its Fulton, Mo., plant. Among its products are fence wire-winders, post-drivers and augers.
The Swedish company produces several tools for compact tool carriers, including grading buckets, tiltrotator couplings, quick-hitches and grading beams.
Headquartered in Commerce City, Colo., this tool makers specializes in demolition and recycling attachments such as hydraulic breakers.
6) Fox Hiniker
Specializing in snow-removal products, this Mankato, Minn., manufacturer’s most recent product is the VersaPlow attachment.
This German manufacturer is a maker of the increasingly popular tiltrotator attachment for compact excavators, which give buckets and pallets more flexible reach.
This Michigan company has 11 brands of attachments under its name, including Bradco, CWS and Kodiak. Many of their products are for compact tool carriers.
9) SAS Forks
SAS manufactures engineered tough solutions for the salvage, auto recycling, quarry and rail road industries. It bring 35 plus years of salvage experience as well as another 30 plus years of fork manufacturing to help fulfill all of your material handling needs. Headquartered in Luxemburg, Wis., this company custom engineers wheel loader forks in the curb weight range of 20,000 lbs. (2 yds.) to 70,000 lbs. (7 yds.). The company also stocks more standardized options of adjustable general purpose pallet forks.”
Fine-grading by compact tool carriers is done though sophisticated grade-control systems. A California company, Trimble, offers laser and GPS attachments.
This Litchfield, Ill., attachment maker has a catalog of more than 400 attachable tools, many of which are useable on compact tool carriers.
Attachments are what give tool carriers their high value. One powered machine + numerous attachments = increased productivity at less cost. It is a winning formula for a fleet owner or a property owner. Whether you are contemplating renting an attachment or buying one, the choices are plentiful and the applications are continuing to multiply. If you are careful in your selection of an attachment, it will become an essential tool in your tool bag.