How to operate a mini excavator

Updated July 20, 2017

Many landscaping projects require soil excavation in one form or another. One of the easiest ways to move a lot of soil is to use a mini excavator. These machines fit into small areas and can make a huge difference in the time it takes to complete landscaping jobs.

Turn on the mini excavator. Many mini excavators have sensors in the seats to ensure that you are sitting down and will not start otherwise. The left arm rest also has to be in the raised position, which you can achieve by pulling on a lever below the left joystick.

Adjust the throttle. There is a lever just in front on the ignition switch that you can use to control the throttle. Push the lever forward to increase the throttle. Pull the lever back to decrease the throttle.

Move the mini excavator forward and backward. You can travel back and forth by using the foot pedals. Each pedal controls one of the tracks. Depending on the orientation of the cab, pushing forward on the pedals may make the mini excavator move forward or backward. The foot pedals often also have long control arms so that you can control travel of the machine with your hands. Always apply a small amount of pressure to the foot pedals at first to determine which direction they will move the machine.

Curl the bucket by using the right joystick. Curling the bucket basically means that you are moving your bucket in a scooping motion to fill it. Uncurling means that you are dumping the contents of the bucket. To curl the bucket, move the right joystick towards you. To uncurl the bucket, move the right joystick away from you.

Raise or lower the main boom with the right joystick. The main boom is the first section of the "arm" that is connected to the machine. To raise the main boom, pull the right joystick back. To lower the main boom, push the right joystick forward.

Control the stick boom, (also known as the crowd, or secondary boom) with the left joystick. The stick boom is the part of the "arm" that is between the main boom and the bucket. To bring the stick boom closer to you, pull the left joystick back. To move the stick boom away from you, push the left joystick forward.

Control the left and right motion of the main boom with the left joystick. Some mini excavators spin, which you also control with the left joystick. To spin or move the bucket to the right, push the left joystick to the right. To spin or move the bucket to the left, push the joystick to the left.

Choose to spin or control just the main boom. In some mini excavators you can choose to spin the entire cab, or leave the cab stationary and move only the booms. To choose between these options, press the button on the top of the left joystick.

Some mini excavators are equipped with blades to push soil. On the right arm rest, just behind the joystick, there is a lever to control the blade. If you want to raise the blade you have to pull back on the lever. To lower the blade, push the lever forward.


When beginning, it is easier to control the mini excavator with the throttle at a lower setting.


Never operate any heavy equipment without proper instruction or supervision. The counterweight of a mini excavator can spin out past the width of the tracks. Always pay attention to your surroundings.

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About the Author

Logan Jeffreys has been writing professionally since 2008. His areas of expertise include education, environmental biology and construction. Jeffreys holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from Lakehead University as well as a Graduate Diploma from Griffith University.