Whether you are Bruce Willis sent by NASA to drill into an asteroid's thick crust of compressed iron ferrite, or a sheep farmer in the field digging fence post holes, choosing the right auger drive unit could be the difference between saving the planet from Armageddon or digging deep into your pocketbook for repairs. Maybe the last line is a bit of a stretch, but it is no exaggeration to say that hydraulically-powered auger systems for use on mini-excavators, skid-steers, and other small- to mid-sized vehicles are efficient labour savers and suited for an array of tasks in construction, agriculture, and industry. However, with so many options and brands available, how do you know which one to choose?
Step 1: Do not speculate
Before you dig yourself into a hole, get acquainted with the host vehicle's specifications. With all the various auger system brands and models available, it can be difficult to select the proper unit that fits the specifications for an individual machine.
Successfully pairing a vehicle with an auger drive starts with a little research. The operator's manual is a good starting point. If it is not readily available, then contacting a local dealer or searching online can be good alternative sources. Some attachment manufacturers host specification guides on their website for this purpose. No matter where you get your information, make sure it is from a reputable source and it is specific to your vehicle.
Step 2: Torque or Speed?
Once you know what the host vehicle specs are, you need to know what you are digging. What are the ground conditions like? Is the dirt loam, clay, sand, or caliche? Will you be digging through frozen or rocky ground? What diameter(s) and depth(s) do the holes need to be? Are there a lot of obstacles (example tree roots) in the area? These things are important in choosing the auger and auger drive.
At present, the two most common kinds of hydraulic auger drive on the market are direct drive and planetary drive. These are prominent in the skid steer and compact track loader markets as well as on tractors and excavators. Without boring you with the technical differences between direct drive and planetary drive, let's focus on the environment each works best in. Loamy soils are easier to dig in than clay or caliche soil types. A direct drive auger system, which generally spins faster with less torque, would typically be more affordable and would work well in loamy type soils. More compacted soils like clay and caliche often require more torque and this is where a planetary gear reduction would be a better fit with its slower spin and greater torque.
Step 3: Do your homework
Research may very well be the most important stage on your quest for finding a good new or used auger drive unit. There are several brands on the market. A few things to consider before making the purchase include customer service, parts availability, and longevity. Take a little time to investigate the potential brands. Read online reviews, visit the manufacturers' websites and give them a call to ask how they handle parts, warranty policies, and how they help customers who are broken down on the job site. How quickly can they get parts to the field? Do they have local dealers who perform service?
This is time well spent in an effort to avoid potential downtime on future jobs. Whether you are buying new or used it is good to at least get a feel for the seller before you buy.
Brand longevity is not the most important item on this list but it is difficult to source parts from a company which has gone out of business. Take your time. Being in a haste to make a purchase may leave you with buyer's remorse.
Step 4: Bits and pieces
Once the auger drive has been determined, it is time to turn the focus to the auger bit. Digging conditions are again important here. There are several auger bit types available including bolt-on teeth, drive in teeth, and speciality (tree augers, rock augers, etc.). This is another area to spend time researching through manufacturers, local dealers, and other online resources. It is common practice to purchase auger bits from the same manufacturer as the auger drive. One of the main advantages here is that the manufacturers typically test their bits with their drive units, so it adds confidence that they will perform well when mated together.
Step 5: What accessories?
The drive units are generally low maintenance but consider that they can endure a lot of abuse during their lives. After all, that is what most are made for. Recognise that auger drives operate in harsh environments.
If you are considering buying a used unit, check the oil and give it a thorough inspection for wear and damage. Signs that you should avoid purchasing a used unit include obvious hydraulic leaks, a bent output spindle, and metal shavings in the oil. It is a good idea to give the unit a test drive (or dig) to ensure operability.
Auger bits require replacement items including points and teeth so having a local source will be important. If the hole depth is deeper than the auger, then an extension likely needs to be included. Extensions come in several sizes, lengths, and are available as fixed or variable length for depth adjustment. In addition to digging dirt, some hydraulic auger drives can be used for other tasks, like mixing concrete or winding up fence wire. Auger attachments like the Python Wire Winder from Danuser help add more functionality to your auger drive.
My brain hurts
The biggest obstacle is having enough time to do the research. Knowing your vehicle's specs, the type of dirt you will be digging in, and familiarising yourself with the different types of bits and teeth available will help you make the best decision when the options are presented.
Set yourself up for success by starting this process well ahead of when you will need the unit. This will also provide a buffer in the event you decide to order a unit that your local dealer does not have in stock. A good dealer will work to pair you with the right equipment for your needs, after all, that is why they are there.
Mike Willis is the sales manager of Danuser, which offers PTO auger systems, hydraulic auger systems, auger bits, pallet forks, post drivers, the intimidator for pulling trees and posts, material handling buckets for concrete and various materials, and concrete breakers for various industries