What Is a Compact Excavator?

Posted on Monday, May 13, 2024

If you’re getting ready to start a new project that calls for a smaller-sized excavator, one of the most important preparatory steps involves reserving the necessary equipment and tools. But for those less familiar with small equipment rentals, how do you know if a mini excavator or a compact excavator is the right choice?

But perhaps more importantly, what is the difference between these two pieces of heavy machinery?

What Is a Compact Excavator?

As the name suggests, a compact excavator is a smaller version of a standard-sized excavator. It typically features a cab for the operator that rotates 360 degrees, tracks or wheels for mobility, and an arm that can be outfitted with attachments like a bucket, breakers, augers, and more.

What’s the Difference Between a Compact Excavator and a Mini Excavator?

In general, excavators are classified according to their sizes: mini, mid/midi, standard, and large. Most companies consider mini excavators and compact excavators to be the same, but it’s important to note that some classify them differently. In those instances, the size classes typically follow this order: mini, compact, mid/midi, standard, and then large.

However, it’s imperative to recognize that even when mini excavators are differentiated from compact excavators, their specs differ only slightly. Still, it’s essential to compare your project requirements to the machine’s specs when reserving an excavator for rent.

Main Components of a Compact Excavator

Compact excavators, despite their smaller size, share many components with their larger counterparts. To maximize project and task productivity, it’s essential to understand their main components. Here’s a breakdown of the key parts that make up a compact excavator:


The house, also known as the upper structure or the cab, sits on top of the undercarriage and protects the operator. It contains vital controls and instruments for operating the compact excavator, like the engine and hydraulic system.


The workgroup consists of the boom, arm, and bucket (or attachment) and is the assembly responsible for executing the digging, lifting, and loading tasks.

The design and configuration of the workgroup play an important role in an excavator’s performance and versatility.


The undercarriage supports the weight of the excavator, provides stability on various terrains, and helps the excavator move around the worksite. It typically includes tracks or wheels, rollers, sprockets, and idlers.

The undercarriage design influences the compact excavator’s mobility and traction.

Backfill Blade

The backfill blade, also known as a dozer blade, is a mounted leveler located at the rear of the excavator. The blade is used for leveling, grading, and backfilling tasks, and enhances the machine’s versatility by providing additional stability.

Compact Excavator Boom Configurations

The boom of a compact excavator plays a crucial role in determining its reach, digging depth, and working envelope. Different boom configurations offer varying advantages for specific applications; the following sections outline the three main types.

Swing Boom

The swing boom configuration features a boom that can swing left or right along the centerline of the house, and independently of the house. This design provides increased digging flexibility and maneuverability, making it ideal for working in confined spaces and around corners and obstacles.

Articulating Boom

An articulating boom can bend at a joint near the house and consists of multiple segments connected by hinges. This configuration enables the excavator to reach over obstacles and work in tight spaces close to walls without repositioning the entire excavator. An articulating boom allows for greater flexibility and reach, making it easier to work on sites with uneven terrain.

Fixed Boom

A fixed boom is the most basic boom configuration, with a durable and rigid boom that extends directly from the house. While it offers a straight digging path and is typically the most affordable option, a fixed boom’s reach and versatility may be limited compared to other boom configurations.

Compact Excavator Arm Configurations

The arm of a compact excavator extends from the boom and supports the bucket or attachment. Different arm configurations provide varying reach, digging depth, and versatility for different applications. The three most common arm configurations are standard, extendable, and long arm.

Standard Arm

A standard arm is the most versatile arm length and offers a good balance between digging depth and reach while also providing stability and control for efficient operation in various conditions.

A standard arm suitable for general-purpose digging and loading tasks.

Extendable Arm

An extendable arm telescopes outward, and can be extended or retracted to adjust the machine’s reach and digging depth. This configuration enhances versatility by allowing the excavator to load trucks at a distance and adapt to different job site requirements without changing attachments.

Long Arm

A long arm configuration provides extended reach and digging depth compared to standard arms. It is beneficial for reaching deeper excavation depths or working in situations where increased reach is necessary, such as ditching or trenching.

Compact Excavator Tail Swing Configurations

Tail swing radius refers to an excavator’s rotation arc behind its house, and the tail swing configuration determines the amount of counterweight protruding beyond the tracks or wheels. Different tail swing configurations offer distinct advantages for maneuverability and stability in various working environments.

Here are the three main tail swing configurations:

Zero Tail Swing

A zero-tail swing excavator features a minimal or no overhang of the counterweight beyond the tracks or wheels. This design allows the machine to rotate 360 degrees within its footprint, making it ideal for working in confined spaces and job sites congested with other obstacles.

Minimal Tail Swing

An excavator with a minimal tail swing means the house overhangs the tracks by a very small amount and thus has a reduced counterweight overhang. Minimal tail swing provides enhanced maneuverability while maintaining stability. It offers a good compromise between zero tail swing and conventional tail swing excavators, providing a good balance between maneuverability and stability that’s suitable for moderate space constraints.

Conventional Tail Swing

A conventional tail swing has the largest tail swing radius among the three configurations. This means the compact excavator has a larger counterweight overhang which may extend beyond the tracks or wheels. While it offers excellent stability and lifting capacity, it requires more space for operation compared to zero or minimal tail swing configurations.

Rent a Compact Excavator From The Equipment Source

Have you been asking yourself, Is there an equipment rental near me with compact excavators? The answer is: Yes! Whether you want to stop by one of our eight locations or give us a call, our team at The Equipment Source is ready to discuss your goals and the parameters of your project.

Together, we can help you figure out which make and model is the right compact excavator for your project requirements and circumstances.


What is considered a small excavator?

Small excavators are usually between three feet and three inches wide and four feet and four inches wide. These small equipment machines weigh up to 10 tons, or up to 20,000 pounds.

What does a compact excavator do?

Compact excavators are versatile machines that can help you accomplish many projects and tasks, including digging and excavating, loading and lifting, demolitions, grading, leveling, drilling, trenching, backfilling, and more.

What’s the difference between a compact excavator and a mini excavator?

In general, compact excavators and mini excavators are largely considered synonymous when it comes to heavy machinery. If you come across a company or site that differentiates between the two, just know that mini excavators are usually thought of as smaller than compact excavators.

Are there any small equipment rentals near me?

With eight locations, including one in Naples, Florida, we are ready to help you easily access the tools and equipment you need to help you start and finish your projects.

Have any questions? Ready to reserve your equipment rental so you can get started on your next project? Our team at The Equipment Source is ready to help: Contact our equipment rental experts today!