You may often find yourself trying to achieve grade in very tight quarters. This is where compact track loaders (CTLs) and large skid-steer loaders can earn their keep.
"For many site prep jobs, a compact track loader with a six-way blade, box blade or GPS grade control may be the most effective tool for grading due to its size, speed and maneuverability," says Rick Harris, product specialist, Terex Construction Americas.
Jim Hughes, brand marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment, agrees, noting, "[They] are ideal machines for grading on a jobsite that requires maneuverability and a compact footprint. Jobsites [where] dozers and graders will not fit would be ideal for skid steers and compact track loaders."
Maneuverability and the ability to go over finished surfaces without damage are major advantages, adds Gregg Zupancic, product marketing manager for skid steers and CTLs, John Deere Worldwide Construction & Forestry. "They are easy to move from jobsite to jobsite," he states. "Also, the machines have the ability to morph into alternate machine forms by changing attachments on the front end. This provides the customers more diversity to complete many more tasks then a dedicated grading machine."
While both skid steers and CTLs can be effective on rough grades, Harris asserts that a CTL is the better option for finish grading. "Bigger models that feature the longest track length are better suited for grading because they have more horsepower and a wider/longer track base," he asserts. "This allows for a smoother grading run that isn't as impacted by undulating or uneven terrain."
"Skid steers tend to be less productive on uneven terrain because they have fewer points of wheel contact on the ground," explains Zupancic. "CTLs, on the other hand, are extremely stable and, with wide tracks on the ground, can usually cut a very nice grade on steeper inclines. They are the preferred machine for grading applications on road sides and highways prior to seeding."
Select for grading efficiency
Of course, not all CTL designs may be optimal for finish grading. David Steger, national product manager, Takeuchi Mfg., asserts, "Having a machine with a rigid-mount undercarriage is essential to getting the best grade. Undercarriages that move and flex are great for making the ride more moderate. But these movements are transferred and often magnified to the bucket or attachment, making it difficult or impossible to ensure an even cut or grade."
Loader arm design also contributes to how a machine will hold up in grading applications. "Machines with fewer pivot points - like you would find on radial boom lift designs - offer less wear and tear over time," Steger states. "Also look for sizeable lower boom stops that transfer the force directly to the frame. Pads that are vertical offer more support than those that are sloped, since a slope design can actually place more load on the pins, as opposed to a vertical design that prevents rearward movement."
You should evaluate how the attachment affects machine operation, as well. "Attachments that can help transfer weight forward, such as buckets (weight comes from the dirt) or box blades, will help maintain traction and may prevent the front of the machine - which is inherently light compared to a dozer - from floating or rocking during operation," Steger points out.
Attachments will influence a CTL's usefulness on different sizes of projects. A loader equipped with the right attachments can be equally effective as a grading tool on small-scale projects such as residential lots, landscaping and backfilling, as well as large finish jobs such as sports fields, inside large tilt wall structures, backfilling large retaining walls, ditches and right-of-ways during road building, says Steger.