How to Choose the Best Trencher Chain

When setting up a trencher for work, digging depth and width are two of the important questions to consider. But a third question often stumps people: is this chain type right for the job?


This blog was adapted and edited from its original version, "Choosing the Best Trencher Chain," by Emily Caudill on the Barreto website with permission from the company. 

When purchasing or renting a trencher, digging depth and width are two of the important questions to consider. But there is a third question that often stumps many people: what about chain type?

When we refer to chain types, we are talking about the type of teeth and the amount of spacing between each of these teeth. Read on to learn about chain types and the best soil conditions to use them in.

Combination Chain

Combination ChainCombination ChainBarretoCombination chains are one of the most popular and versatile chains provided. These chains have alternating cup and shark teeth, with a tooth on every station. These shark teeth provide the ability to break through moderate to tough ground conditions, such as compact and rocky soils, while the cup teeth can still actively clean the trench. This is a good all-around chain for normal to tough digging conditions.

Cup Chain 

There are two different options for cup chains. While both are made only with cup teeth, the spacing between these teeth give them differing advantages in certain soils. 

Standard Cup ChainStandard Cup ChainBarretoThe first is a standard or “double cup” chain. This chain has a cup tooth on every station, and it excels in sandy soils with little rock. Recommended for light or “good” ground conditions, the scoop shape of the cup teeth are excellent at removing the loose soils from the trench, where shark teeth would allow the loose soils to refill the trench.

Skip Cup ChainSkip Cup ChainBarretoThe second cup chain is the skip cup or “single cup” chain. This chain has a cup tooth on every other station. This chain is recommended for wet soil conditions, such as gumbo or clay. The larger gap between the teeth allows the soil to dislodge when exiting the trench. This prevents the wet, sticky soils from clogging the chain.

Shark Chain

Shark ChainShark ChainIn the same style as cup chains, shark chains are made only with shark teeth. This chain is offered in both a welded and bolt-on option. Both of these chains are productive in tough, compact soil conditions. The shark teeth excel at breaking up soils such as limestone and hardpan, removing dirt where the chances of loose soil refilling the trench are slim. The bolt-on chain provides the option of replacing the individual teeth as needed.

Rock Chain

Rock ChainRock ChainBarretoRock chains, or “bullet chains,” should be reserved for the toughest of soil conditions. With a rock tooth on every station, this chain is designed to break through extremely compacted or frozen soils. These aggressive teeth chomp through rocks and frozen ground, but are not effective in removing lighter soils. 

For more information on choosing the correct trencher for your conditions, check out our article, "Choosing the Right Trencher for the Job.