Backhoes typically come as a complete package with a tractor, digger bucket and loader. But these can be pricey and can take up a lot of space in a small farm. In this post, we’ll give you some ideas on how to make a backhoe without buying a full one. These include turning your tractors, skid steer or even ATV into a backhoe.
What You'll Learn Today
Can You Assemble a Backhoe From Scratch?
You can certainly make your own DIY backhoe differ from scratch. But that requires lots of engineering skills and specifically an understanding of hydraulics and mechanics.
You’ll also need to be comfortable using tools like welders and angle grinders, and spend a lot of time searching for the right components.
If you have the time, skills, and tools, it’s a nice project to try. For inspiration, see what this homeowner has done.
Our guide is targeted more towards folks who don’t want a traditional backhoe, with the tractor and everything, but still want off the shelf components they can work with without any welding or grinding involved.
We explain how to combine standalone backhoe attachments with common equipment that you already have to make a usable machine that’s way cheaper than getting a CAT, JD or Case product.
A towable backhoe is one of the cheapest ways of making a homemade backhoe digger. These backhoes are typically small, very affordable, and can be towed behind a vehicle, ATV or UTV.
Once you transport the machine to where you want to use it, you disconnect it from the vehicle then engage the stabilizer legs.
For repositioning around the job site, most towable backhoes can be moved over short distances using the digger bucket and the wheels.
A towable backhoe consists of just a single arm with a digger bucket, an operator’s seat, hydraulic controls, and a small engine to power the hydraulics.
Because they tend to be small and not very powerful, towable backhoes are only suitable for small digging jobs. The digging depth is usually no more than 6-7 feet.
A towable machine is perfect for landscaping around your home and can help with various tasks in a small farm such as digging post holes and trenches, digging small ponds, and moving rocks and tree stumps.
One of the companies that manufactures towable backhoes is Harbor Freight. Their most popular model comes with a 9HP engine, can dig up to 7ft deep, and costs about $3,500.
Northern Tool also sells a 15HP towable backhoe with a 6.7ft digging depth for about the same price.
Attaching a Backhoe to a Tractor
If you already own a tractor, you probably don’t need to buy another tractor just to get access to a digger.
There are backhoe diggers designed specifically to attach to a tractor’s three point hitch system. The digger connects to your tractor’s hydraulic system.
These backhoes tend to be bigger, and can handle much more challenging jobs. Most of them have the same digging depth and lift capacity as a full sized tractor backhoe.
The limiting factor will be your tractor.
Before you get a digger and hitch it to your tractor, look up your tractor’s capabilities. This includes how much weight it can tow, whether its frame can withstand the stresses of using a backhoe, and the capacity of the tractor’s hydraulic system.
In some cases, you’ll need to buy and install a subframe to ensure the tractor can handle increased load and stress from the backhoe.
One major advantage of a tractor-mounted backhoe is that it functions much like a traditional backhoe. Once you attach it to the tractor, it’s easy to move it around even on difficult terrain.
By the way, if your tractor can accommodate the combined weight, you can also add a loader to your tractor to recreate a proper backhoe.
Attaching a Backhoe to a Skid Steer
If you have a skid steer, that can also work. You just need to get a backhoe attachment designed to connect to a skid steer.
The size and capability of the attachment will depend on what your skid steer can handle. You can get lightweight attachments for under $2,000 and heavy duty ones for up to $10,000 or more.
Some backhoes come with their own auxiliary hydraulic system to supplement the skid steer’s power.
You’ll also find some backhoes that can be operated from within the skid steer’s cab, while others have a dedicated operator station on the backhoe.
Pros and Cons of Homemade Backhoes
- It’s cheaper than buying a full size backhoe. Even a used machine can easily set you back $20,000 or more. In contrast, you can spend just a couple thousand dollars on an attachment for your tractor or UTV.
- You get to use the equipment you already have. This not only saves money, it also saves on space especially for smaller farms.
- You don’t have another big machine to maintain. Maintaining a backhoe attachment is cheaper and easier than servicing a full size machine.
- You often have to give up some power and performance. You are unlikely to find an attachment that can match a full size machine in terms of power, dig depth, reach, and lift capacity.
- Frequently switching between different attachments can be tedious.
It all comes down to your particular situation.
If you mostly use it for small jobs around your home and farm, it makes sense to use a towable or tractor-mounted backhoe. You can then rent a full size backhoe for the occasional big projects.
If, on the other hand, you regularly do a lot of excavation, you are probably better off spending more on a full size machine.