Tuesday, June 21, 2022

So, Have I Actually Done Anything With That Expensive Toy?

Well, yes, but not as much as I would have liked. The 2022 heat wave hit here in Arizona and it was over 110F every day until today. However, today I had to repair my chainsaw instead of working with the excavator.

Sigh....

But I have managed to do some things around the house. I moved a whole lot of rocks out of the way, Built a little road to get around, dug out some brush, and that kind of thing. I know that I'm preaching to the choir here, but tools are great to have. I think I mentioned that I bought it because I was tired of renting equipment and having a multi-hundred dollar bill when I returned it. You can't get good with it only spending a few hours under pressure, and you never quite get the entire job done.

I wanted my own, and indulged myself and bought the darn thing. I don't regret that decision. 

I may be working on this rock for a while. It is stuck in caliche and won't budge.

If you consider following my path, I have a few recommendations:

1. Don't get too big a machine. My Ford tractor is huge and very powerful, but it doesn't fit anywhere. I have to jockey that thing around a LOT to position it for work. Then, when I have to move it, I have to be careful not to take out a fence or something.

2. Excavators are fun and they can pick up heavy things. However, you have to have a thumb to do it easily. You can drag a bucket across the ground and a rock will just slide along avoiding the bucket like it suddenly became sentient and decided not to cooperate. A thumb solves that problem. Thumbs are also really good for picking up brush and moving it. 

There's cactus and thorny mesquite in that bundle !

3. Avoid all the fancy electronic bells and whistles. Sure little short joysticks are fun and cool looking, but the damn things break leaving you with a machine to fix. The electronics on these machines have to be able to take the heat, cold, rain, mud, etc and cost a lot. 

Simple hydraulics are the best for people like me. I want to use the machine, not order parts for hundreds of dollars and wait forever for them to arrive. Hydraulic parts are simple and available all over the place. 

4. Get an older machine. One from the '80s won't have a mess of equipment to lower emissions. A friend of mine had his brand new tractor in the shop for a month to get the emissions equipment working correctly. Avoid that dilemma if at all possible.

Do you really want a DEF reservoir and smog pump ?

5. Diesel may be expensive right now, but it stores well and doesn't explode. Get a diesel engine on your new tool. They run cooler, last a long time, and are already fuel injected. Great little motors that don't plug up with gum from ethanol additives that dissolve gaskets. Remember above where I mentioned having to fix my chainsaw? Yep, the ethanol dissolved the gaskets in the carburetor.

Ethanol is miscible in water. That means it absorbs water
Water damages carburetors. I stole this picture of a really bad one, 
but this CAN happen to you.

6. Educate yourself about the common problems. This is something that you can't get from youtube. People let their machines set outside in the weather and the hoses rot. Hydraulic hoses are not cheap and most of them are custom-made. These things will drive you nuts on a machine that hasn't been used in a long time. If you check back on this blog you'll find where I rebuilt cylinders on the garage floor. It can be done, but that means you're fixing it instead of using it.

For most people, a 4000-pound machine will do everything they want to do with it. It can lift several hundred pounds and move it around. Trailers are cheaper for them. I picked up a used tandem trailer that will carry it just fine locally without any trouble. 

Unfortunately, they can be a black hole for money. There are attachments that can make everything easier, but they cost big bucks. A grooming bucket that lets the dirt go through while the bigger rocks get stuck is great for clearing rocks, but they cost hundreds. Consider digging a hole and scraping the rocks into it with the claws instead. A quick-connect so you can change the buckets easily is great to have, but have you looked at how much they cost? You can pound a different bucket in place for a lot less money. A smaller or larger bucket is great to have, but unless you find one abandoned in an empty field, it's gonna cost you a bunch. Sure you can build one and that would be fun, but have you looked at the price of quarter-inch steel lately? Welders are getting cheaper, but steel isn't. 

I love my excavator and it has made things possible that simply weren't before, but I must discipline myself constantly to keep the urge for a new item for it under control. 

For me, being able to climb up on it anytime I want to and tear out a cactus is exhilarating. Not having to reserve it at an equipment rental place and picking it up at 7:00 AM from a clerk that hasn't had enough coffee is worth a lot. Let's not talk about getting it back on time. That really sucks.

Of course, my yard is starting to look like a used farm equipment lot !


I think it looks great though !



Tuesday, April 5, 2022

My New Excavator

 Yes, I bit the bullet and bought a Mini Excavator. 


I looked at what was available locally for a couple of months, and what I found just didn't cut it. The hoses had rotted from the sun, There was significant damage to some areas, they were way, way overpriced; at least in my opinion. So, I bit the bullet and expanded my search online to nationwide.

There were a lot of them out there, but buying something this expensive sight unseen was scary. Sure, people do it every day at online auctions and such, but they know what they're doing, ... I don't.

So, I went to ebay and looked at their guarantee for construction equipment. They insure the purchase up to $100,000, and that gave me enough courage to contact a seller. The rest was easy. The excavator arrived in port in Long Beach, CA; was inspected; loaded on a truck, and showed up at my house in just a few days total time. I was lucky in that respect, but I did choose a machine that was available instead of looking for exactly the right thing.

If you want to know the specs, the model number is right on the side and google can pop up a spec sheet in one search. What I like most about it is there ARE NO ELECTRONICS; it's old school hydraulics with valves and such. It can be worked on without a laptop plugged into a data port. Less failures to some component getting wet and less expensive control components.

I can fix it if I need to. (or should I say 'when')

Now the bad stuff: When I got on it, having exactly zero experience on an excavator, I couldn't get it to go. Meaning, how the heck do you run this thing? I fiddled around and found the two forward controls for the tracks and managed to move it down the drive a ways. Then I looked at the control layout decal and managed to work it a bit. I got it from the road to my house in a few minutes and then started to play with it where no one could see me make a fool of myself.

After an hour of trying levers, looking at the instructions (shudder) and messing around I managed to make it do things. Then, I went nuts. Spinning around using zero turn, swiveling it around and around, banging the bucket on the ground. Basically playing with my new toy. 

It is so exciting to pick up a bucket of dirt, swivel around and dump it behind you. That is probably the most exciting thing about an excavator I've tried yet. It can really dig!! I can make a hole in no time, even with the incredibly rocky ground I live on. Just wiggle the bucket back and forth a little and it will bite in. Really large rocks give it trouble, and I have to plan better to roll them out of the hole, but so far, I haven't hit one that I can't move. I know I will at some point (it is a mini machine), but then I'll just go around the rock if necessary. 

And, it has a THUMB. In case you don't know what that is, here's a picture of mine.


This allows me to pick up rocks, grab a bunch of prunings, pick up a limb to chainsaw, etc. It gives me a hand to manipulate things with. This increases the versatility of the machine to a level that we, as homeowners, can really appreciate.

There is one annoying thing about it though. The left hand control is set up counter-intuitively. Left hand left is stick away and left hand right is stick close. Left hand forward is swing right and left hand back is swing left. There are two control standards in the US, ISO and SAE; they differ in the positions of the controls, however both of them have the swivel control on the left hand side to side.  That is driving me nuts. I keep swinging the excavator when I try to move the stick. It just makes sense to my brain that swivel left should be push left, not pull back.

Yes, it can be changed by moving the hydraulic lines. However, the lines are plumbed, not hoses. Take a look:



Those two pipes are the stick controls, and I didn't want to spend a week creating new ones to fit the application. Note that steel plumbing is a good thing, it protects the hydraulics and makes for a really good connection, They are just really hard to move around. I may come back to this after a while and change it, but reprogramming my brain is easier at this point and it keeps the machine on the dirt doing what I need instead of sitting in the garage waiting for parts.

What's also awesome about this machine is how well it is set up. I can get to the controls really easily, the gas gauge is a clear tube instead of a float in the tank that fails, the horn is not where you'll hit it every time you use the machine. It even has a light that I plan on using very, very little. 

For example, the horn used to be on the right hand control where you manipulate the bucket and bang your knee. It's now on the right hand side where the other electrical controls are:



I may grind that mount off at some point, but want to have a can of Komatsu blue paint on hand when I do to keep it pretty.

Wanna see the extremely high tech fuel gauge? I guarantee this will not fail due to a rat eating the wiring or some connection coming loose.


Yes, it's just a clear tube that shows the level of fuel in the tank. No electronics, no silly idiot light, just something that you can easily see that won't fail as soon as you need it.

Now for a blatant recommendation of the seller I used for this transaction, NGO Company. I called them about the excavator I found both on the web and ebay. I talked to a guy named Ray, and he was totally honest. He described the machine, the process of buying it and when he expected it to show up in port. I waited a day, and called him back to start the purchase process. I paid a deposit, then waited until the machine was in his shop. He sent me pictures of it and I paid the rest by wire transfer. 

As soon as the wire showed up as pending for transfer, he called the shipper and they came and loaded it up. I got it the next day. 

Totally seamless transaction; nothing went wrong and the machine started on the first try. How good can it get?

Ray will probably read this blog post and snicker a bit because I literally drove him nuts with questions about the dates, how wire transfers worked, etc. All the stuff a naive purchasers comes up with. I was basically a total dweeb, and he put up with it.

If you're interested in something like this, visit his web site at https://www.ngollc.com/ and tell him Dave sent you. You won't get a discount, large equipment doesn't work that way, but he'll recognize the name.

I'll be posting about my exploits with this machine in the future. It's too much fun not to spend time on it.