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What Are Excavator Thumbs?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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Excavator thumbs are a type of equipment addition that is often attached to the excavators used at construction sites. Typically, a thumb is attached to what is known as the excavator bucket on a piece of digging machinery that is part of a tractor. As the name implies, an excavator thumb helps to make the bucket more efficient by allowing the device to not only scoop earth and other debris from a building site but to actually grip items and move them without the need to break them up into smaller sections ahead of time. Just as buckets are controlled using a series of controls found in the cab of the tractor, the function of the excavator thumbs is managed by using a series of levers and controls placed strategically within reach of the machine operator, allowing the bucket to be operating in a manner that is not unlike that of a mechanical hand.

Excavator thumbs are considered one of the several types of equipment that come under the heading of excavator extensions. Considered an add-on to the bucket, a thumb moves back and forth in a manner that is very similar to the range of motion associated with a human thumb. The result is that the bucket can be used to slide under or around a large object, then press that object closer to the bucket by moving the thumb in a manner that squeezed the object against the bucket. As a result, the object can be picked up with ease and transported to another location.

A simple example of how excavator thumbs function is to consider the need to clear an area of a large number of fallen trees. Without the use of a thumb mechanism on a bucket-style excavator, the trees would need to be chopped or sawed into smaller sections that the bucket could scoop up and carry out of the area. With the addition of a thumb, the entire main trunk of the tree can be captured between the bucket and the thumb and moved as a whole unit from the area. The end result is that by using excavator thumbs, the area can be cleared of larger debris in a fraction of the time it would take to break up the debris and transport the remnants from the area using the bucket alone.

Excavator thumbs are often detachable, making it possible to adapt the bucket excavator for any purpose. Should a job not require the need to grip and move larger pieces, then the thumb can be removed with relative ease. At the same time, attaching the thumb is not difficult, making it possible for a crew to work with one large excavator rather than incurring the cost of having to operate two pieces of heavy machinery for a relatively small construction project.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
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Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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