Each industry uses confusing jargon. This can make articles and conversations difficult to understand, especially if you aren’t working in the industry every day.

We have created a glossary of terms commonly used in excavating to make your life easier.



Two things can be referred to by the term excavator: a company type and a piece of construction machinery.

Let’s begin with the initial meaning. A company can provide services for an excavator’s construction site. This could include everything from site clearing and demolition to digging the foundation and laying underground utilities and landscaping.

A tracked machine, an excavator can also be used for the above tasks. The long arm of the excavator can be connected to many attachments making it versatile for a wide range of tasks such as digging holes, trenches and foundations.


Digging is the act or process of digging. Excavating is the act of digging. It allows for underground utilities and foundations to be built by removing dirt, rocks, stumps, and boulders. Excavators use heavy machinery to break down the excavated material and make it available for other uses on the site and in other projects. Excavating prepares the site for construction activities.

There are several types of excavation you might hear about, including topsoil, earth, rock, and muck.


Earth excavating is the process of removing the soil below the topsoil layer. This is done often to allow for foundations and grading.


Some excavated material cannot be immediately used on-site. Muck excavating refers to the removal of very wet soil from the ground. It is not suitable for filling because of its high water content.


To support their structural loads, buildings need to have compacted soil. The top layer of vegetation and soil can’t be compacted properly. The topsoil must be removed first to give the site a solid foundation. This is called topsoil excavation.


Rock and dirt are often required to be removed in order to make room for lower-grade items such as foundations and pipes. These rocks can be removed by machines, but larger rocks may need to first be broken down with blasting or excavating. You can break down larger rocks into smaller pieces that can be used in other building projects. Our blog has more information about rock removal.


Cut refers to the removal of material from the ground, whether it is for grading or to remove earth for underground utilities, foundations and the like. Fill is made up of displaced materials. These materials can include topsoil and earth as well as rock and other natural resources. Fill can be used for leveling the ground or elevating the ground. You can also break down rocky fill into smaller pieces that can be used to build roads.


Excavators are skilled in handling large equipment. This is essential for removing buildings and clearing out the rubble. They are also able to safely remove the structure without causing any damage to the health of others. Click here for more information on demolition services.


Particulates and erosion build up over time and can be carried to water bodies by rain or wind erosion. Dredging is the removal of sediments from rivers, lakes and other water bodies. Dredging reduces flood risk by removing particulate pollutants that can displace the water.


Erosion refers to the natural process whereby rain and wind wash away topsoil. If it is not controlled, erosion can cause irreversible damage to the land and lead to infertile soil, waterway contamination, and even landslides. This is how you prevent erosion from occurring.

Read our blog to learn more about erosion control methods.


Grading refers to the process of adjusting the ground’s level. To create an even, smooth surface, excavating companies use equipment to spread topsoil or other fill materials on a specific area of land. They will fill in any bumps or holes to make the project’s base level.


Preconstruction refers to the planning phase of a construction project. This includes managing building codes and regulations, budgeting, value engineering, and many other things. This is an essential step in any construction project. It’s helpful to have an excavator weigh-in. They’ll be one of the first contractors to arrive on the jobsite and contribute in a meaningful manner to the overall plan.


Many excavators have the ability to construct roads and infrastructure, from busy intersections to commercial parking lot lots. They are needed to provide a level and smooth foundation upon which roads can be built. Click here for more information on road and infrastructure construction.


Sometimes soil on a jobsite can be contaminated with undesirable or harmful materials. Soil remediation refers to the process of removing or neutralizing soil that has been contaminated with harmful or undesirable materials, leaving a clean and safe site for construction.


Trench is a hole which is deeper than it is long. These holes are dug out of the ground and used to house utilities, cables, sewers, foundations, etc.


Underground utilities provide the necessary hookups to sewers, storm drain, water mains and forced water mains. It doesn’t matter if you are laying new lines, or repairing damaged ones. This requires skill and precision.

This could also include the construction of pedestrian and recreational paths, bridges, complex infrastructure stations and other related works.


Some excavators might work under a prime contract or as prime contractors. This means that they work directly for the project owner, with no other project management team acting in their place.


An excavating worker can also be a subcontractor. This scenario sees the excavator working as a subcontractor for a project manager. This contract will be with the excavator, not directly with the owner as in a prime contractor situation.



These trucks are large and rugged, and can haul waste and material across rough terrain. These trucks can handle slippery mud and climb up steep hills, making them able to travel where other haulers cannot.


Backhoes can be described as excavator’s little brother. The way they are designed and the tasks they can perform differ from excavators. Backhoes have smaller wheels and rubber tires. They can be used on any job site with their 200-degree rotation boom and front loader bucket.


Dozers can push soil, sand and rubble, as well as loosen densely packed materials. They can use GPS technology to grade and clear land with great accuracy.

dump truckDUMP TRUCKS

Dump trucks are the smaller brother of articulated trucks. Dump trucks are not small, however. They can travel on paved roads and are therefore the best option for hauling material to the jobsite, regardless of whether they are single-axle trucks or tri axles.


For smoothing out surfaces before paving, graders are used. They ensure that the ground is level and smooth.


Track loaders, skid loaders and wheel loaders can be used to accomplish many different excavating tasks. They can move debris and other items around the jobsite and clear the ground.


There are many types of rollers available, with different sizes and compositions. Vibratory rollers, which are usually larger in size and have a higher capacity for compacting soil such as clay and silt, are the most common. Walk-behind rollers, on the other hand, are smaller and require an operator to either walk behind them and manage their movements remotely or control them. These smaller rollers are still compact but much more agile.


A scraper is a combination loader and truck. They move over the area and their horizontal cutting edge cuts the dirt. The hopper then transports the dirt to their destination.


Were we unable to find the term you were looking for? Have a question about excavating? We would love to hear from you!

This post was written by Tanner Brown. Tanner is the Owner and operator of Greenbar Excavation. http://greenbarexcavation.com/ is a fully licensed, insured, and accredited Excavation company based in Prineville, Oregon. Greenbar Excavation is one of the top Excavation companies in Central Oregon. Don’t look further, go with the company with your best interest in mind!

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