Here are quick tips for using these effective earthmovers.
Front-end loaders are versatile machines used to pile debris into dump trucks or move loose materials such as rocks, dirt, snow, wood chips and feed. Popular on construction sites, this family of earthmovers includes skid steers, track loaders and wheel loaders. They feature a suspended bucket on two hydraulic arms that can be fitted with other attachments for different tasks. Before you rent, learn the basics of how to operate a front-end loader to increase your safety and productivity.
How to use a front-end loader: Training and safety
Operating a front-end loader takes skill and practice. Inexperienced drivers are prone to mistakes that can shorten the life of the machine and cause accidents.
OSHA requires training and certification for all heavy loader operators. Learning how to run a front-end loader is easy with operator training programs that blend online instruction and hands-on skills practice overseen by professional instructors.
Before you start
Call 811, the “before you dig” number, to have the local utility check for underground utilities if your work involves digging. Check the worksite for powerlines, obstructions, holes and uneven ground. Perform a pre-shift inspection of the front-end loader and report any problems to your supervisor. Clear personnel from the area if possible.
How to drive a front-end loader
Every model is different, so review the operator’s manual for your front-end loader. Controls vary depending on the model. Note that some models have wheels and others have tracks.
Here’s a basic overview of how to start a front-end loader and how to run a front-end loader:
- Maintain three points of contact when climbing into the loader. Secure your seatbelt and any other safety restraints, and close windows and doors to minimize dust inside the cab.
- Put the key in the ignition to start.
- Warm up the engine according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
- Turn off the parking brake, then turn on the controls.
- Apply pressure on the foot pedals to accelerate (right) and brake (left).
- Control the direction with the left joystick or steering wheel, depending on the model.
- Use the right joystick to control the arms and bucket.
- Check for obstacles before raising or lowering the bucket.
- Position the bucket low and tight for stability and a clear view of the worksite.
- Drive slowly and use caution when turning to prevent spills and rollovers.
- Lower the bucket to the ground and run the engine on idle to cool it before shutdown.
- Lock the brakes before leaving the loader.
How to scoop with a front-end loader
A front-end loader can move large volumes of rock, sand, gravel and debris. The smallest models can lift between 1 and 2 tons. Larger models can handle loads weighing as much as 4 tons.
Operators should take special care when scooping heavy materials. A full bucket shifts the center of balance to the front of the loader and may cause tipping or rolling.
Follow these steps to safely scoop with a front-end loader:
- Level and lower the bucket blade so it rests flat on the ground.
- Drive straight into the pile while raising the boom to maintain traction.
- Curl the bucket and pull back on the boom.
- Load the bucket evenly, staying within the loader’s weight capacity. Do not load and turn at the same time, which can cause a rollover.
- Level the bucket and lower the boom before reversing from the pile. Never drive with a loaded, raised bucket, as materials can fall on the truck or the operator.
- Get close to dump site before raising the bucket, then drive forward slowly and empty the load.
How to level ground with a front-end loader
A loader fitted with a scoop bucket is effective for grading surfaces. You can use the bucket to scrape and back-drag gravel, mulch and dirt.
Some front-end loaders have a “float” setting that releases the hydraulic boom and allows it to move freely up and down using gravity. This lets the bucket follow the contours of the ground and is particularly useful for grading. To engage the float function, lower the bucket with the blade flat to the ground, then push the boom control lever or joystick all the way forward.
Here’s how to grade with a front-end loader:
- Prepare and mark the site.
- Clear weeds, grass, brush, trees and large rocks. A rake attachment may help.
- Fill the bucket to balance the machine.
- To scrape, drive forward with the bucket level to the ground; repeat to shave high spots.
- To back-drag, drop the bucket to the ground (use the float position if available) and reverse to smooth.
- Repeat to level to the desired grade.
How to dig with a front-end loader
If you don’t have access to an excavator, a front-end loader can be used to dig, saving hours of manual labor. Follow these steps to dig a hole with a front-end loader:
- Set the underside of the bucket on the ground.
- Tilt the bucket so the front blade is pointed into the surface.
- Drive forward, moving the bucket into the dirt, and tilt to scoop.
- Lift the bucket above the ground and drive backwards with a full bucket.
- Carry the load to desired location, lift and dump.
- Lower the bucket, return to the site and repeat.
How to stop spinning wheels
It’s not unusual for tires on wheeled loaders to lose traction and spin in mud, snow or ice or on uneven surfaces when one wheel loses contact with the ground. Spinning wheels will prematurely wear down your tires. To solve this issue, some loaders use a mechanism that “locks” the wheels together on an axle so they rotate at the same speed. When one wheel spins, all power is transferred to the wheel with the most traction.
Another reason tires spin is using tires with the wrong tread for the surface. Concrete surfaces require a different tire than dirt surfaces.
Front-end loaders are some of the most efficient machines for moving materials. With proper training, you can use one safely and effectively. Optional attachments such as extendable booms, forks and pipe carriages allow you to reach higher, lift larger loads or transport pipes and conduit once you know how.