How to Choose the Best Trencher Chain?
17th Jun 2024

Trencher chains contend with an onslaught of abrasive minerals, grinding particulates, and corrosive soil chemistry that rapidly degrades ordinary roller chains. But optimized materials, dimensional precision and hardened components create specialty trencher chains that thrive for years in these harsh operating environments.

  • Abrasion-resistant steel with corrosion protection
  • Large clearances to avoid soil packing
  • Fatigue-resistant pins, bushings and plates
  • Components precision matched to machine

Let’s explore what makes trencher chains unique.

What is the Trencher Chain?

Similar to mini roller chains in basic construction, heavy-duty trencher chain adds specialized components and materials to convey abrasive spoil from the trench to the discharge point on equipment ranging from walk-behind models to excavator-mounted trenchers.

Instead of rollers between articulated inner and outer side plates, combinations of metal cups, shark fins, and tall flight bars scoop, channel, and eject soil debris. Heavy pins, bushings, optimized clearances, and case-hardened steel boost longevity in rocky, abrasive conditions.

Unique hardened steel sprockets precisely match each trencher chain design alongside robust adjusting components to maintain efficient meshing even as the chain wears. Together, the chain and sprocket system clears debris without jamming while standing up to extreme operating environments far better than agricultural or industrial chains.

Trencher Chain Types

Numerous trencher chain designs exist optimized for certain soil conditions and machine sizes.

Combination Chain

Featuring both cup-type scoops and increasingly taller flight bars, the combination chain handles both soil and sizable debris when transitioning between digging conditions. The compromised design serves most general trenching work.

Cup Chain

In pure soil digging with minor debris, cup chain scoop-like cups excel at collecting and ejecting soft dirt, sand, 1and mud away from the trench. Cup height varies by machine size.

Shark Chain

Angled shark fin-shaped flight bars placed very closely together characterize this chain variety specialized for wet muddy terrain. The aggressive self-cleaning shale fins prevent packed soil building up.

Rock Chain

Instead of cups, rock chain utilizes very heavy gouging bits along with tall, rugged flight bars to muscle through clay, gravel, and boulder-littered soil. The bits withstand abrasion while the bars clear debris.

Earth Chain

Earth chain strikes a balance with less aggressive bits that moderate wear when digging abrasive soil with some rocks present. It falls between rock and cup chains for moderately abrasive soil clearing.

Factors in Choosing Trencher Chain

Within each chain variety, focus on these nuances:

  1. Chain Pitch and Width

Match trencher OEM specifications for sprocket interface[1]. Beware oversized aftermarket chain-wearing sprocket teeth. Metric and inch pitches are available.

  1. Abrasion Resistance

Carbon or nickel-alloy steel flights and pins better withstand gouging from soil particulates compared to inexpensive carbon steel. Balance hardness versus impact resistance.

  1. Fatigue Strength

Heavier pins, bushings, and side plates withstand years more flex stress without cracking or breaking compared to light-duty chains. Case-hardened trencher chain parts add further life.

  1. Corrosion Protection

Choose nickel-plated flights and side plates or stainless steel to resist corrosion failure in acidic soil. Unprotected steel corrodes quickly.

  1. Sprocket Interface

Look for full complement form-ground teeth that precisely match OEM sprockets for smooth, cool running mesh. Reduce vibration and chatter for longevity.

Inspecting and Maintaining Trencher Chains

To maximize rugged trencher chain service life, periodic inspection and basic maintenance pay dividends through sustained digging uptime. Monitor a few key wear points and proactively flush the chain.

  1. Inspecting for Stretch and Damage

During operation, routinely check the chain for over-elongation both visually and by measuring pin-to-pin length at several points. Chains lengthen through use before eventually cracking under fatigue stress. Replace at 20-25% elongation before failure.

Also, check for damaged, severely worn, or missing cups, flights, and side plates. If soil stops ejecting properly, the chain may need section replacement or a complete overhaul.

Finally, listen for grinding, squeaking, and odd vibrations that indicate inadequate lubrication or excess wear. Maintain oil levels. Catch problems early.

  1. Regular Flushing

While digging, soil particulate packs into chain joints, abrading components and hindering articulation. Every few hours, thoroughly hose or steam clean the chain using a high-pressure water wand.

Cleaning flushes abrasive material while simultaneously lubricating the chain. Let the chain air dry before resuming trenching.

  1. Proper Oils

Use only trencher chain oils designed to cling adequately during operation while resisting soil adhesion. Conventional oils allow abrasive particulates to stick, accelerating wear. Reapply oil liberally after cleaning.

By inspecting wear points, measuring stretch, flushing regularly, and using quality lubricant, crews sustain peak trenching production rates through long chain service life.


Not all chains work equally well in the punishing world of trenching. From tiny walk-behind units to excavator-mounted trenchers, optimize digging uptime and equipment protection by selecting a chain purpose-engineered for both soil type and machine size. Count on trencher chain experts at Universal Chain to identify the right heavy-duty chain matched to your specific trencher model.

FAQ About Trencher Chain

What are trencher chain wear indicators?

Special raised sections between cup/flight sections wear flush with the chain as it reaches the replacement interval. This allows visual inspection while digging.

Does the trencher chain require special maintenance?

Flushing regularly with pressurized water prevents soil buildup and lubricates. Check for damaged cups, flights, and stretched chains periodically. Replace at 25% elongation.

Why does an inexpensive chain fail prematurely?

Lower cost chain skimps on hardened materials and dimensional precision leading to accelerated wear, corrosion failure, and broken components that damage the trencher. Quality matters.

Is the trencher chain regulated by environmental agencies?

Some states require using low-particulate dust chains to limit air pollution from trenching work. Others mandate special lubricants that won’t contaminate groundwater if spilled. Know your region.

Article Sources
The Universal Chain uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Our commitment to accuracy and reliability ensures that readers receive well-researched information they can trust.