When it comes to moving material on a worksite few machines can stand up to the trusty wheel loader. Scooping, lifting, dumping, scraping, and more, a wheel loader is often the go-to machine for handling material, filling trucks, and making the big piles small and the small piles big. But a wheel loader without a bucket (or other attachment) is nothing but a fun way of bouncing around the yard, and today the design of buckets is more than a one size fits all decision. If you’re wondering what bucket is best for your wheel loader, we’ve put together this brief bucket overview to help in your decision.
The most important factor in any bucket decision is what material you’ll be moving. And finding the perfect bucket is about balancing the design, weight, and structure of your bucket with the weight, density, and diversity of the materials you’ll generally be handling. Heavy and high density materials require a heavier bucket to stand up to the loads while lighter and lower density materials can be moved with a wider, taller, and lighter bucket. Your excavator can only carry so much on its boom and the weight of the bucket is always a factor in that equation.
In addition to the weight of the bucket and the thickness of the materials it's built with, the shape and design of a bucket can influence a bucket’s ability to perform certain work. When evaluating a bucket it's important to consider both the materials you’ll be working with and the work it will be routinely performing. Even the size and design of the other machines it’ll be working with on the jobsite can be a factor in your decision -- look at the trucks and hoppers it’ll fill, the dozers who’s dirt it will move, the scrapers it’ll accompany and consider how the bucket design will work with all the machines on your typical sites.
If you’re moving a wide range of materials and you need a bucket to try to hit that sweet spot of ‘good for the most materials’ target, a general purpose bucket is designed for just that work. The general purpose bucket is heavier than a light material bucket, but not as heavy-duty as a rock bucket and it also sits in the middle for capacity between those two buckets.
When moving capacity is the major motivator and the materials are low density like trash, wood chips, or light and dry dirt, the light material bucket is designed for the job. Able to handle high-capacity loads, the light material bucket will allow an operator to move more material on every trip, but it’ll wear quickly if the target of the loads turns to dense and abrasive materials.
Multipurpose buckets bring new dimensions to wheel loaders and extend the abilities of the bucket to allow for new applications like dozing and scraping or handling odd shaped and large materials that require clamping. The bucket allows for these extended uses though a hydraulically-powered hinged clam or grapple mechanism designed into the bucket. Though this design introduces new flexibility into the bucket’s scope of work, the design increases weight and reduces the bucket's rigidity compared to a traditional bucket.
When it comes to heavy-duty work handling high-density aggregates, the rock bucket usually gets the call. A heavy and reinforced design allows the rock bucket to work under the toughest of conditions and to last in highly abrasive environments where it is routinely exposed to impacts from heavy materials and high friction loads.
General purpose and even rock buckets can be designed to incorporate a grapple mechanism to grab, pinch, and hold certain materials. This added functionality allows a wheel loader to grab and move large materials that are often difficult to balance and move using a traditional bucket. Many grapple buckets and grapples also break from the traditional solid design of the bucket to allow smaller materials to sift out of the bucket during lifting.
Another specialized type of wheel loader attachment are forks. This attachment allows a wheel loader to take on the roles of a forklift or telehandler and lift and move palletized materials or lift and move objects whose odd shape would be difficult to transport for a traditional bucket and that prove to be overly heavy for a normal forklift.
Because of their maneuverability, size and strength, and lower impact tires, when large amounts of snow require moving a wheel loader often finds itself called into action. As such, specialized buckets for plowing and piling snow exist and are designed for just that job.
Once you decide on the general design of your wheel loader bucket you might still want to consider individual elements like whether the bucket has teeth or a cutting edge and if the edges are bolted on or welded. If you’ll be digging into hard ground routinely, well-designed teeth will increase the bucket's effectiveness while a straight cutting edge will be better at shaping ground and maximizing each scoop of the bucket. Need to perform both? A removable edge can allow you to swap, as needed, and to change out this high-wear part more easily.
Wheel loader buckets are available from a machine’s original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and from third-party aftermarket suppliers. When considering an aftermarket source it’s important to research the company to ensure they manufacture their buckets to meet standards for quality in their materials and in their processes.
Often a used wheel loader bucket is an ideal solution for a machine as it allows an operator to purchase an OEM built and designed bucket at considerable cost savings. When evaluating a used bucket be sure to look at pinholes, cutting edges, teeth, and high wear areas. A reputable supplier should gladly supply pictures to help ensure that you're purchasing a quality wheel loader bucket.
We hope this short wheel loader bucket buying guide helped get you a few more steps along in your bucket search. As always, if you’re searching for wheel loader buckets (or any parts for your wheel loader) our Parts Specialists are here to help -- as a leader in salvaging wheel loaders our deep inventory is tough to match and with fast and reliable service and shipping our customers trust us to consistently connect them to the bucket they need as soon as they need it.
Thanks for reading.