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Pickup artists: grapples, grabs and buckets perform a variety of material handling tasks in the C&D industry.

The diverse material in the construction and demolition recycling markets makes sorting a key element in the business. C&D recyclers rely on an arsenal of attachments to move, load and sort materials of varying sizes, weights and consistencies from rebar to wood to crushed concrete.

In addition to the recycling end of the industry, demolition contractors have come to rely more and more on attachments as the practice of controlled demolition gains momentum in North America. While years ago a wrecking ball would have done the job, today's contractor often employs a hydraulic attachment affixed to an excavator to demolish part of a structure piece by piece.

Whether moving recyclable commodities around the facility or performing actual demolition tasks, grapples, grabs and buckets are among the most useful tools available.


Usually affixed to an excavator, a grapple is one attachment that many C&D recyclers and demo contractors can't seem to do without.

In recent years, excavators have grown increasingly popular on jobsites, often replacing wheel loaders, and the use of grapples has grown to match.

Grapples are primarily used for material handling and are particularly useful "if you need to pick up large amounts of items over and over again," according to Bo Pratt of Rockland Manufacturing Co. in Bedford, Pa.

Grapples come in many shapes and sizes, each offering different benefits for recyclers and contractors depending on their equipment needs.

For straight demolition, Pratt recommends contractors use a narrow grapple. "It's stronger because it has less surface area," he says. For a recycler using grapples to move lighter material (wood debris, for example) around the yard, however, a wider grapple with more tines could be a better choice.

As controlled demolition becomes more popular, grapples performing primary and secondary demolition tasks are a relatively common sight, especially for lighter structures, like those made of wood, says Duane Webb of Kenco Corp., Ligonier, Pa.

"I think a lot of contractors try to get as much out of their attachments as possible," agrees Chris Nichols of Aim Attachments in Grove City, Ohio. Nichols says while demo grapples are specifically designed to be stronger so that they can handle primary and secondary demo tasks, they are also capable of the lighter jobs as well, making them a versatile tool.


Buckets have been indispensable tools of the trade for years. Fixed to an excavator, loader or skid steer, their chief use is relatively self-explanatory--hauling material back and forth across a recycling yard or demolition site.

Buckets, like grapples, are varied in construction, and different manufacturers offer different features to give their product an edge. Buckets come in varying dimensions, with teeth and without and with different materials in mind, says Nichols.

Users should consider the kind of material they'll be handling when choosing a bucket for their operation. "If they're going to be doing something severe, like handling rock, generally, you want to use a severe-duty design," says Nichols.

Certain features make buckets more useful on demolition jobs, according to Betsy Haskell of National Attachments, Gorham, Maine. "Demolition contractors will more often pick a bucket that includes teeth or side cutters, giving the bucket thorough digging action and all the more edge to withstand heavy demolition," she says.

Nichols adds that many buckets designed for the C&D industry come in standard high-capacity designs.

Recyclers and contractors should also consider the weight per cubic yard of the material they will be handling when choosing a bucket, says Pratt. "Concrete is obviously going to be heavier per cubic yard than wood debris," he says. "You want to make [the bucket] as big as possible without damaging the carrier--you don't want to tip the machine over."

The abrasiveness of the material being handled should also factor in to the decision. Many buckets designed for use in the C&D industry are manufactured with extra wear plates to help them stand up to the demanding and often abrasive material, says Nichols.


Grabs, or thumbs, round out the arsenal of material handling attachments most commonly used by C&D recyclers and demolition contractors.

Thumbs are commonly fixed on the stick of an excavator and used in tandem with a bucket to pick up material and move it around a recycling yard or demo site, although they are used for a variety of tasks. "Most operators cannot live without a thumb after they have used one," says Kimberly Frick of Amulet Manufacturing Co., Arcata, Calif. "They use it for everything."

Kenco's Webb says grabs are typically used when material handling calls for more precision, laying pipe for instance.

Grabs can also rotate 360 degrees, says Haskell, giving them the ability to handle material at abnormal angles.

Furthermore, a thumb and bucket combination makes the bucket a more versatile tool by allowing it to expand its material handling capability beyond its physical capacity.

"The thumb allows the machine to do a lot more," says Pratt. "Because you're free to dig as well as grab material. You can also transport material that's wider than the bucket."

With mounting fuel and operating costs, many contractors and recyclers are looking for ways to get more jobs out of one machine, which is where the grab's versatility comes in handy. "Thumbs are used for everything from site prep to brush handling to material handling to some demo," says Pratt. "I've even seen guys use thumbs to tear down a building and transport trees that fall across the road."


These attachments are subjected to a lot of punishment in C&D-related applications, so maintenance is an important factor in getting the most out of them.

An operator should expect to get at the very least one year or 2,000 hours out of any given attachment, says Pratt. "That's pretty standard," he says.

However, with proper use and preventive maintenance, contractors and recyclers can expect to get years of use out of their attachments. "Longevity depends on application," says Frick. "Most attachments last eight to 15 years."

As with any piece of equipment, following the maintenance schedule prescribed by the manufacturer is paramount to getting the most use out of any given attachment. Extra special care should be taken in more demanding applications like C&D, says Frick. "If used in a severe application, lifespan might be shortened," she says.

Keeping the pins and bushings properly oiled is a good first step in maintaining material handling attachments, says Pratt.

Though it may seem self-explanatory, Pratt also advises to make sure the attachments are used properly. They are versatile and capable of doing many things on a job site, but there are always cases of misuse, which will cut down the lifespan of an attachment dramatically, he says.

However, if used and maintained properly, grapples, grabs and buckets can provide years of versatile work in C&D recycling applications as well as demolition.

The author is assistant editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at
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Author:Gubeno, Jackie
Publication:Construction & Demolition Recycling
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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