How to pick the right wheel loader bucket

Updated Apr 7, 2021

Editor’s Note: To give readers a better understanding of loader buckets, we asked an expert to weigh in. The following guide was written by Case Construction Equipment Product manager Perry Girard, but the advice given can be applied to any brand bucket.

case wheel loader 921G XR

A wheel loader’s bucket is a pretty straightforward attachment — but it’s also arguably the most important component on the machine, as it has a significant effect on productivity, machine uptime, and performance in aggregates operations. While there are a number of selections, features, and variables that go into choosing the right wheel loader bucket type, teeth, and cutting edges, the decision can be made simple by knowing and understanding your operation and the materials you work with each day.


Material density matters

There are four essential styles of wheel loader buckets: light material, general purpose, 4-in-1, and rock buckets. In addition, there are pin-on and coupler configurations to consider with each of those styles.

Determining the bucket style that is best for your needs starts with your machine size and primary material density. Some operations may be moving a combination of sand, stone, dirt, or gravel, while machines in other pits are focused on just one of those materials. Bucket choice should be a reflection of the heaviest material density being handled the majority of the time, as well as by the abrasiveness of the material being moved.

One consideration to keep in mind is that in damp or rainy climates, sand may be your heaviest material due to its ability to retain water. In more arid climates, that is likely not the case, so it is uniquely dependent on your geographic location and climate.


Sizing considerations

One of the first core decisions to make about a wheel loader bucket is its size. It may seem intuitive to default to “bigger is better,” but, ultimately, the decision needs to evaluate the size and power of the wheel loader, the production expectations of the operation, the abrasiveness of the material, and then the size of the trucks and hoppers the wheel loader will fill. Keep in mind the following:

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Bucket capacity is important, but the weight of the bucket will change based on what type of bucket it is. A rock bucket is going to be heavier than other bucket styles and, as such, may have a greater effect on operating speeds/performance than a lighter bucket.

A smaller, heavier, stronger bucket may be best for standing up to work in really abrasive environments. The more abrasive the soil or material, the stronger the bucket is recommended to be to maximize bucket life or reduce bucket replacement costs.

Optimal bucket capacity is decided not only by the machine, but by the size and types of containers it loads. If, for instance, you know your operation runs at optimal performance when trucks can be loaded in three passes, pick the best combination of bucket to truck capacity (within the operating parameters of the loader).

As long as it’s within the operating capacity of the loader, it may be better to err on the side of a larger bucket, as a smaller bucket may result in it taking too many additional passes to fill trucks or hoppers and, therefore, slow other downstream activities.

A light material bucket is a great solution for operations moving materials like wood pulp, dry dirt, or even waste. Agricultural operations could also be a fit for a light material bucket. These buckets give the user the greatest amount of capacity and volume — but may not ultimately be the best for working in aggregates operations.

A general-purpose bucket, on the other hand, is a good middle-ground solution if you’re working with a variety of materials and conditions. It is stronger and more durable than light material buckets. It can be used for moving light materials, aggregates, and sand. While the flexibility of a general-purpose bucket makes sense for many organizations, you will sacrifice some of the bucket capacity available with light material options — but it will stand up better when working in abrasive conditions.

The next option is the 4-in-1 multi-use bucket. This bucket gives you the option to bulldoze, clam, pick up, dump, and load, all in one attachment. It also adds a unique level of flexibility on construction job sites, but added hardware that provides the moving parts adds weight, which translates to generally smaller bucket options than what the general purpose buckets offer. This hydraulically operated bucket provides major versatility — but is not generally practical in aggregates operations.

Finally, the rock bucket has a number of varieties, but is designed for the most rugged applications and rock handling. The rock bucket comes equipped with heavy-duty lips to protect against scalloping, and is often available with specialized rock teeth, cutting edges, or segments that can provide even more protection to the lips of the bucket. These attachments are going to be found most in quarries and other severe applications.

Operators moving heavy, high-density materials such as granite — a much more abrasive material than limestone, for example — will want to consider heavy-duty rock buckets with additional protective elements. Those come in both bolt-on or weld-on varieties.


To couple or not to couple

When considering the type of connection you want for the implement, there is really one main consideration: will the bucket remain on a dedicated machine, or will you need to switch between bucket types?

If using the attachment on a dedicated piece of equipment, the pin-on connection is the best option. Other quick coupler connections, predominantly JRB- or ACS-style connectors, allow operators to switch quickly between multiple buckets and attachments. This is a great feature for operators working in diverse situations that may include a variety of aggregate or material types.


Accessorizing to maximize profitability

There are additional options to consider that can increase the profitability of the bucket. For most buckets, bolt-on teeth and cutting edges may be added to adjust a base model bucket to the particular needs at that time. This makes the attachment more versatile and, by virtue, profitable.

For example, say a loader is fracturing ground one month and moving sand the next. It would be a great fit for a bolt-on system featuring teeth that can be used during the first month and replaced with a cutting blade for the next month. These best practices not only make the equipment more effective, but prolong its lifecycle by minimizing wear to the bucket lip.

In addition to using cutting edges, aftermarket wear protectors are available to help minimize wear and tear on both the bucket’s main lip and sidewalls. These relatively small additions can make a big impact on the lifespan of a wheel loader’s bucket.