Upping the Ante with Tractor Bucket Attachments

Loader Attachments to Make Tractors and Machinery More Versatile

tractor-bucket-attachments

Scoop, scrape and push are really the only things a tractor bucket was meant to do, but with the right tractor bucket attachments, there’s so much more we can do with our tractors. Most modern tractors now feature a detachable bucket. For older models, you may have to use a compact tractor comparison for available attachments. Some tractor bucket attachments are so easy to attach and detach that it’s actually easier to change your bucket than change your 3-point implements. If you don’t already own more than one bucket for your tractor, here are a few to consider and why.

Forks

I use tractor bucket attachments, such as my set of clamp-on tractor bucket forks, which clamp to my standard bucket to make things easier to move. I bought these in a pinch years ago, and at less than $200 to my door, they have proven to be a great investment. As great as they are, they do have drawbacks such as: alignment difficulty, tendency to go crooked, reduced loader capacity due to leverage, deforming my bucket and sometimes being too short for the job. Despite these significant drawbacks, I still wouldn’t trade them for anything … except for a real fork bucket.

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Pallet fork buckets are far superior to a clamp-on fork since they keep the load close to the loader, which reduces the distance from the fulcrum point (your front axle), which means you loose far less load lifting capacity over a clamp-on fork. In addition to a higher safe working weight limit, fork buckets allow for a longer fork tine which can be very handy when picking up wide or long loads. Also, a quality fork tractor bucket attachment will make it easy to adjust the position of your forks laterally and will keep them pointed straight ahead, which mitigates a lot of frustration.

Having the ability to pick up pallets or bulky items like logs, stacks of lumber, round hay bales and machinery really opens your options as a homesteader or farmer. If you move logs routinely, now you can cut them to the length you want instead of what fits your OEM bucket. You can use free pallets to move your stacks of cord wood, take delivery of palletized items, and move pieces of machinery the way they were meant to be; with forks, not suspended by a chain. If you’re thinking of buying your first loader attachment, I strongly suggest you start here.

tractor-bucket-attachments

These clamp on forks are a great tool, but notice how far the load is from the loader arms. This distance reduces the load capacity of your tractor.

 

Spears

Do you have cattle, sheep, goats or some other livestock you feed with round bales? Would you like to start feeding with round bales? Many farmers I know move round bales in one of two ways; with a chain or a spear. There is a trick to using a chain on your bucket if you have chain hooks, but this method relies on you leaving your bales flat side up which exposes more hay to rain rot. You could use a fork bucket in lieu of a chain, but you still have the rain rot issue and the bale will not be held securely by forks unless you impale the bale with them, and that usually results in an off-balance load. A bail spear tractor bucket attachment will solve all these issues.

Spears come in many shapes and designs. There are clamp-on styles, but they feature many of the shortfalls my clamp-on forks have. There are 3-point hitch ones that are great unless you need to hoist the bale any higher than two to three feet off the ground, and you also have the bale spear loader attachment. A bail spear tractor bucket attachment, like the fork bucket, will replace your original bucket, keep the bale close to your loader to reduce tipping hazard, hold a round bale securely by impaling it, allow you to hoist it high enough to stack them and let you store them round side up, reducing the amount of hay spoilage due to exposure to the elements. Most spike buckets feature one spike, centered on the loader, which ensures that your load is not weighted to one side or the other, which would cause a tipping hazard. If you have round bales or want to put them on the menu, a bale spear loader attachment is where you’ll want to start.

tractor-bucket-attachments

A root bucket with hydraulic thumbs

Rock and Root Buckets

For those of us who clear land, be it trees, brush or those pesky rocks, these buckets should be high up on our farm implements list of things to buy. Unlike forks and spears, there is no tractor bucket attachment that can come close to performing their job. The thing about these buckets is that you need to consider the predominant job you intend to use them for, since they all can perform each other’s job to some degree.

Rock buckets are intended to lift, dig, sift out dirt and corral rocks within its confines so you can relocate the pesky chunks of stone that litter your landscape, and as such they feature a tubular construction, tines for digging and some form of restraint to prevent rocks from escaping out the sides. A rock bucket can rip out roots and collect brush as well, but the side constraints tend to limit how much brush you can grab at any one time. In contrast, root buckets usually feature a more aggressive looking tine construction, and less of a tubular design. These buckets are meant to rip up roots, brush, and slash quickly and easily. They typically feature open sides, which allow you to pick up long roots, logs and wide pieces of brush, but tend to allow some rocks to fall to the wayside when used as a rock bucket, either letting them roll out the sides or the tine spacing allows them to fall through. Both buckets can do both jobs well enough, it’s just a matter of which features you would rather live with, and both styles are a popular bucket style for demolition contractors who use them on their skid steers.

tractor-bucket-attachments

A mechanical thumb on a backhoe attachment

Thumbs

Darwin digits are a handy thing to have. Jokes aside, thumbs are a practical thing for the human race, be it on our hands or on our tractors and machinery. Thumbs are not an independent bucket, but instead a tractor bucket attachment that works well on any bucket. If you have a backhoe, a backhoe thumb attachment is an amazing tool, be it a hydraulically operated thumb or a fixed thumb. Grabbing roots, bushes, brush, trash and other bulky material is an easy job when you have thumbs on your bucket or backhoe. Most modern tractors have the ability to add hydraulic ports and controls to your loader, which is good, because if you plan on using thumbs on any loader bucket you will need them, since a mechanical thumb does not work well on a farm tractor’s bucket.

Adding thumbs to a rock or root bucket will transform a useful bucket into an amazing tool that will take your tractor to the next level. Adding thumbs to a fork bucket makes it an even better tool for moving logs and poles, and even adding thumbs to a regular bucket will change how you work when dealing with rocks, brush, and other bulky or awkward objects. Because of the added hydraulic system and welding required, adding thumbs may be an expensive task best left to a professional installer, but it is a worthy addition to your tractor.

tractor-bucket-attachments

A snow bucket, also known as a pusher plow

Snow

If you live in an area that gets significant snowfall, you know how handy a tractor can be when clearing off the white stuff, but you also likely know how tedious it can be to move snow with your regular bucket. Thankfully, there are options for those of us who suffer with snow clearing duty.

One option in the world of snow removal is a simple, fixed position plow to push snow around, much like a truck mounted flat plow, only non-angled. Not being able to angle the plow does limit it’s usefulness because you can only push straight, and snow will fall to either side, but that’s why there are pusher plows, also known as snow buckets. These buckets are what parking lot plowing companies use on their payloaders to clear large expanses of pavement, and they are basically a straight, fixed plow with wings on the sides to stop snow from falling to the sides. These tractor bucket attachments are available as chain-on options if you want to add it to your bucket, but I highly suggest buying one that replaces your bucket entirely.

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A hydraulically angled plow on a New Holland skid steer. This attachment can also be attached to New Holland and Kubota tractors

Snow buckets work great if you need to push snow in one direction, but if you have a long driveway, an angled plow will suit you better since you can push the snow off to the sides instead of having to pile it somewhere. Most tractor brands have such a plow available through their dealerships, or through third party implement builders on the internet. Either way, you typically have three options; manual angling, hydraulic angling and electric over hydraulic angling. Manually angled plows are the cheaper option and they work fine, however you have to get off your tractor, pull pins, rotate your plow and re-secure it every time you want to angle your plow. For some of us that may not be all that bad, but if you’re spending the day on the tractor plowing snow, that’s going to get old real quick. Hydraulically angled plows are a great convenience, allowing you to angle the plow at will from the comfort of your tractor’s seat, but you need hydraulic controls added to your tractor if they don’t already exist. If you added hydraulics for thumbs, you may have everything you need already.

If you don’t want to add hydraulic controls but still want the convenience of remote angling, your other option, albeit expensive, will be a self-contained electric over hydraulic plow, just like the modern plows on pickup trucks. You will need to add an electrical harness to your tractor to power and control the plow unit, but once it’s set up, it will serve you well. One potential bonus of this option is parts availability, since you will likely be purchasing a truck plow unit and a separate bucket that features the attachment points needed to use a truck plow on your tractor. This may also be an attractive option if you already have a plow or can find a used electric over hydraulic plow system for a good price.

Reality Check

For someone in my situation, whereas I have more innovation, scrap metal and skills than I have money in the bank, I intend to build my own tractor bucket attachments to fit my tractor. For those of us who are handy with a welder, sellers on E-Bay and elsewhere on the internet have reasonably inexpensive parts and ready-made receiver plates for your loader system of choice, so if you want to build your own plow rig or fork bucket, look online first before trying to fabricate everything from scratch. For those of us who are not as handy or the ones who have more money than time, all of these options are available for just about every make and model of tractor built since the 1980’s. If your local big box tractor store or local dealership doesn’t have what you want, hunt for it on Craigslist or E-Bay, because there is someone, somewhere willing to sell you your attachment of choice.

What are your favorite tractor bucket attachments and why? Let us know in the comments below.

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