Homebuilding, commercial building construction, utility installation, geological surveys, plumbing, landscaping, and everything in between requires digging into the earth to some degree or other. The term “soft dig” is a commonly used colloquialism in the excavation business, and it is a term of affection that more specifically refers to vacuum excavation. We call it the soft dig because it’s minimally invasive and—compared to other digging techniques—is quite gentle, so to speak. Yet, this soft drilling technique is driven by very powerful methods and highly efficient machinery and tools.
Here at LB & Sons, we love the many tools at our disposal to do our job. Great engineering minds and a lot of precedents have allowed for today’s digging equipment to be top-of-the-line, efficient, and accurate. So, let’s talk about digging.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Digging
When we talk about digging, we are likely talking about construction work and power tools, trucks, and specialized techniques for cutting into soil, rock, and any other hard surface. Vacuum excavation is one of these techniques and it’s known to be a low impact and minimally invasive method for digging. The process calls for removing dirt, clay, mud, rocks, and more and it does so without disrupting surrounding utility lines or causing too much damage to the surrounding landscape. This is often also called the soft dig or suction excavation. It is referred to as the soft dig because of these characteristics and it is used in industries from mining, utility installation, liquid waste removal, post hole digging, cleaning, and more.
The right tool for the job largely depends on the kind of job you’re facing. Mother Earth has no shortage of materials in her midst. There are many kinds of geological formations, sedimentary rocks, igneous rocks, and more all lurking beneath the surface. Here are some of the different types of soil we might run into when digging into the earth:
Alluvial Soil: This is more widely known as unconsolidated aggregate composed of all different kinds of loose material including silt, clay, gravel, and more.
Soft rocks: This might be composed of sedimentary rocks like shales, coal, and sandstone and would demand at least 7,000 PSI. These rocks form mostly from deposits that accumulate closer to the earth’s surface.
Medium rock: This refers to consolidated metamorphic rock that has withstood high pressures and higher temperatures. This requires from 7,000 to 18,000 PSI.
Very hard rock: Subject to very harsh conditions and ultimate pressures, certain rock like Basalt, Quartz, Taconite, and Granite lay beneath the earth’s surface. These require a whole lot more power and more than 18,000 PSI.
A History of Digging Before the Vacuum Excavation Method
Needless to say, digging was a lot more difficult, more expensive, and far more dangerous without the advent of vacuum excavation. With today’s tools, professional diggers understand the tools and modalities needed for every job. This allows them to cut back on safety hazards and improve efficiency.
When it came to the rush for gold in the 1800s, people of all ilks and with a spirit for the unknown, flocked to the West Coast, particularly California in order to access this very shiny earth creation that promised riches and prosperity to many. Well, getting it out of the earth proved far more difficult than many people had anticipated and eventually something had to be done about the digging methods at hand.
Miners first experimented with the use of highly pressurized water in order to break up some of the hard surfaces and get the nitty-gritty, i.e the gold. This method caught on pretty quickly and spread for other industries and functions, as miners realized that there were ways to dig deep into the earth without all of the associated risks that came with doing so manually. Using highly pressurized water created a much cleaner and safer way to dig. Beginning around the 1950s, “vac” machines began to appear in sewer clean up duties and applications.
It didn’t take long for innovations in the industry to take hold and construction and utility companies to begin using vacuum trucks as the standard for many digging jobs. The vac trucks were a great way to clean up sites and improve visibility when digging around buried utilities and the need for more controlled digs. Vacuum excavators were used heavily in Canada and the U.S throughout much of the later 20th century. In the 1990s, the industry began to grow considerably and improvements in the machinery and methods continued.
Modern vacuum excavation improved various aspects of these heavy-duty vehicles including tank capacity, durability, and available pressure. Not only is it less noisy, much safer, less erratic, but it is far more effective in digging into the earth without destruction. In this lies the power of the soft dig.
At LB & Sons, we have been working with many of these incredible machines and have trained our personnel to use appropriate digging techniques for a variety of jobs. Contact us today to learn more.