After mower attachments, the modest box blade is probably the next most popular attachment purchase for compact tractors. This fundamental piece of site prep equipment is invaluable for scraping and leveling surfaces and dragging soil, gravel, roots and other material for short distances. Across their front, most box blades accept a number of scarifying teeth, or “shanks” which the operator can adjust to various depths to help break up compacted soil.
The box blade’s first cousin, the angle blade, performs similar duties, but does not have sides to box in gravel and debris, so it deposits material in windrows rather than contained piles. The angle blade is useful if you intend to grade drive ways, shape ditches, or plow snow. Both the box blade and angle blade date to the days before there was a tractor to pull them, but recent years have brought revolutionary developments to these time-tested implements and new opportunities for their users.
What the market bears
Dale Sensenig, product specialist for ATI Corporation based in New Holland, Pennsylvania, which manufactures attachments for compact tractors and skid-steer loaders, says landscape contractors armed with the latest technological advancements in box blades can gain an edge in an uncertain economy.
“Our largest customer base is concrete and paver contractors, but the sports entertainment industry with baseball fields, football fields and soccer fields is our next biggest market,” Sensenig says. “When I was a kid we played on any vacant lot we could find, but you can’t play sports on a regular old field with imperfections any more,” he says with a laugh. “There are also a lot of landscapers redoing golf tees and clay tennis courts or building residential tennis courts. One other area where we’re seeing a lot of growth is the equestrian market. That’s really taken off in the last three years.”
One new development at ATI is the introduction of a box that runs off of an electric actuator, so it requires no hydraulics. “Basically, you just plug it in and go,” Sensenig says. “It’s great for people that have Hazmat issues that can’t afford any oil spills.”
While the cost is still prohibitive for a lot of landscapers, particularly those focused on residential landscaping, Sensenig notes that ATI is getting more inquiries about using a GPS system with their box blade.
“Not a lot of landscapers are looking to put a $100,000 piece of laser equipment on a $10,000 box, but it is something the industry is starting to look at,” he says.
A number of manufacturers are producing these systems that make the grading process virtually automatic. Landscapers program their grades into an electronic map that is downloaded to a computer. Using a tripod-mounted laser beacon set up on site and a receiver mounted to the box blade, the GPS system reads the exact location of the blade and adjusts the box up or down to the pre-programmed grade. The operator can utilize a “read only” option and make the adjustments by hand, or switch the system to “automatic” and simply concentrate on driving while leaving the up and down box blade adjustments to the system. Finish grading can be accurate to within 1⁄8 inch.
“We’re not trying to replace the experienced operator,” Sensenig says. “You put our system in their hands and it will make their job so much easier and quicker they’ll wonder how they ever did it before.”
Consider your horsepower
Bryan Zent, marketing manager for Bobcat, advises buyers to carefully consider the equipment they plan to use to pull their box.
“You want a vehicle wide enough to cover your tracks, and you need enough power to move it,” Zent says. “You wouldn’t put the 72-inch box on a smaller 20-horsepower tractor, because it might not have enough performance to do the digging you want it to do.”