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Hydraulic Breakers: Use Cases and Best Practices for Maintenance

Hydraulic Breakers: Use Cases and Best Practices for Maintenance

Hydraulic Breakers: Use Cases and Best Practices for Maintenance

Reading time: 6 min

From mining operations to road construction, one of the biggest tasks for heavy equipment is breaking up large obstacles. Asphalt, boulders and concrete structures are some of the most common obstacles faced by demolition teams. While some obstacles are small and soft enough to be broken up by hand tools, such as jack hammers, others require more powerful solutions.

Hydraulic hammers are a type of breaker attachment commonly used with excavators. Sometimes called hoe rams, hoe rammers or rock breakers, these attachments connect to an excavator’s hydraulic system to provide operators with supreme breaking power.

Like an oversized jack hammer, hydraulic breakers use a chisel, driven by a piston, to drive a metal hammer repeatedly into hard surfaces. They’re highly effective at breaking up even the hardest materials.

Like other attachments, however, hydraulic breakers need to be used and maintained properly to work effectively. In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of hydraulic breakers, best practices for using them on the job and tips for maintaining your breaker.

Hydraulic Breakers vs Pneumatic Breakers

While pneumatic breakers and hydraulic breakers are both powerful attachments used for breaking through hard materials, they differ in their performance.

Pneumatic breakers utilize compressed air to deliver impact energy, relying on a high pressure air supply from an external source. They’re lighter and more portable than hydraulic breakers, but they have lower impact energy and are less capable than their hydraulic counterparts.

On the other hand, hydraulic breakers derive their power from the hydraulic system of the excavator. They utilize hydraulic fluid to generate a high-energy impact motion of the impact hammer.

Hydraulic breakers are typically heavier and require a hydraulic power source, but they are more efficient, precise and versatile when dealing with large projects and challenging materials.

Getting the Most Out of Your Breaker

To get the most out of your breaker, follow best maintenance and usage practices. Here are some important areas to keep in mind.

Lubricate Often and Then Some

Lubricating your hydraulic breaker is one of the most important aspects of keeping it in good working condition.

Keeping your breaker well-lubricated helps minimize friction between moving parts within the breaker, such as the piston, bushings and tool (chisel). Reducing metal-on-metal friction between these moving parts will extend the lifespan of these components.

While the frequency of lubrication depends on the manufacturer’s recommendations, a common rule of thumb is to grease your breaker after every two hours of operation. Some breakers are self-lubricating, and need to be greased less frequently.

Chisel paste is the recommended lubricant for hydraulic breakers because it is specifically formulated to withstand the high temperatures and extreme forces generated during breaker operation.

Avoid Dry-firing Your Hydraulic Breaker

Dry-firing refers to operating your breaker while it isn’t making contact with a material to be broken. In other words, the breaker is operated while in the air and the chisel isn’t making contact with a hard object.

When a breaker is dry-firing, the energy produced by the breaker’s piston is not absorbed by an object. Instead, the energy of the piston travels back up the attachment itself, creating stress and vibration throughout the attachment’s components.

Over time, dry-firing can cause your breaker to wear down quickly. While some dry-firing is inevitable, it’s important to train operators to keep dry-firing to an absolute minimum.

Use Shorter Cycle Times

Another common mistake made by operators is using a cycle time that is too long. As a rule of thumb, you should never operate your breaker in the same spot for a cycle of longer than 30 seconds.

A common reason for excessive cycle times is operators attempting to break up an object, such as a boulder, by breaking it in the middle of the object. Often, hard objects will not break if broken from their center, so the breaker overheats and wears down.

To achieve shorter cycle times, operators should try to break objects from a side or corner, then work toward the center. They should also change positions every 15-30 seconds so the breaker does not overheat.

Do Not Pry

Some operators may be tempted to use the breaker attachment to pry while they are breaking up large objects. This practice places excessive stress on the breaker and ultimately shortens the attachment’s lifespan.

Operators should only use the breaker at an angle directly perpendicular to the object they are breaking. The breaker should never be used to rake, move or pry at objects, especially while the breaker is in operation.

Follow the Recommended Carrier Weight

Carrier weight refers to the weight of the base machine or excavator to which the hydraulic breaker is attached. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s recommended carrier weight for hydraulic breakers to ensure optimal performance, safety and longevity of both the breaker and the machine (carrier).

Operating a hydraulic breaker on a carrier that is too small/light may result in reduced breaking power and efficiency. The breaker may struggle to deliver sufficient impact energy to break through materials effectively.

Use High Quality Seals

Hydraulic breakers operate under high pressure and rely on hydraulic fluid to generate power. Effective sealing prevents fluid leakage, ensuring the hydraulic system functions optimally.

Seals also serve as a barrier against external contaminants, like dirt and moisture. By maintaining a proper seal, these substances are prevented from entering the hydraulic system.

Using cheap or ill-fitting sealing components in hydraulic breakers can result in reduced breaker performance, loss of power and even damage to the hydraulic system components.

A drawing of a chisel tool, a blunt tool, a moil tool, and a conical tool

Types of Hydraulic Breaker Tools

The breaker’s tool, or chisel, is the component responsible for making contact with the target obstacle. Different tools exist for various applications. The most common tool types are chisel, moil and blunt.

  • Chisel - A chisel tool has a sharp, pointed end, resembling a traditional chisel. The chisel tool concentrates impact on a small surface area, allowing for precise breaking. It’s commonly used to break up foundations.
  • Moil - A moil tool has a blunt, pyramid shaped end. It is designed for general-purpose breaking and demolition work. The moil distributes impact forces over a larger surface area, making it suitable for less dense materials such as walls.
  • Conical - A conical tool features a tapered, cone-shaped end. It is designed for applications requiring more focused impact energy, such as breaking through hard rocks or compacted soil.
Tool maintenance

Tools that become dull or worn out can typically be sharpened or reconditioned. However, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and recommendations for maintaining and sharpening them.

In addition to reconditioning, lubrication is essential to maintaining the longevity of your breaker’s tools. Proper lubrication will reduce friction between the tool and breaker housing and improve its lifespan.


Breakers are an essential attachment for applications in mining, excavation, demolition and construction. Their unparalleled capability to break up large objects make them an invaluable attachment in your excavator’s arsenal.

Using your breaker according to best practices and maintaining it through proper lubrication are the best ways to maximize your breaker’s lifespan and keep it working smoothly.

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