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Rock Grinder Proves Faster Than Hammering In Chicago.  Who? What? Why?

Posted by Mike Booth & Chip Kogelmann

May 31, 2022 6:16:42 PM

Scott Russ had seen Rockwheel drum-style cutters at trade shows and online, but he was unconvinced they could do more than the hydraulic hammers typically employed. J Russ and Company is a forward thinking, full-service site civil contractor who has been working in the Chicagoland area since 1979. From their Lockport, IL headquarters they specialize in mass grading, excavation, site utilities and ground stabilization. 

Scott contacted Rockwheel Americas (Bellefonte, PA), to learn more. While reviewing the job demands and available excavators with the Rockwheel team, it was determined that he needed a high power, aggressive Rockwheel for their Caterpillar 352 Next Gen (55t). Because Rockwheel Americas offers rent-purchase-option (RPO), he decided to rent the monster 300hp G60 twin drum Rockwheel to go after the notoriously challenging limestone in the Joliet, IL area which can reach into the 20,000+ psi compressive strength range. The Rockwheel G60 is the only model in its class with gear reduction boasting up to 47,300 ft lb of torque and nearly 40,000 lbs of pick force, so it offered an opportunity to directly assess rock grinding vs. impact hammering. The job, trenching in rock for the installation of sanitary sewer 3-10 feet deep, was already a handful for the 14,000 ft. lb. hammer which was not meeting their production requirements, so why not take a chance on the newer method.

 Rock grinders have conical carbide teeth installed at a 45° angle which attacks the rock differently than a hammer. This angle of attack goes after the tensile and shear strength of the rock which is much lower (~10-15% of compressive strength) than the compressive strength which a hammers attack. This is a result of the microscopic structure of rock: it contains microscopic cracks which are forced open and enlarged by tension and shear but which are forced closed by compression. (https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Historical_Geology/Physical_properties_of_rocks)

 tension compression shear  


With approximately 60 teeth (depending on specific model) rotating continuously at a typical 60-65 rpm with very high torque, there can be 3000-4000 “bites” per minute. So, although an individual “bite” may not seem significant, the cumulative effect is remarkable! This also explains how a crushed stone product results from the grinding action and frequently this stone is reused onsite rather than hauled away as is the case with hammered rock.


On the job site, the result exceeded expectations with the Rockwheel G60 generating two major benefits: a significant increase in production compared to the hammer and the ability to reuse the 2-3 inch backfill created by the grinding process. Moreover, as the photos make clear, the precision of cut and absence of overbreak mean no unnecessary excavation was done.   He was very pleased with the G60 and may soon be adding another Rockwheel for a 40-ton excavator as the work of J Russ and Company expands. The RPO was a low risk path to proving the effectiveness of the rock grinding approach. It allowed use of the tool for an extended period on an active job with their own equipment and operators with the option, but not obligation, of converting to a purchase.

 G60 Rockwheel Trenching

Cuttings from Rock Grinding


When it comes to the Rockwheel drum cutters, as more units are successfully deployed nationwide, it’s hard to deny their advantages over hammers for many applications, especially rock trenching. From trenching to foundations, concrete removal to general rock excavation and beyond, Rockwheel offers a faster, higher precision, quieter, and more effective solution. Rockwheel Americas has a national rental fleet, complete inventory of units and parts, nationwide service support and the most experienced team in the business.
For more information visit www.RockwheelAmericas.com or contact direct at tel. 814-466-7134 or email




Topics: Trenching, rock grinder, rock trenching, drum cutter, rock cutting

When off-the-shelf drums won't cut it, customize!

Posted by Chip Kogelmann

Apr 29, 2021 5:48:00 PM

While the vast majority of the Rockwheel drum cutters are delivered with our standard bomb proof, hard rock drums, sometimes a job has requirements where special solutions are called for.  Our team is well equipped to design and build custom cutting drums and we welcome the challenge!  Close collaboration with the customer along with our nearly 50-years of experience in rock cutting, provides for application specific drum designs. 

Here we're highlighting a few recent projects but first check out Jeremy Foust, among the best in the biz, laying down some tight passes on a set of XHD severe duty rock cutting drums.

Rockwheel Drum Cutter Welding

70" wide drums.  A quarry in Texas which specializes in producing road base material for the oil fields was replacing an obsolete cutter and needed to boost production.  They had a 50+ ton excavator which had the power, weight, and hydraulic capacity to run the uber-powerful G60 Rockwheel drum cutter.  This 300-hp gear driven, rock eating, base pumping, Rockwheel has a gear reduction ratio of 1.2.  This means that every ft-lb of motor torque is magnified by 20% for the highest pick penetration force on the market.  With this power and an assessment of the rock physical properties we were able to increase drum width to 70" (1.8m) without sacrificing cutting performance.  The result was a massive increase in cutting rate (CY/hr).  Take a look...

Special drums for ladder dredge.  Once again, in Texas a unique project.  A cutter head was needed for cutting hard abrasive sandy material to be mounted on a ladder dredge.  A 200-hp G40 Rockwheel hydraulic rock ginder was selected and custom 50" drums with optimal pick lacing (the pattern of the teeth on drum) were designed and built.  The photos below show how this was just the right fit for dredge. Note the wear protection blocks. 

Rockwheel rock grinding attachment

G40 Rockwheel drumcutter

Narrow cutting drum options are available as well.  These are frequently requested for trenching operations.

Rockwheel Americas is the go-to source for hydraulic excavator-mounted rock cutting attachments.   With the largest Rockwheel drumcutter rental fleet in North America and unmatched support we're grinding it out on a daily basis to change the way hard ground is excavated.  Contact us direct or have your local equipment dealer give us a call.  814-466-7134 or visit www.alpinecutters.com  DEALER INQUIRIES ENCOURAGED


Topics: Rockwheel, drumcutter, rock grinder, rock trenching, Antraquip, rock cutting

Grinding Idaho Basalt Rock for Power Pole Installation

Posted by Chip Kogelmann

Feb 23, 2021 7:25:57 PM

Idaho Power provides electricity to more than 580,000 customers across 24,000 square miles in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. In 2019 generation sources were 45% hydro, 19% renewable, 16% coal, and 11% natural gas. (source: IdahoPower.com).  With more than 4,800 miles of high-voltage transmission lines acting as "freeways of electricity", serving both inter and intra-state functions, there are always repairs and upgrades in the works.  Since the vast majority of lines are above ground, power poles are essential...and these poles must be secured into the ground which in southern Idaho, with its history of volcanic activity, means into extremely hard basalt rock.  Making a 10+ foot deep footer in solid basalt is no light undertaking, especially with production targets to hit under a tight schedule.  Excel Equipment Co. (www.ExcelEquip.com) of Boise, is an experienced Rockwheel dealer who knows a thing or two about cutting rock.  To help Idaho Power meet their production goals for a 138kV transmission line upgrade south of Shohone, Idaho a 150-hp D30 Rockwheel twin drum cutter installed on a CAT328 excavator was mobilized.  The results were impressive.  After a little operator training to ensure optimal cutting technique, checking drum speed and hydraulic settings, the Rockwheel drum cutter kicked into gear and made rapid progress grinding the rock.  In addition to the high cutting rate, the resulting cuttings made excellent backfill around the metal casing which saved many loads of imported crushed stone.  Additionally, there were some regions near buried fiber optic cable where disturbance to surrounding material had to be minimized and the Rockwheel with its low vibration and precise cut fit the bill.  It was great to see another successful application of the Rockwheel rock grinding attachments.  Trenching, foundations, slope shaping, concrete trimming, frozen ground, mining, tunneling, cutting roads...what's your application.  Our massive inventory, flexible dealer programs, and national rental fleet makes it easier than ever to bring the highest quality excavator-mounted rock grinding attachments to your project.  Call or email us to see what model is optimal for your project.  www.alpinecutters.com   1-814-466-7134

Watch the Rockwheel Rock Cutter!






Precise Cutting of Shale Cap Rock in Western Pennsylvania, USA

Posted by Chip Kogelmann

Jan 9, 2021 12:52:28 PM

A Western Pennsylvania mineral products company had a problem.  In some locations, overlying their valuable deposits of calcium carbonate limestone was a layer of shale rock that, when mixed with the underlying material during blasting, hauling & crushing operations, contaminated and devalued the end product.  Their high-calcium crushed aggregate and pulverized products have many uses in agriculture, sulfur capture, metal production, cement and asphalt, and other industries. To meet the rigorous chemistry requirements contamination of the product must be minimized. How to precisely remove 1-2 foot strata rapidly?

D30 Rockwheel Drumcutter

It started with a call to Alpine-Rockwheel Americas to arrange a site visit to evaluate the suitability of the Rockwheel drum cutter rock grinding attachment for this application. While we are careful never to over-promise as our competitors are apt to do, it was clear this was a good fit.   A CAT 320D already onsite was selected as the carrier machine. It’s important that the carrier excavator has the power, weight, and hydraulic capacity to optimally run the Rockwheel drumcutter. Alpine personnel selected a D30 (150-hp) twin drum Rockwheel cutter for the job and following a short 1-day demonstration to prove the concept the unit was put to work in earnest. The result was beyond satisfactory. Operators were able to accurately grind the unwanted rock shelf and cleanly expose the underlying material. The cuttings from the rock grinding process were loaded out and the smooth surface made for easy access for drills for the next round of production.

The continuous nature of grinding rock with an excavator mounted Rockwheel drum cutter far exceeded what a hammer could do in this application. The Rockwheel drumcutter attachment gives and excavator the capabilities of a continuous miner.

While the main uses of the Rockwheel cutterheads are in trenching, foundations, concrete removal, and general rock excavation this job makes clear the versatility of high torque drum cutters.   How can you imagine using this versatile tool? Stump grinding? Cutting frozen ground? Dredging? Wine Caves? Scaling and profiling rock faces? Please leave a comment below to let us know your ideas!

With a national rental fleet, massive inventory, nationwide service, growing dealer network, and the most experienced team in the business, we at Alpine-Rockwheel Americas are ready to roll up our sleeves and work with you. Dealer inquiries are especially encouraged! www.alpinecutters.com | 814-466-7134 | info@alpinecutters.com


Topics: Rockwheel, rock grinder, drum cutter, rock cutting

Disturbance free rock cutting adjacent to existing foundation...Rockwheel drum cutters get the job done

Posted by Chip Kogelmann

Jun 1, 2018 11:39:36 AM

With the economy on steroids this year there is tremendous construction activity all over the United States.  Washington, DC is no exception and we're seeing constant renewal where outdated buildings are giving way to new construction.  This means demolition and foundation work in close proximity to existing structures.  Care must be taken and disturbance minimized when working within inches (literally) of existing buildings which are occupied, functioning workplaces or residences.   

Rockwheel excavator mounted rock cutting attachments (sometimes called drumcutters or cutterheads) are an ideal tool when both accuracy and productivity must be achieved simultaneously.  In this case, a limestone bedrock foundation needed to be deepened immediately adjacent to an adjoining building footer.  To avoid the risk of damage to the neighboring structure hydraulic hammers were not an option because of shock waves and vibrations that would be reverberate through the rock mass and concrete.  This can result in cracks and unseen microfractures that weaken the foundation.

Clean 2-hose connection makes installation simple      Simple 2-hose system speeds up installation .  Note helix scroll on cutting drums


                        Attack angle of picks shears rock , allows smoother cutting and makes reusable cuttings


Rock grinding attachments attack the rock in a very different manner than hydraulic hammers.  Unlike hammers (i.e. breakers), which go after the unconfined compressive strength (UCS) of the rock, the shearing action of the rotating conical carbide picks (teeth) exploits the tensile strength of the rock which is 10%-15% of the UCS.  By "raking" the rock at 45-50 deg. attack angle an added benefit is creation of smaller rock fragments and these cuttings can often be used onsite as backfill without crushing.  This mechanical rock cutting or grinding results in significantly lower seismic disturbance which means safer rock excavation when close to buildings or other sensitive infrastructure such as gas lines.  Moreover, the degree of precision of rock or concrete cutting is exceptional.  Rapid and Precise are two words frequently used to describe the cutting action of the Rockwheel drum cutters.  Compared to other rock grinding attachments on the market the Rockwheel rock and concrete grinders have a optimal layout of teeth on the drums which results in a smooth cutting action.  This means less frequent stalling of the cutterhead, more continuous rock cutting and ultimately more CY/hr (m3/hr).  For exceptionally hard material when pick penetration is hampered a demolition drum can be used which features a helical depth limiter which prevents the tool from try to take too big of a "bite".  This less aggressive drum decreases vibrations and stalling of the cutterhead which means the Rockwheel is cutting rock a greater percentage of the time.

So...the next time you're faced with rock on concrete removal in a sensitive site where collateral damage is unacceptable give the experts at Rockwheel Americas a call.  We'll gladly work with your local excavator dealer to ensure optimal hydraulic set up for peak performance of the rock cutting attachment.  We have a national rental fleet and gladly work either customer direct or through your local equipment dealer.  We maintain an extensive inventory so units can be delivery typically in less than 1-week.  Rent, Purchase, or RPO (rental purchase option)...your call.  Dealers, we're always looking to building new relationships so call about our demonstration and consignment program.  www.alpinecutters.com 










Topics: Concrete Grinding, Rockwheel, drumcutter, rock grinder, drum cutter, Antraquip, rock cutting

Low disturbance and rapid removal of concrete walls

Posted by Chip Kogelmann

May 14, 2018 6:28:55 PM


The Challenge:  Along a vital waterway managed by the USACE (United States Army Corps of Engineers) a customer needed to remove several sections of 4-ft thick x 8-ft high concrete walls.  Concrete was unreinforced with a compressive strength of 4000-psi ( 27.5 MPa).  Vibrations needed to be kept to a minimum to ensure no disturbance to adjacent structures.  Access was limited to an earthen bench about 25-ft away on the opposite side of  a cut.  Hydraulic hammers would cause too much disturbance via vibrations and shock waves and were not permitted plus they did not have the capability to provided the desired profiled finished surface.  How best to remove these ?

Concrete monoliths that need to be carefully removed


The Solution:  In consultation with Rockwheel Americas a model D20 Rockwheel (95hp) rock and concrete drum cutter was selected to be installed on a CAT320EL excavator.  The Rockwheel was in-stock and ready to go thanks to Rockwheel Americas extensive inventory and national rental fleet.  We advised the excavator technician on setting hydraulic flow and pressure for optimal performance.  It is always worth the time on the front-end to get the auxilliary hydraulics dialed in so drum speed (rpm) and torque suit the task while making sure multi-functionality on the excavator is not compromised.   The Rockwheel installation was  "plug and play" thanks to clean hose routing that matches that of the excavator hydraulic lines.  No case drain line required and no long hoses crossing the stick.

Rockwheel rotary concrete drum cutter in action


Performance:  The customer was very pleased with the performance and expects to speed up the process as the operator becomes increasingly skilled with the Rockwheel.  The high torque Rockwheel rotary drum cutter was the ideal solution.  Smooth and continuous concrete grinding was rapid and precise.  Moreover, after two 34-yd3 sections of the wall were removed the customer remarked: "teeth wear is virtually zero right now, tips look great after 2 monoliths".  High quality carbide conical teeth are always in-stock and can be overnighted anywhere in the country but we recommend keeping a few sets on the job at all times.  Clean up was easy thanks to a cutting by-product typically 2" or less in size.  Compare this to the blocky remains after hammering which are difficult to haul and dispose.

The base of the cut was smooth and flat, ready for the next phase of the job.  It's cliche but its all about "the right tool for the job".    Excavator mounted rock and concrete grinders are one of the fastest growing attachments on the market.  No longer a tool for mining and underground construction, these are a versatile attachments that should have a place in every serious contractors toolkit.  Add one to your arsenal.   www.alpinecutters.com  Rockwheel is the original rotary cutter...get only the best.

Remaining wall base after grinding by Alpine Rockwheel



Topics: Concrete Grinding, Rockwheel, drumcutter, rock grinder, rock trenching

No Hammering?  No Blasting?  No problem! ... when you have a Rockwheel

Posted by Chip Kogelmann

Oct 24, 2017 4:26:16 PM

Just last week I was in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada on the western shore of Lake Ontario.  Beautiful part of the world.  Much of Hamilton is perched on karst topography which involves geological formations with  subsurface drainage, caverns and passages caused by dissolving rock, especially prevalent in limestone formations like the Niagara Escarpment.  We were at a site where underground infrastructure was being installed for water and sewer services.  This means trenching and you didn't have to go very deep until shelf rock was encountered.  Where it was permitted the contractor was blasting the rock.  Elsewhere hydraulic hammers were in use along with excavator mounted hydraulic rotary drum cutters (i.e. Rockwheels).  In some areas of the site, due to the presence of underground karst features, blasting and hammering was explicitly prohibited.  In these areas the only option was the Alpine Rockwheel drum cutter.  Rockwheels are the lowest vibration method of rock removal.  Precise and rapid grinding of the rock limits the disturbance to the surrounding rock mass.   A Rockwheel model G40 (200hp) was utilized.  Production rates varied depending where we were on the site.  Rockwheel rock grinders excel where there are natural fractures and weakness planes but even in the solid rock the rock cutting attachment got the job done.  The trench was cut to exact specifications with no overbreak which is a problem with hammers.  Cuttings could be reused as backfill saving hauling costs.   Rockwheel Americas a division of Alpine has a large inventory of units for rental and purchase.  Call 1-814-466-7134 or email info@alpinecutters.com to get more information.  You can alwasy find us online at www.alpinecutters.com 





Topics: Cutter Heads, drumcutter, rock grinder, rock trenching

Rockwheel D20 trenching in West Virginia sandstone and blue rock...a microcosm on the paradigm shift in rock excavation

Posted by Chip Kogelmann

Apr 13, 2017 6:40:13 AM

With winter finally coming to a close the construction season in the Mid-Atlantic region is picking up steam.  With this seasonal uptick we at Alpine Rockwheel are getting more and more calls as excavation contractors and engineers recognize the benefit of Rockwheels as an alternative to hydraulic hammers in many rock removal applications. Excavator mounted rock grinding attachments (Rockwheels) have reached a tipping point where it has become clear that something has been missing from the toolbox for economical removal of rock.

Here it is in a nutshell:  Ground strength varies along a continuum starting from soft ground that can be excavated with buckets (with or without ripper teeth) to extremely hard rock that requires heavy hammers or drill-and-blast.  Between these two extremes is a wide range of rock strength from approx. 1200 to 15,000-psi where excavator mounted rock cutting attachments are the most effective tool.  They are more efficient because:

  • Continuos grinding:  Less time re-positioning the tool compared to hammers
  • Higher production:  3-5x the producting of hammers in suitable rock (especially in layered rock!)
  • Precision:  eliminate overbreak and dont excavate more than you have to
  • Reusable cuttings:  ground rock can be recyled onsite as backfill or more easily transported


Case in point is a recent rock trenching job in West Virginia.  The contractor had to trench through 3-ft of sandstone underlain by  3 1/2 ft  of blue rock (limestone).  In addition, they were crossing some existing utilites that could not be disturbed.   Knowing the limitations of hydraulic hammers in terms of ability to cut smooth trench walls and flat bottoms he decided to use a D20 Rockwheel hydraulic rotary rock grinding attachment.  Installed on a 20-ton excavator the Rockwheel exceeded expectations in terms of productivity and finished product.  In the photo below you can see the rock layers, smooth exact side walls, and a crossing utility line that was undisturbed.  


Could a hammer have done this job?  Sure, but it would have been much less efficient and cost effective.   Hammers will always have a place in the the excavation of rock but the current paradigm shift is raising awareness that there is a better option for a wide range of rock types.  It's all about the right tool for the job and having a toolbox equipped with a range of options.

Alpine maintains a national rental fleet so you can try this equipment for yourself without a purchase commitment. Excavator dealers and rental houses can utilize our rental fleet to offer their excavators equipped with Rockwheel rock cutting attachments.    From our long history in the mining and underground contruction markets we are excited to bring rock grinding technology to your excavator!  Contact us to let us know how we can help.  Tel.  814-466-7134  email.  chip@alpinecutters.com  www.alpinecutters.com 


Topics: Cutter Heads, Trenching, Excavation, Rockwheel

D20 Rockwheel for rapidly removes outcropping limestone....then grinds some large stumps!

Posted by Chip Kogelmann

Mar 11, 2017 10:40:32 AM




If you live in Pennsylvania, USA chances are there is underlying bedrock which at times is exposed at the surface as outcroppings.  This prevalence of rock (limestone, shale, & sandstone) presents a challenge for any form of earth work be it trenching (sewer and water), preparation of foundations for buildings, grading along roads, and even farming where outcropping rock can damage expensive planting and harvesting machinery.  

The traditional solution to this problem is to use hydraulic hammers.  While these tools can get the job done, drawbacks exist.  Hammers (a.k.a. breakers or hoerams) are very loud and have high vibrations which affects the surrounding rock mass and upsets neighbors. In addition, hammers are not capable of precise removal of the rock.  Overbreak is a common problem resulting in extra time and expense.  Moverover, the large chunks of broken rock cannot be reused without additional crushing otherwise it musted be hauled offsite which is costly.  There is frequently a need to remove only a thin layer of rock, say 6"-12", but with hydraulic hammers twice that can in inadvertantly removed.

There is a far more efficient and economical option.  Alpine Rockwheel rock and concrete grinding attachments are the solution.  These excavator mounted rock and concrete cutting attachments can rapidly remove the rock to a precise cut line (within 1"-2" with a skilled operator, or better when a depth control guide is used).    Moreover, in trenching or footer jobs, rock grinding attachments leave smooth walls, sharp corners and flat bottoms.  Trench profiles with rock cutting attachments are slot shaped compared to the V shape common with hammer.  This means you're not excavating unnecessary material.  Finally, you're left with a crushed stone that can be reused as backfill.

This winter a business owner in Shippensburg, PA wanted to expand his builiding but immediately adjacent to the existing struture was a 6-8 ft thick limestone bedrock outcrop in the way.   The customer decided to use a D20 (95-hp) Rockwheel excavator mounted rock grinder (Rockwheel) on a Volvo EC220.  The Rockwheel is powered by the standard auxilliary hydrualic kit of the excavator and installs like a hammer with a simple two line system.  With a peak torque of over 13,000 ft lb, the Rockwheel was very affective and made quick work of the rock removal.  The excavator operator quickly learned the correct down pressure to maximize rock cutting performance and was impressed by how smooth the D20 cut, espeically compared to using a hammer.  Once the main job was done, they installed a set of wood cutting teeth and removed several large diameter stumps. 

All in all, it was a very successful job!



Topics: Cutter Heads, Excavation

New mine scaling drum outperforms the competition!

Posted by Chip Kogelmann

Dec 19, 2016 2:26:47 PM

In a head-to-head trial the Alpine Rockwheel model D30M (mining version) hydraulic rock cutting attachment was found to cut smoother, stronger and more continuously when compared to a competitive unit the customer was testing.  This was an ideal comparison because the same excavator, operators, and rock types were involved, minimizing variables.  The smoother cutting was largely attributed to the drum shape and pattern of teeth on the cutting drums.  A higher density pick lacing with optimal spacing for limestone rock was developed by Alpine specifically for this type of mine scaling job.  In addition, Alpine made sure the drum speed and torque were optimized.  Other features of the D30M include:  heavy duty housing, square drive shaft, simple 2-hose system, integrated water sprays for dust suppression, and innovative valving to protect the hydraulic motor.  

There was less wear and tear on the excavator and the consumption of carbide teeth was signifiantly lower which offers signifiance savings and minimizes downtime.

Hydraulically driven rotary cutterhead attachments are rapidly gaining popularity in  underground drill-and-blast operations.  Mine manages tell us that excavator based rock cutting machines reduce scaling time by 50+% saving several hours per day.  In addition, there is less hand scaling and the need to re-scale an area because of failed inspections is practically eliminated.  


Alpine Rockwheels represent the most advanced and robust hydraulic rock grinding attachments on the markets.  Excavator mounting rock cutting machines are available for carriers of all sizes from 2 to 100+ tons.  Contact us at www.alpinecutters.com to see how these tools can improve efficiency in your operation.





Topics: Rockwheel, Mining

About this blog

This blog is a resource for research, how-to's, and general news regarding rock grinders, transverse cutter heads, roadheaders, and alternatives to hydraulic hammers. 

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