Choosing the Right Plate Compactor for Your Paving Project

Have you ever been told to go pound sand? It’s an American idiom with worldwide reach. In some circles, those are fighting words.

In paving, it could just be any Tuesday. Proper soil compaction is the key to a firm base. A strong base is necessary to carry heavy loads.

Modern building codes require soil preparation before paving. Depending on the type of construction and the geological analysis, you might use a plate compactor or other equipment.

Once you determine the equipment you need, where do you find a plate compactor for sale?  

Read on to learn more.

Soil Compaction Basics


There are two basic types of soil for paving purposes, although the Australian agriculture soil system notes more than 50 types. Since you are paving over the soil, the agricultural designation matters little unless your soil has a large proportion of compost or organic matter.

The two basic types are:

Cohesive, which means the soil clumps or holds shape.  This type of soil usually contains clay and needs moisture to hold together firmly.

Granular soil is the opposite side of the coin. Particles of sand or gravel make up much of this type. It is loose soil that can’t be compacted, wet or dry. It crumbles when picked up and has no cohesive strength. 

Depending on the type of soil you have, you may need to supplement with clay or gravel, add moisture and some sort of structure.  After the soils are mixed, you must compact the soil to remove air and space between the soil granules for a firm foundation. 

Tools of the Trade

Before you go off to find a plate compactor, you want to determine if it is the tool for the job. In confined areas where you can’t drive a compacting roller, your choices are a plate compactor or a tamping rammer (jumping jack). They’re hand-operated and easily moved from job site to job site.

Vibrating Plate Compactor

A vibrating plate compactor uses the repetitive motion to penetrate the soil and move the particles together. The vibrating base plate exerts a downward force in addition to the weight of the machine. In combination, this increases soil density.

A heavy, flat steel plate is attached to an engine that drives the plate up and down.  The weight of the machine plus the vibrations of the plate pack the soil tightly together. This pushes air voids trapped in the material to the surface. 

Jumping Jack

This machine looks like a jackhammer and delivers a series of blows to the soil surface. It is typically used in narrow areas, like trenches. 

How to Select the Right Tool

These are the two most common pieces of equipment for light soil compaction. For roads and large earthworks, you use something with more power. Between the plate compactor and the jumping jack, consider your soil type.

The choice between these machines might not be clear. They are both effective in compacting small areas of base material. They produce different results in different types of soil.

Cohesive Soil Work

The small, concentrated force of the jumping jack is ideal for narrow trench work and cohesive soils. It is easy to maneuver and focuses energy for deep compaction. They work well to compact cohesive soils because of the size of the plate.

The small plate size allows for focused, direct compaction with harder force than a plate compactor. The machines have a slim, upright design. 

Jumping jacks are able to compact a deeper layer of soil than a plate compactor due to their direct force. More fill can be added to each layer, which makes filling and compacting a trench much faster.

Granular Soils

Your strategy when working with granular soils in large open areas is to pass over the area several times. A plate compactor is the best option. The wider plate size and vibration allow for uniform layers. 

Compactor plates are wider than the plate on a jumping jack. In addition, vibrations, not concussive force are used. The weight and compaction force is spread over a greater area. 

Because of the way they are designed and operated, plate compactors are better for larger, flat surface areas. Vibrating soil into place allows time to settle and works well in dry and sandy soil.

Your Equipment Fleet

Most paving professionals encounter both of these conditions. Add both machines to your equipment fleet. Equipment rental is an option. But both machines are portable, reliable and have long lifespans with proper care. It is more economical to purchase the machines to have them ready to use.

Where Do You Find a Plate Compactor for Sale?

A walk-behind vibratory plate compactor is a diesel or gasoline piece of equipment for professional use. You could order from Amazon or your local DIY store, but a local vendor with trade experience in your area is best. They have knowledge of the soil types you are likely to encounter and the proper tools to advance your business. 

Look for well-known equipment brand names like Bartell instead of no-name machinery for the best and most comprehensive warranties.  

Choose Both Tools and Be Prepared for Any Soil Type

Paving contractors often need both types of compaction tools to form a firm base for foundations. Properly prepared soil prevents foundation cracks, premature wear, settling, and breaks. Depending on the types of soils, you may need both a plate compactor and a jumping jack to create the correct level of compaction.

Don’t depend on consumer-level DIY stores to find professional-level tools and equipment like a plate compactor for sale. Look for a local brand name seller that specializes in local trade, with the appropriate product range.

Ready to add a plate compactor to your equipment fleet? Contact us at Paragon Tools today.