Compaction is the most important part of any hardscape project. Without proper compaction of the aggregate base and soil subgrade a project is bound to fail. It is just a matter of time. And to achieve proper compaction, it is important to have the right equipment available to you.
The majority of the cost and time spent on a hardscape project whether it be a retaining wall or a paver project is in the base. From the proper excavation, compaction of the subsoil, installation of the base material, and compaction of that same material, this is a crucial process to the success of your hardscape project and simple tools should not be relied upon to achieve excellent results.
Plate Compactor vs Hand Tamper
When comparing a plate compactor to a hand tamper, there are a variety of things to consider. The type of compaction, the amount of force, and the applications.
Unfortunately if you are hoping that using just a hand tamper for your project, it will not cut it. There is just not enough compaction force or frequency applied to the base material in order to rearrange the particles in the base to achieve that compaction along with removing the air in the material to compress it.
What you really need is a plate compactor that has the capability of applying the proper compaction to your subsoil and base material in the building process. Having this equipment will not only make your job easier, but also provide you with the best possible end product that will last for years to come.
Hand Tamper for Pavers
A hand tamper is a steel plate with the same or different material handle that extends up four feet allowing the user to grip the handle in order to exert downwards blows to the ground that they are compacting.
These blows provide a ramming action which is best for cohesive materials in their compaction similar to that of a jumping jack or rammer compactor. It is a slow and inefficient way of compacting these cohesive materials while also relying on the manual use of an operator which can become quickly tiring.
However, in hardscape construction there is little use for a hand tamper except to be used in hard to reach places where a plate compactor cannot reach without running into a structure. Other than this application there is just no use for a hand tamper on a hardscape job site.
If you only have a hand tamper available to you for the installation of your project, it is best to spend the money to rent a plate compactor to ensure the proper compaction of your base material. Otherwise in the long term you may experience settling of your base which will show on the surface of your pavers.
Plate Compactor for Pavers
Plate compactors are engine operated pieces of equipment that apply a vibration to the ground in order to rearrange the particles using a frequency range while also placing a downward pressure to remove air from the aggregate / soil.
These are the relied upon method of compaction in the hardscape industry. They have forward and reversible options available with reversible plate compactors usually being larger in size and pounds of compaction force that they are able to apply. Forward plate compactors rely on the operator to manually turn them on the surface of the ground on a rotational axis, whereas reversible plate compactors allow the operator to use a handle to change the direction forwards to backwards with ease.
Not all plate compactors are created equal. The larger the compactor, the more pounds of force it applies (generally). A rule of thumb for compaction is that for every 1,000 pounds of force a compactor is able to exert, one inch of material is able to be properly compacted.
This means that choosing a compactor for your project is crucial to the success of the compaction. Small compactors that you can rent at a big box store generally do not apply much more than 1,000 pounds of force making them really only good for about one inch of material compaction. This makes it almost useless in the compaction of subsoil and base material.
Not to mention that the more cohesive a subsoil, the larger your compactor should be or you should be using a jumping jack / ramming compactor to achieve proper compaction of that soil. The action of ramming or kneading is better for that cohesive soil, whereas the action of vibration is better for less cohesive materials such as sand to gravel.
If you do not have access to proper compaction equipment, rent it. Pick it up or have it delivered. But make sure that you invest into this portion of the project more than any other. The failure to achieve proper compaction is what causes the majority of project failures from pavers to retaining walls.