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A guide to plate compactor rental

    Let’s get acquainted with plate compactors. The average DIYer might not be familiar with them, but if you’re installing pavers or retaining walls, you need to be. The quality of your project will increase exponentially if you rent a plate compactor and learn how to use it the correct way.

    Compaction is a crucial step for the quality and longevity of a patio or walkway. It’s also a step that’s easily overlooked, which can result in uneven installation, safety hazards and the need for frequent repairs. With the various types and sizes of compactors available to rent, you can find a style that’s both manageable and compatible with your project materials.

    Compactor options

    Walk-behind plate compactors are the most popular style among DIYers. They consist of a steel plate and engine combination. The engine causes the plate to vibrate rapidly, smoothing and compacting the material underneath. For DIY rental purposes, you will want something similar, a single machine that moves in one direction. Reversible machines are also available but are made for more heavy-duty construction purposes over home projects.

    You can also consider using a tamping rammer. It is a handheld, machine-operated tool that uses a vibrating motion to compact small areas of ground. A tamping rammer is best suited for use with cohesive and semi-cohesive soils.

    If you aren’t looking for something as substantial as an engine-powered plate compactor or rammer — or maybe the area to be compacted is too narrow to fit one — consider a concrete prep tool rental such as a tamper instead. Tampers compact soil as well, but at a smaller scale and with more effort from the operator. There’s no engine, and therefore, no vibration feature. Because of that, the plate surface is smaller. Tampers level and compact the soil using force exerted by the operator alone. Simply lift the tool up and tamp it down as hard as possible. Repeat this action until the material is compacted to a satisfactory level for the job.

    How to choose a compactor

    Before considering any of the features, look for models that are compatible with your project’s material. Certain compactors are made to effectively consolidate soil, while others perform better with clay-heavy matter, sand or gravel.

    Next, you can focus on capability. Single plate compactors are easy to guide and control due to their manageable engine power and capacity, while tampers are self-controlled — making both great choices for DIYers.

    As a general rule, the more CCs and horsepower, the more power. Compaction force, the amount of pressure applied to the surface during compaction, is another essential figure to assess. Keep in mind, though, that additional force is not always better. The amount of force you need depends on the project in front of you. Too much compaction force can damage the materials you’re working with.

    Don’t look past vibration frequency, either. This is especially important when working with soil that has high sand or gravel content. The vibrations help settle the material to create a stronger foundation for pavers to rest upon.

    Lastly, consider features that create a more comfortable DIY experience. Look for anti-vibration mountings on the compactor handles to lessen the impact on your hands — and wheels that make it easier to move the machine from one place to another. Search for “concrete tool rental near me” or use our Rental Store Locator above to find the best option for you.

    Operational tips

    So, how do you use plate compactors and tampers? First, excavate the project area 8 to 12 inches deep. Then, go over the sub-base three to four times with the plate compactor before adding material on top.

    For paver projects, add 4 to 8 inches of sub-base material, such as limestone or sandstone. Make sure you stick with an amount between 4 and 8 inches. Adding too much material will result in inefficient compaction while adding too little material can decrease the density due to fracturing or pushing. Once you’ve added the sub-base material, go over the area three to four times with the plate compactor.

    Following the second round of compaction, continue with the next step in your project. Add an inch of sand to the entire surface area. This gives the pavers a softer bed to settle into. Lay the pavers in the desired pattern and finish the project with the third round of compaction. Make sure you have a protective mat for the plate compactor for this final round. Take 2 or 3 passes with the plate compactor to help press the pavers into the sub-base and decrease the likelihood of shifting and settling.

    For concrete projects, spread layers of gravel, 2 inches in depth at a time. After each layer, compact the material with the compactor of your choice. Continue this until the gravel reaches a depth of 4 inches. After this step, you are done with the plate compactor and can move to the next step of the concrete project.

    When you’re in need of a plate compactor rental or any type of concrete tool rental for your project, turn to your local ARA-affiliated rental store. They’ll help you find one that meets your specific needs. Use the Rental Store Locator above to find a store near you. 

    Also, explore more DIY tips from RentalHQ for conquering your outdoor living space.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Do I need a plate compactor for pavers?

    As a DIYer, you certainly don’t need to buy one. In some cases, it makes sense to rent one, though. If you’re building a paved patio or walkway, using a plate compactor will dramatically increase the quality of work and improve its longevity. To pour concrete or lay pavers correctly, you need a tool that compacts and levels the ground in preparation, either a plate compactor or tamper.

    How much does a 20-inch plate compactor weigh?

    This size of compactor weighs about 200 pounds. It can compact a large area at once, but be prepared to lift it on and off a truck bed. You’ll need to recruit a second set of hands to assist you. 

    How long does it take to use a plate compactor?

    The time it takes to compact a section of soil or gravel is dependent on the machine used, the square footage of the individual project, and the type of sub-base being compacted. Generally, it takes two to four passes with the walk-behind plate compactor to achieve the desired compaction.