A compactor machine is a device that applies downward pressure on dirt, soil or gravel to compress the ground and fill in air pockets. After using a soil compactor, the floor can sustain heavier weight on an even surface, allowing construction teams to roll out heavier machines with fewer safety hazards.
Soil compaction tools flatten the ground with either static or vibratory force. Static compaction uses a machine’s weight to flatten the earth below it, while vibratory tools produce impacts and vibrations that compress the soil. By using compactors in construction and landscaping, teams can drive their heaviest machines on stable terrain.
There are three types of compactor equipment: rammers, plates and rollers. Each tool covers a different amount of surface area and applies varying force. In general, rammers and plates are smaller and exert less pressure. On the other hand, a dirt roller compactor covers a wider area and uses its massive weight to compress materials.
Our guide covers the 15 most common types of compactors and when to use them.
1. Power Rammer
Power rammers, sometimes called trench rammers, are small, hand-operated compactors. Because of their small size and light weight, teams use them in trenches and ditches. However, because of their limited output, they aren’t suited for dense material covering a wide surface area. Power rammers rely on the static force of a physical impact instead of vibrations.
2. Vibratory Tamper
Vibratory tampers use a small, spring-operated base plate to produce vibrations. While their vibrations compress more soil than a rammer’s impact, they aren’t as powerful as larger vibrating plate compactors. Conversely, like rammers, they work best in confined spaces.
3. Vibrating Plate Compactors
Vibrating plate compactors come in various sizes and can range from 100 to 300 pounds. They feature the largest plates and can produce up to 10,000 vibrations per minute. Unlike smaller tools, vibrating plates can compress substances like clay and sand.
4. Self-Propelled Roller
Self-propelled rollers, sometimes called pedestrian, hand-guided or walk-behind rollers, are hand-guided compaction devices. Unlike larger models, their drums reach a maximum width of two feet. While they fall short of other rollers’ power, they require less energy and fit into smaller spaces.
5. Single Drum Vibratory Rollers
Unlike the previous model, operators can drive single drum vibratory rollers through a work site. By using a vibrating drum in front of the cab, it allows you to move over surfaces to compress the soil under this vehicle. Meanwhile, a pair of tires in the back keeps this machine balanced. Since it only features one drum, operators may need to drive over the ground multiple times before it’s fully compressed.
6. Large Dual Vibrating Drum Rollers
Dual vibrating drum rollers, or tandem rollers, resemble their single drum counterparts. However, they feature an additional drum at the back of the machine. The extra drum allows operators to compress soil in fewer passes over the same surface.
7. Smooth Wheel Rollers
While smooth wheel rollers can compress soil and clay, their design favors compacting gravel, crushed rocks and sand. For this reason, they often help pave highways and freeways. Due to their lack of traction, driving a smooth wheel machine on wet roads poses a massive safety hazard.
8. Static Roller
These rollers apply static compression to the ground instead of vibrations and tend to feature two or three drums that function as wheels. Their static pressure flattens and smooths out rough surfaces, but their lack of vibration means they can’t compress soil deeper underground.
9. Multi-Tire Pneumatic Roller
Pneumatic rollers feature multiple tires set on two axels at the front and back of the vehicle. They work best on thin soil particles with very little cohesion and can apply even pressure over a relatively large area, preventing soil from rippling or collapsing. Additionally, they can bring finer particles to the surface of an asphalt mix.
10. Heavy Pneumatic Roller
Heavy pneumatic rollers perform the same function as a multi-tire pneumatic roller. Due to their increased mass, operators can use them on fine silts and gravel. Their increased weight also allows them to compress deeper layers of soil.
11. Sheepsfoot Roller
A sheepsfoot roller features a steel drum covered in rectangular steel protrusions, sometimes called lugs or feet, that extend from the drum’s surface. These feet work best on fine-grained soils and clay, however operators should remember that the dimensions, weight and number of lugs on a drum will influence compaction quality. Teams use sheepsfoot rollers on embankments, pavements, dams and railroad projects.
12. Elephantsfoot Roller
Elephantsfoot rollers are a variation of sheepsfoot rollers. Their drums feature fewer lugs, replacing them with a wide, flat plate welded onto the remaining surface. This design allows them to function better on soils with less cohesion.
13. Padfoot Roller
Padfoot rollers, also known as tamping foot or slash presser rollers, feature lugs on their drums similar to elephantsfoot rollers. Unlike the previous models, their steel feet are much larger. Since they are generally faster and heavier than a sheepsfoot compactor, they can easily break down clusters of soil. In some cases, these models use diamond-shaped lugs on the drum.
14. Grid Roller
The cylindrical surface of a grid roller is composed of interconnected steel bars, resembling a steel grid. They work by breaking down large rocks and forcing them beneath compressed soil. Unlike other rollers, operators usually attach grid rollers to the back of another vehicle.
15. Track Rollers
One of the least common types of roller, track rollers feature a drum in front but replace their wheels with two continuous tracks. The tracks allow for more reliable compression deep underground and provide a smoother finish to the top layer of soil.
Benefits of a Compacting Machine
Compacting machines speed up construction and reduce the risk of damage or injury. While they rarely finish a project independently, compactors let teams make the most of their other devices and can help with cleanup at the end of a job. The full benefits of an Earth compactor include:
- Increased stability: Compressed dirt is flatter than loose soil. Forklifts, cranes and other types of job equipment benefit from the increased stability compaction offers.
- Higher load capacity: Lifting devices can safely haul heavier loads on stable, flat surfaces. Soil compaction equipment lets teams maximize their devices’ lifting capacity.
- Stronger materials: Compactors increase the density of substances like concrete, making them more resistant to damage.
- Reduced water seepage: Water flowing through dirt or soil can damage equipment and slow work progress. Compressed soil traps water underground and keeps it from interfering with a work site.
Picking the Best Compaction Equipment
Picking the best soil compaction machine for your project comes down to a few key factors. First, teams need to consider the surface they’re compressing. While plates and rammers can handle loose soil, you’ll need a roller for dense materials. Compacting testing equipment measures the density of a material and lets you know the kind of tool you’ll need.
The surface area you need to cover will also impact compactor choice. Rollers can cover a wider area more quickly but they won’t work in tight spaces. Finally, compaction equipment ties into the length and scale of a project. Longer projects with multiple phases may warrant more than one piece of compaction equipment.
Should You Buy or Rent Compaction Tools?
While some construction and landscaping teams keep plates or rollers on hand, compaction equipment rentals make the best investment. Rammers and plates aren’t prohibitively expensive, but most rollers are. And because different projects present unique compaction needs, there’s no one-size-fits-all roller.
By renting, teams can ensure they go onto every worksite with the best compactor types suited to their needs. Many companies that offer a soil compactor for rent also provide repairs and technical support in case teams have trouble with their equipment.
Reliable compacting equipment will speed up your projects and prevent hazards from unstable terrain. Check out our inventory of compaction equipment and find the tools you need for your next project.