Compacting soil is not a glamorous job. Your client wants to see foundations being built, driveways being poured and courses of bricks stacking up, not some guy mashing the soil down. It has to be done before you can start, though. The sooner you finish the task of soil compaction, the sooner you can start with the rest of the project.
For areas too small for a steam roller, you need a good soil compactor. They’re not too hard to find, and they’re not terribly expensive, but finding the best soil compactor for your needs may be a bit of a challenge. We’ve narrowed the field (no pun intended) down to some of the best soil compactors on the market today. We hope you’ll find just the right one for you or your work crew.
Table of Contents
- Finding the Best Soil Compactor
- The Best Gas-Powered Soil Compactors
- 6. Tomahawk 5.5 HP Vibratory Plate Soil Compactor
- Best Rolling Soil Compactors
- Best Manual Soil Tampers
- Soil Compaction Tester
Finding the Best Soil Compactor
Essentially, all powered soil compactors work the same way: a gas engine transfers power to a flat plate that bangs into the ground like a giant pogo stick on steroids. The rate of vibration is pretty impressive. Some of these units deliver over 5,000 blows per minute.
Not only that, we’re talking about body slams in the neighborhood of 3000 pounds per square foot. That can make quick work of any problem area. So, focus on blows per minute when looking for the best soil compactor.
Other than that, look for frame strength, ease of transportation, and engine reliability of the soil compactor. You might also decide you want a soil compactor with a water tank, depending on the project. These types of soil compactors wet down the soil prior to compaction, but that won’t always be necessary.
So, ready to compact the long list of the best soil compactors into a short one? Let’s do it!
The Best Gas-Powered Soil Compactors
Best Feature: Works and transports well in confined areas
Soil compactors are not baby buggies. They’re heavy. They have to be. So transporting one, whether from worksite to worksite, or from the trailer to the spot where it’s needed, is a daunting task.
Quite a few of the walk-behind soil compactors have wheels for transport, but the Stark 6.5 horsepower’s fold-up wheels are among the sturdiest ones available. Not only do they easily support the weight of the machine, they roll over rugged ground that’s littered with numerous obstacles. As you know, that’s pretty much the terrain at any construction site.
In general terms, this soil compactor straddles the line between the professional and the typical homeowner. It has the power to perform at professional expectations, but the power is not so overwhelming that the amateur user would struggle with it.
The engine is a forced-air-cooled four-stroke engine rated at 6.5 horsepower, generating 2,360 pounds of downward force. That’s enough to pound multiple layers of loose soil into submission, but not so much that the user gets bounced around as if he was on a pogo stick.
The plate that does the squishing and slamming measures 20 inches by 14, so the user can cover a pretty significant amount of ground in a short amount of time. That also means the unit is being shut off sooner, saving engine wear and increasing the longevity of the machine.
Homeowners are more apt to use a soil compactor with landscaping projects than with construction products. The compactor pulls itself up moderate grades with ease, and the broad base helps stabilize it against overturning. The heavy grade steel in the base will keep pounding for years and the sturdy construction throughout the product makes this a durable piece of equipment that meets professional standards.
- Engine: 6.5 HP, 4-stroke
- Plate Size: 20 x 14 inches
- Downward Force: 2,360 pounds
- Weight: 300 pounds
Best Feature: Small size
The tough little brother to the machine listed above, this two-horse show of force doesn’t take any lip from anyone. It delivers 2000 pounds of downward “encouragement” to rocky and gritty soil that doesn’t want to be compacted.
The small size and affordable cost may make it more popular to homeowners, but it still has a lot of qualities that should make it appealing to professionals as well. The compacting plate measures roughly 17 inches by 12 inches, so this machine can fit into some pretty tight areas.
It’s great for landscaping uses more so than construction. It can be used to prepare the soil for pavers, sidewalks, patios and paths through the garden area.
It may be smaller, and may have less of an engine than its big brother, but it’s still a substantial piece of equipment, tipping the scale at 132 pounds. No worries – it has strong, durable wheels to help move it from place to place.
- Engine: 2.0 HP, 4-stroke
- Plate Size: 17 x 11.8 inches
- Downward Force: 2000 pounds
- Weight: 132 pounds
Best Feature: 4500 pounds of down force
So your employee is using this machine and is singing “Steam Roller” by James Taylor while he works. Don’t raise an eyebrow and assume he brought something in his lunch pail. It is more likely that he is feeling the power rush that comes from using this earth-trembling monster.
If you thought Godzilla made the ground shake, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This seven horsepower beast generates 4500 pounds of downward force on the ground. Saying that it beats the dirt into submission is an understatement. It pretty much splatters the soil into a new substance. The grass in China probably jumps when this machine is being used.
The 212cc four-stroke engine is the muscle that makes this soil compactor what it is. Not only does it have all this force driving the work plate into the earth, it does so at 5400 blows per minute. Ouch. The engine is protected from its own vibration by isolators – kind of like shock absorbers – that go between the engine housing and the steel frame, saving wear and tear on the engine, and keeping the operator’s hands steady and on-task. Heavily padded rubber grips also absorb some of the shock, and help offset carpal tunnel syndrome.
The plate doing all the compacting measures 24 inches by 17.75 inches, one of the biggest plates in our group. It’s plenty strong enough to deliver the brute force to the soil. It’s kind of like a head-butt – the head doing the butting doesn’t feel the impact as much as the head being butted!
For its size, the 56035T moves forward at an astonishing speed – 82 feet per minute. While many of the soil compactors on our list are usable by amateur and pro alike, this one favors the pro. Not that a confident amateur couldn’t handle the machine at full gallop, it’s just more than what the average amateur would need or would ever want to wrestle with.
This model is also extremely maneuverable, but in case you get boxed in somewhere, the handle swings over to the other side to allow you to get a different angle on it.
Now, we’ve been calling this model a monster, a beast, a bad boy and all that, but here is some shocking news: it weighs only 207 pounds – far less than some units that can’t answer the bell when it comes to power and effective soil compaction. Still, 207 pounds is nothing to sneeze at. Thankfully, they’ve installed a lift bar near the center of gravity for a two-person lift off a trailer or tailgate.
If there’s a drawback to this unit, it’s that there are no wheels for transport. To move the unit to where you want it, you’ll have to start it and use the forward speed to get it to the place where it’s needed. Of course, that will compact the soil enroute, so the best advice is to use the lightest touch possible while moving it into place.
All of the exterior surfaces are powder coated (paint applied in powder form, electrically charged to the opposite polarity as the metal). This process ensures a finish that resists scratching and scuffing, and keeps the machine as mean and clean as possible for years down the road.
- Engine: 7 HP, 4-stroke
- Plate Size: 24 x 17.75 inches
- Downward Force: 4500 pounds
- Weight: 207 pounds
Best Feature: Water tank and sprayer for adding moisture to soil
Stark places its third model on our Best-Of list with this heavy duty compactor that includes a water tank. The water tank is connected to a sprayer to wet the soil down prior to compaction.
Beyond that, it is one of the big boys, a close rival to the WEN compactor listed above. Its engine is a 6.5 horsepower, forced-air-cooled, four stroke dynamo that churns at 3600 RPMs at full throttle. The downward force is an impressive 4000 pounds, which means loose soil doesn’t have a chance of escaping its beat-down from the heavy steel on its 25 x 18 inch base plate.
Like the other Stark compactors, this one has transport wheels, which save a lot of time and effort moving it from place to place. The wheels fold up and out of the way when not in use. The axle also serves as a lift point when loading and unloading the machine.
This is a multi-use tool, capable of working in tight places, steep places and troublesome places, where debris, rocks and other obstacles that stand in the way of progress. Homeowners may find a lot of uses in landscaping projects, and contractors can use it for foundation prep work, concrete prep work and other projects.
- Engine: 6.5 HP, 4-stroke
- Plate Size: 25 x 18 inches
- Downward Force: 4000 pounds
- Weight: 218 pounds
Best Feature: Honda engine
Mention, “It’s got a Honda engine,” and it wouldn’t matter if the rest of the machine was made out of recycled beer tab pulls, you’d have a sale. The good news here is, this soil compactor isn’t made from recycled beer tab pulls. It’s made from hardened steel and does a bang-up job of banging down soil into firmness.
This isn’t for wide-spread areas, but for narrow spots that would have bigger, more cumbersome machines painted into corners. The base plate is a petite 13 x 14 inches in dimension, but it is a jackhammer when it comes to pounding the soil. The 5.5 horsepower Honda engine delivers 5700 vibrations per minute – one of the fastest cycles of any of the models on our list. Downward force is a none-too-shabby 2270 pounds.
The Honda engine employed by this machine is the ever-popular Honda GX160 OHV. You’ve probably seen this very engine on other products, like generators, screeds, pumps and cement mixers, just to name a few. But this GX160 has been modified with cast iron cylinder liners, making this engine practically indestructible.
Clearly a unit that any homeowner would feel comfortable using, the Northstar is ideal for small jobs like trenches, retaining walls, walkways in tight areas, sharp curves, small patios and small pavement extensions. The small base plate is easy enough to maneuver in tight places, but you can use this in a space no bigger than the plate itself, because the handle will tilt straight up. You lose a little leverage that way, but it shouldn’t cause any major handling problems. The machine weighs 172 pounds, so it’s not necessarily a lightweight, but it is lighter than many other soil compactors that can’t fit in the tight spaces this one does.
It doesn’t come with wheels for transport, but you can order them at an extra cost. Otherwise, you can transport the unit by running it and letting it move along on its own. Forward speed is 65 to 82 feet per minute.
NorthStar is a subsidiary of Northern Tools, Inc., with an extensive range of products from generators, welding machines, pumps, log splitters, pressure washers, air compressors and more. Most of their products are developed from the drawing board to the shipping line, and according to product literature, many of their revisions to products and fresh innovations come from customer suggestions.
- Engine: 5.5 HP, 163cc
- Plate Size: 13 3/16 inches x 13 3/4 inches
- Downward Force: 2270 pounds
- Weight: 172 pounds
Best Feature: Honda Engine
There’s that Honda GX 160 engine again. The popular engine is the star of the show, but certainly not the whole franchise. The Tomahawk is a serious machine, and you have every right to have serious expectations out of this unit.
The celebrated Honda engine delivers 3400 pounds of downward pressure, at 5400 vibrations per minute. That’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on, yet you won’t feel the vibration so much in your hands, thanks to oversized isolation mounts. It does all this while shuffling forward at 78 feet per minute.
The 22 x 20-inch baseplate is self-cleaning, so clingy soil and rocks fall off to the side instead of getting in your way. Heavy gauge steel adds plenty of support, and powder coating adds a layer of protection for the metal.
This unit comes with a 3.5-gallon water tank for wetting down the soil prior to compaction. A full tank would add a little weight, but the power of the engine to drive the base plate into the soil is what makes the biggest difference.
Tomahawk might be a brand name you’re not familiar with, but it’s been gaining popularity in the construction trades for the past few years. It is one of the 100 fastest-growing private companies in America, according to the San Diego Business Journal. Founded in 2012, Tomahawk Power manufactures power sprayers, concrete cutters, power screeds, generators and soil compactors.
- Engine: 5.5 HP, 163cc
- Plate Size: 20 inches x 22 inches
- Downward Force: 3400 pounds
- Weight: 240 pounds
Best Feature: Maneuverability
This bad boy is only 18 inches wide, so it’s not afraid of tight places. It goes where other soil compactors can’t and gets the job done.
It has the Honda GX160 engine, so you know what that means: easy starting, smooth running, gas-sipping (only .31 gallons per hour) and long-lasting. It delivers 5600 RPMs and 3080 pounds of downward force, which can make quick work of most soil compaction jobs.
The water tank holds roughly three gallons of water and has an extra-wide spout for easy refilling. The water helps compact the soil at times of the year when the ground is more dust than soil.
Transporting soil compactors from one place to another is always a bit of a challenge, and so it is with this one. But compared to some models, this one is a piece of cake, if you team-lift it. Moving it across the ground is done by actually running the unit and letting it pull itself forward, being careful not to compact soil that you don’t want compacted.
This can be used for soil and asphalt, and doesn’t throw a hissy if it encounters rocks or tough sections of soil. The plate size is roughly 18 x 22 inches and has curved edges for easy turns in dense soil or hot asphalt. The compactor moves along at a 72-feet-per-minute pace.
- Engine: 5.5 HP, 163cc
- Plate Size: 18 inches x 22 inches
- Downward Force: 3080 pounds
- Weight: 198 pounds
Best Feature: Suitable for pro use and home use
What does this jumpin’ jack run on? Gas-gas-gas! Tomahawk Power places a second compactor on our best-of list with this 4.5 HP unit for medium duty work. It’s suitable for dirt, asphalt, gravel, hard and loose soil.
Powered by a quality Kohler engine, you’ll get 2,050 pounds of downward pressure, strong enough to compact granular (coarse) soil to a depth of up to eight inches and cohesive (heavy clay) soil to a depth of up to four inches. The engine generates a worm-rattling 5900 cycles per minute, just to keep things interesting.
The compaction plate measures 17 x 13 inches, making it a good fit for tight places. You can use this soil compactor for patios, sidewalks, driveways, paved pathways and landscaping projects. With its not-too-strong, not-too-wimpy power stroke, you can use this to tamp down paver bricks and stepping stones.
At 110 pounds, this is one of the lightest soil compactors on our list. It’s an easy two-person lift off the trailer or truck bed.
- Engine: 4.5 HP, 177cc
- Plate Size: 17 inches x 13 inches
- Downward Force: 2050 pounds
- Weight: 110 pounds
Best Feature: Great power for its size
Introducing the tiny soil compactor with a chip on its shoulder. This little guy don’t take no stuff from anyone. With its 79cc engine, it still generates over 1800 pounds of force at 5900 VPM (vibrations per minute), plenty enough for a ton of backyard projects. A thumb-controlled throttle control puts you in charge of the pacing and intensity of the work.
It has wheels for easy transport, but you’re going to be tempted to simply start it and let it drive itself to the spot where you want it. It weighs just 108 pounds. Two people can lift it off a utility trailer or off the back of a pickup truck. Just make sure it is two people. It’s still too much for one person.
The base plate is roughly 13 inches x 20 inches, making it a cinch for close quarters and tight turns. The lightweight nature of this model makes it suitable for using to settle pavers and walking stones into the soil.
This soil compactor also comes in a 196 CC version that can provide 2,922 lbs. of force.
- Engine: 3.0 HP 79cc
- Plate Size: 19.5 inches x 12.6 inches
- Downward Force: 1843 pounds
- Weight: 108 pounds
Best Rolling Soil Compactors
Best Feature: Easy to push
It’s easy to push, you pretty much can’t use it wrong and it works great for what it does, but don’t get the idea that this takes the place of the powered soil compactors featured on our list.
This is for the finishing touches, for rolling down sod and pressing seed firmly into the soil. While you can compact light soil and smooth out uneven places, you won’t get the deep compaction you would with a gas-powered vibrating compactor.
The amount of compaction is determined by how much water you put in the roller, up to 155 pounds. The drain plug is reinforced to preserve the threads, giving it durability for years to come. You can also put in sand for a more permanent weight – maximum 230 pounds. Empty, the roller weights just 20 pounds – easy to transport and store.
The drum – 20 inches wide and 16 inches in diameter – is made from steel that has been spray treated to resist rust and corrosion. The frame pieces and handle are double-braced and strong, designed not to “fight back” against the user when he or she makes a turn. This roller is also towable behind power equipment.
All the metal pieces are powder coated green, and therefore resistant to scrapes, scratches, rust and oopsies. Be sure to keep a ledger on all the neighbors who ask to borrow this, or you’ll lose track of it!
Best Feature: Pushes manually; tows behind lawn tractor
You know how the brochures for lawn tractors that show the happy owner piloting his shiny tractor and pulling behind it a wagon, or a grader or junior-sized disc harrow? How about a lawn roller? If you had this Brinly PRC-24BH, it could be a dream come true!
You can push this roller manually, and there will surely be times when that’s the best option, but given the capacity of this – 270 pounds – towing it behind lawn equipment is going to be far more appealing. It comes with a heavy duty universal hitch pin to make that happen.
The water-fillable tank is not steel but high grade polyethylene, which won’t rust or corrode. It holds up to 28 gallons of water, and has a large neck and easily-removed cap for filling and emptying. As imposing as this roller is when full of water, it’s a kitty cat when empty, light enough to hang on a hook in your garage.
The framework is super-sturdy and designed to distribute the weight easily. The business end of the PRC-24BH – the roller – is 24 inches wide and 18 inches in diameter.
This is not for major soil compaction, but if all you want to do is level some bumps, shape a small slope and pancake some gopher holes, this ought to work out quite well for you.
Best Manual Soil Tampers
For hammering down isolated areas of soil and asphalt that you couldn’t get to with larger soil compactor, manual tampers do a great job. They’re useful for numerous applications, including construction, residential lawn and garden, agricultural and more.
They’re essentially a flat weight on the end of a shovel handle. Stress points are well reinforced on the better brands. As far as how they’re used, well, you’ll figure it out.
Here are a few worth your while. This is no time to cut corners to save a few bucks. For one thing, the range of prices from most expensive to least is pretty narrow, so you might as well get the best one you can find. There are some cheap versions out there with a life expectancy of one afternoon, so steer clear of them.
This has a steel head measuring eight inches by eight inches and weighing nine pounds. The hardwood handle is tapered to be hand-sized at the end and broader at the bottom, where the stress occurs.
This U.S.A.-made tamper is the heaviest and strongest item in our group and is considered commercial grade. The reinforced steel head is roughly 10 x 9 inches, ⅜ inch thick and weighs 15 pounds. The handle is steel, with an ergonomically-designed cushioned grip at the end.
The True Temper brand has been associated with dependability since 1949 and has been associated with several parent companies. Since 2010, True Temper has been a part of the Ames Corporation.
What that means for potential buyers of this True Temper heavy duty tamper is their pledge of quality. With a 7-pound head that measures 8 x 8 inches and an ultra hard wooden handle, this tamper will be on the job for a long time.
Soil Compaction Tester
If you have to verify the compaction of the soil, and not just, “eh, close enough,” a soil compaction tester is a necessity. If you’re looking for the best soil compaction tester on the market, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better tester than the one by AgraTronix.
This device will measure soil compaction to a depth of 24 inches, and display the results in three-inch increments. It’s primarily designed for agricultural uses, but it can be used for soil compaction tests in any application.
It comes with two tips – one for firm soil and one for soft (not to be confused with loose) soil. Readings are easy to understand, displayed on a color-coded stainless steel dial that is liquid-filled to reduce shock.
The technical name for this device is a penetrometer, which mimics a plant root at various depths. It should ideally be used after a soaking rain, but construction schedules might not be that flexible, so results will have to be extrapolated in accordance with soil moisture conditions.