Light compaction guide: rammers vs. vibrating plates

When there isn't enough space for heavy-duty drum and padfoot rollers, light compactor hire can still get the job done. Rammers, vibrating plates and manual rollers are lightweight enough to transport in a ute, but they still have the strength to compact soils for interior floors, paths and roads.

Find out more about the different light compaction options and when each one can be ideal.


Vibrating rammers are the smallest manual compactors. They can fit into narrow spaces such as trenches, inside buildings and around tight corners, pillars and abutments.

These lightweight machines can be used to compact cohesive materials such as clay and silt as well as non-cohesive materials such as sand and gravel and mixed soils.

How do they work?

Rammers are easy to use by a trained operator. The rammer impacts with the ground hundreds of times per minute (typically 500–700 impacts), creating vibrations that compact the soil. Types of rammers Rammers may be pneumatic or powered by a 2-stroke, 4-stroke or diesel engine. Weights range from 30kg to 1 tonne, with heavier rammers and larger bases delivering greater compaction.

Vibrating plates

Vibrating plate compactors can compact sand, gravel, asphalt and other non-cohesive or less cohesive materials, including granular soils. These walk-behind machines are used for preparing car parks, footpaths, foundations, sub-bases, trenches and paving, especially in confined areas where turning a vehicle is difficult.

How do they work?

Vibrating plates first reduce air pockets below the surface before compacting the layer through force. Smaller plates only vibrate in one direction, while larger plates vibrate forwards and backwards. Heavier plates produce a greater compacting force to depths up to 30cm.

Petrol and diesel-powered vibrating plates are available in a range of sizes, from lightweight 100kg compactors with 33cm plates up to 1200kg or more. As well as manual compactors, remote control systems are also available.


Another option besides rammers and plates is manual rollers. These can be used to compact materials in small or difficult to access areas. The two types of rollers are:

Pedestrian rollers – suitable for use on bituminous surfaces such as asphalt and when preparing sub-bases for footpaths, playgrounds and similar applications. Available in weights from 0.5–2t.

Trench rollers – for compacting cohesive and semi-cohesive materials in trenches and other confined spaces using vibrating drums. Approximately 1.5t in weight.

What type of material are you compacting?

All three categories of light compactors are useful in different situations. If you need to compact cohesive or semi-cohesive soils, choose a rammer or trench roller. Vibrating plates and pedestrian rollers are suitable for asphalt, while all types are suitable for non-cohesive soils.

For small and confined areas, rammers and small vibrating plates are ideal. Larger spaces can benefit from vibrating plates and pedestrian rollers, while remote-controlled plates and trench rollers can be used in hazardous areas.


Hire compaction equipment today

If you need to clear a path, talk to your local Coates Hire branch about rollers, rammers, vibrating plates and other compaction solutions for every type of project.

See how we can help with your project

  • By submitting this enquiry you agree to Coates Hire's Communication Terms & Conditions

Make an Enquiry

Give us a call
13 15 52
  • Safety Standard Guarantee
  • 24/7 Online Services
  • Same day delivery available