In 2019, What’s the Best Plate Compactor to buy? These aren’t your everyday homeowner machines. If you’re looking for a plate compactor, you are working on a serious project or you make a living in the construction field.
We review a wide range of vibratory plate compactors to help you choose which model and type is suitable for your specific needs.
Intro | Best Plate Compactor
Welcome to our buying guide on vibratory plate compactors, in which we are going to review some of the best and most popular mid- range plate compactors for soil and asphalt compaction. If you’re a builder, contractor, DIYer, or landscaper, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll take a look at the WEN 56035T which is a top selling model — 7HP forward plate compactor that provides amazing performance on both asphalt and soil at a very reasonable price point.
If you feel the WEN 56035T’s 4,496 lbs. of centrifugal force is a bit overkill for your project, we’ve also got 3 highly competitive YARDMAX plate compactors for you to choose from- the 1850lb YC0850, the 2500lb YC1160, and the 3000lb YC1390.
You can never have too many choices, so we also reviewed an extremely compact and easy to maneuver 1843lb plate compactor from ▶ Dirty Hand Tools (104950). It travels fast, is easy to operate in narrow spaces, and has folding handlebars so you can pack 4 or 5 of these in the back of your truck which helps with logistics. It is a seriously good plate compactor for utility workers who need something that can maneuver in trenches, ditches, etc.
Finally, we take a look at the ▶Tomahawk TPC80 which is powered by a 6HP Kohler OHC engine and excels on granular soils thanks to the high frequency of 6400 VPM (vibrations per minute). The Tomahawk TPC80 uses a relatively small 17” x 21” cast iron vibrating base plate, which means it is the perfect choice for cable trenches, garden renovation jobs, footpath and pavement work, etc.
VIDEO | A Closer Look > WEN 56035T 7hp (4500 lb.)
In addition to showcasing the features, strengths, and weaknesses of these highly popular plate compactors, our article also delves into the various applications of soil compaction and how you can make sure that you’re selecting the right equipment for the job. How does moisture content affect soil density and compactor performance? Should you get a jumping jack compactor (rammer) or a vibratory plate compactor?
What is the difference between cohesive and non- cohesive (granular) soil? What features to look for in a modern plate compactor? We shall answer all these questions, so you get a well- rounded perspective on how plate compactors work and their applications across various branches of the construction industry. Most importantly, this article will give you all the information necessary to purchase the best plate compactor (or rammer) based on your unique project requirements.
Best Vibratory Plate Compactor
Efficiency, productivity, and labor costs can vary significantly depending on the type of machine you choose. For the DIYer, things are slightly different when compared to a professional contractor firm. You don’t have to follow strict regulations or perform advanced tests on the soil but at the end of the day you don’t want any uneven spots in your brand- new paved driveway or patio. The sub base needs to be compacted so that interlocking pavers which you lay down on the top don’t slide and shift around when exposed to the weight of a 2- ton vehicle driving over them. Improper compaction results in the formation of grooves and ruts on your paved driveway or patio. This creates tripping hazards, and you can’t put any patio furniture out there due to lack of a stable surface.
For most DIY jobs, a forward plate compactor with anywhere between 2000 to 5000 pounds of centrifugal force should be enough. Centrifugal force is the force which propels the vibratory mass of a weighted eccentric shaft outwards from the center of the circle, as it spins within the exciter housing of a plate compactor. An imbalanced weight spinning around a shaft at high speeds is what generates the vibratory motion within a plate compactor (the jumping motion also propels the compactor forward). More centrifugal force means higher compaction power, and more amplitude. When manufacturers give you a “pound” rating for a plate compactor, they are referring to the centrifugal force. Some manufacturers also like to use Kn (kilo newtons) instead of pounds. One kilonewton equals 224.809 pounds.
Stylish Plate Compactor | Earthquake GFX-JR-HD
Frequency and Amplitude are the two most important attributes you want to check out when shopping for a brand new vibratory plate compactor. Frequency is how fast the weighted eccentric shaft of a plate compactor spins, it may also refer to the number of times the baseplate vibrates and is denoted in BPM (blows per minute), or RPM (when talking about the speed of the eccentric shaft). Jumping jack compactors (rammers) will always operate at a much lower frequency (500 to 700 vpm) compared to vibratory plate compactors (these have a frequency range of 2500 to 6000 bpm). Amplitude is used to measure one half of the total peak- to – peak movement of a vibrating body in each cycle. Double amplitude is the sum of distances moved by the vibrating body in both directions from its resting position. Frequency is how quickly a soil compactor vibrates, and amplitude gives you an idea of how hard it hits.
WEN 56035T Plate Compactor
Ideal for : Driveways, patios, retaining walls, pathways, trenches, foundation work, backfill compaction around buildings, subgrade compaction for roadside curbs, etc.
The WEN 56035T represents big power in a small package. Despite its relatively affordable price, the 56035T is perfectly suitable for small to medium scale construction projects and general DIY home improvement work like paving the patio or driveway. And since everything is built to match the legendary WEN standards of reliability, you can trust this machine to perform even in harshest of jobsite conditions.
- Powerful: 212cc engine is larger than most in its class, producing 4,496 lbs. of force at 5,400 blows per minute
- Maneuverable with our unique swing-over handle and the compact 24 x 17-3/4″ contoured edge plate
- Fast Travel Speed = productivity; Single direction plate travels up to 82 feet per minute
- Vibration isolators between the welded steel plate and the engine reduce vibration extending the engine’s life
- Easily transportable with lift handles at the plate, as well as central lifting/load bar
✓ View or download the MANUAL for the WEN 56035T.
Normally, when people want to pave their driveway or patio, they can either hire a professional contractor or get the gear and do it themselves for much cheaper. But what if you are an avid DIYer who is constantly messing around the yard, setting up to do new projects year round? Well in that case, it doesn’t make much sense to rely on a hardware rental shop because-
- It will end up costing a lot of money if you rent a vibratory plate compactor more than a couple times per month (rental costs for a 3300lb, 20” model such as the Wacker Neuson VP1550A can range between 60 to 90 dollars per 24 hours).
- There is no certainty if your local tool rental store (like Home Depot) will have the exact model you desire, when you need it. For example, you may need a trench rammer like the Wacker Neuson BS 50- 2i to compact some clayey soil before you lay down the sub base for a new retaining wall. And guess what, your local Home Depot only has a vibratory plate compactor which won’t fit into the trench and isn’t so good at compacting cohesive soils.
The logical solution here, is to purchase your very own plate compactor (and rammer) if you are an avid DIYer who likes to work on landscaping projects around the house. While we aren’t going to review any rammers in this article, the 56035T “construction zone” plate compactor from WEN is something that every DIYer and professional landscaper must check out. It is probably the best vibratory plate compactor on the market for under 1000 dollars, and is absolutely brilliant on materials like pea gravel, crushed stone, aggregate, brick sand, etc.
VIDEO | A Closer Look at the WEN Rammer
Build quality feels super good, with the welded steel base plate and rubber shock isolation mounts for the engine. There are 4 lift handles, one on each corner so that a team of 2 or 4 people can conveniently carry this 207- pound machine around the jobsite or unload it from the back of a truck. If you’re trying to maneuver it around the yard on a patch of excavated soil, make sure that the sides don’t dig into the ground because that is one of the drawbacks of the WEN 56035T- the front and rear sides of the base plate are sloped but the left and right side walls are pretty much at a 90° angle against the surface on which it rides.
An easy solution to this problem would be creating some bevels on the sides, so it doesn’t get stuck while turning. The handle is a 2- position type, which is a slight aid if you are working in a somewhat confined space. The throttle is located right next to the high density foam padded handlebar, and you can stop the machine from moving by putting the throttle on idle. The engine is a 212cc 4- stroke OHC, fed by a 1 gallon gas tank. Compaction power is very good, rivalling much more expensive models in the 1000 to 1500 dollar range. This is because of the massive 4,496 lbs. of centrifugal force. Shared across the 24” x 18” base plate (3 square feet), this force translates into nearly 1500 lb/ft² (divide force by area to get pressure- 4496lb/ 3 ft² = 1498.66 lb/ft² of pressure).
We highly recommend purchasing the WEN 56035- 047 compactor pad if you wish to operate your 56035T plate compactor on pavers (paving stones). Without the pad, the base plate of your compactor will mar the tiles and cause significant cosmetic damage or even cracking. And be careful while filling the gas tank, since the gas cap is located right underneath the metal crossbar that goes across the body of the compactor. This crossbar has a little lifting hook support on the top so you can use a small crane to lower or raise the machine. Filling fuel is hard, and you cannot do it with a large funnel because it will be blocked by the crossbar sitting right above the fuel filler cap.
YARDMAX “YC” Series
Versatile and Well Designed Plate Compactor
Back in May 2017, YARDMAX announced their entry into the light compaction equipment market with the release of three brand- new vibratory plate compactors. Those three models are still available today, with a couple minor tweaks here and there to improve overall usability and performance. The smallest one is the 79cc 1850lb YC0850, which is the lightest and most nimble of the three. Stepping it up a notch, you get the 2500lb YC1160 which is powered by an inhouse YARDMAX 196cc engine. And at the top, there is the 3000lb YC1390 which ditches the YARDMAX engines in favor of a more efficient Briggs & Stratton 208cc OHC engine.
All three models come with standard features such as a stamped steel base plate, fold- up transport wheels, folding handlebar, rubber shock isolation mounts, and a 3- position throttle lever which is conveniently located right next to the rubberized grip. Which model is right for you? The 1850lb little brother is perfect for compacting sands and processed gravel because of its higher vibration frequency. The mid and high tier models (YC1160 and YC1390) are equipped with larger plates to compact more area, but the YC1390 also has the slowest movement speed of the three. If you have to compact more than 6” of sub base/ subgrade material, the YC1390 outperforms the other two by a significant margin.
Yardmax YC0850 — 1850 lb.
Best plate compactor for residential projects. Smallest of the Yardmax series of vibratory plate compactors.
Ideal for: setting pavers on driveways and patios, sidewalks, foot and bicycle paths, trenches
- Stamped 1-piece plate that has no weld beads, preventing rust over time — plus better strength, flatness and smoothness.
- Fold-up transport wheels included, always attached for anytime use.
- 3-point mounted handle with rubber bushings absorbs vibration.
- Handle folds down for compact storage.
- Stamping pad available, acting as a buffer between plate and stamping surface for more delicate surfaces.
- Recoil ignition for easy, consistent starting.
- OHV-overhead valve engine for increased power and longevity.
- Centrifugal flyweight for superior engine control.
Documents for the YARDMAX YC0850 :
One of the defining characteristics of this vibrating plate compactor is its compact size- it is shorter and narrower than even small plate compactors such as the WEN 56035T or the Tomahawk TPC80. And it is light, at just 110 pounds (operating weight). You might think that this machine isn’t very good at compacting soil because of the small 79cc engine and lightweight design. After all, a soil compactor is supposed to be heavy so that it presses down on the soil and gives a denser finish. But there is more to soil compaction than static weight. We are talking about vibratory plate compactors, and a key component of that is “vibration”.
The YC080 excels at compacting loose granular soil and aggregate that contains particles of varying sizes and shapes. It is great on brick sand, processed gravel, stone dust, etc. because of the high frequency (5900 vpm) at which it vibrates. As we shall explain later in our article, higher vibration rate is great for when you want to compact non- cohesive granular soil. However, it isn’t particularly good for compacting deep layers of soil, which is why we believe the YC080 is meant to be used for fills up to a depth of 4 to 6 inches at the most.
2500 lb. plate compactor
Ideal for : compacting the subgrade and base, utility trenches, patios, driveways, walkways, shallow lifts under 6”
- Self-propelled, 79cc model delivers 5900 blows per minute with a 2.5 HP engine.
- Single, stamped plate has no weld beads to prevent rusting over time — it offers more strength, flatness and smoothness.
- Included fold-up transport wheels are attached and able to be used anytime.
- Mounted, three-point handle with rubber bushings for vibration absorption.
- Convenient fold-down handle makes for compact storage.
- Recoil ignition offers simple, reliable starting.
- OHV-overhead valve engine provides more power and durability.
- Optimal engine control with centrifugal flyweight.
- Available stamping pad acts as a buffer between the plate and surface for more delicate performance.
The YC1160 is very similar to the YC080 in that it too uses a stamped steel baseplate which has no weld beads and is hence much more resistant to corrosion. The stamped steel plate also means a smoother, flatter finish which is going to provide a stable foundation for concrete, pavers, stones, soil, etc. no matter what type of construction project you are working on. And since all the baseplate edges are smoothly beveled, it won’t get stuck while turning and has an easier time climbing slopes.
Most mid to large size vibratory plate compactors these days are equipped with mid- mounted exciters, which means the weighted eccentric shafts are located around the center of the baseplate. A central mounting position means the centrifugal force from the exciter is spread more evenly across the baseplate, resulting in better compaction performance. But this design also has its weakness- it isn’t as fast as a front mounted exciter and is going to have less traction on mixed cohesive soils (part granular, part cohesive).
With its 14.5” x 21” baseplate and 75 ft/ min of maximum travel speed, the YC1160 actually covers more area per unit time compared to its big brother, the YC1390 which has a larger baseplate but much lower movement speed. All three YC- series vibratory plate compactors from YARDMAX are equipped with front mounted exciters, which complements their compact nature and simplistic design.
3000 lb. plate compactor
Ideal for : pipe bedding, driveway and patio, general landscaping, foundation work, retaining walls
The YC1160 may move faster and cover more area in less time compared to the YC1390, but it cannot match the raw grunt of this magnificent 3000lb plate compactor. While it only moves forward at a maximum of 50 ft/ min compared to the 75 ft/ min of the YC1160, the YC1390 also weighs a lot more at 185lbs vs 135lbs. It presses down on the soil harder due to its increased weight and combined with the 3000lb of centrifugal force, it delivers a thorough compaction of soil particles which will help you achieve higher load bearing capacities on any given soil type.
Compaction pressure is obtained by dividing the centrifugal force of the exciter with the area of the base-plate. For the YC1160, this turns out to be :
- 2500lb/ 2.11 sq. Ft = 1184.83 lb- ft of compaction pressure
Calculating compaction pressure for the YC1390, we get :
- 3000lb/ 2.4 sq. Ft = 1250 lb- ft of compaction pressure
This higher compaction pressure combined with the increased static weight means that the YC1390 can compact deeper soil layers compared to the YC1160. And even though it moves slower, you will be able to get the job done faster because you are compacting larger fills of 8 to 12 inches at a time. This reduces the frequency of backfilling an excavation site which in turn results in fewer hours spent compacting.
The YC1390 comes with a folding handle that aids with space savings during transportation and storage. It also has fold-up wheels which allow you to move it around the jobsite and up slopes without requiring the help of another person. Both of these features are absent from the WEN 56035T— it has no folding handles or transport wheels. If you’re interested in laying pavers and polymeric sand with the YARDMAX plate compactors, we highly recommend the YARDMAX plate compactor paving pad kits :
- Model YCP320 pad for the YC0850 1850lb compactor
- Model YCP370 pad for the YC1160 2500lb compactor
- Model YCP420 pad for the YC1390 3000lb compactor
Dirty Hand Tools | Plate Compactor
- 104950: Plate size = 19.5″ x 12.6″ / Force = 1843 lbs. / Vibrations per/min. = 5900
- 104001 : Plate size = 21.26″ x 16.54″ / Force = 2922 lbs. / Vibrations per/min. = 5500
Ideal for: Driveway and patio paving, paved outdoor fire pit, carports, retaining walls, garden pathways, sidewalk paving
Dirty Hand Tools isn’t a big name like WEN or Wacker Neuson in the vibratory plate compactor industry, and they only sell two models- the 104950 which is a 1850lb plate compactor, and the 104001 which is a 3000lb plate compactor. Interestingly enough, both look very similar to the YARDMAX vibratory plate compactors, right down to the parts diagram. Just like the YARDMAX models, these Dirty Hand Tools plate compactors use 4- stroke OHC engines with a slanted cylinder for increased power output. The Dirty Hand Tools model # 104950 1850lb plate compactor features a 79cc displacement engine, just like the YC0850 from YARDMAX.
The Dirty Hand Tools model # 104001 3000lb plate compactor is powered by a 196cc OHV engine, similar to the one found in the YC1160 2500lb compactor from YARDMAX. And their vibrating frequency is also similar- the Dirty Hand Tools model 104950’s 79cc engine spins at 3600rpm and runs the exciter at 5500 rpm which results in 5500 vibrations per minute. The larger 3000lb exciter in the Dirty Hand Tools model # 104001 is driven at 5500vpm and is attached to a 16.5” x 21” plate (exactly the same size as the baseplate of the YARDMAX YC1390).
Because the YARDMAX and Dirty Hand Tools plate compactors have so much in common (they share the same chassis, design, and specifications), you can expect them to perform similarly in compaction tests. Which means the Dirty Hand Tools 104950 is great for compacting materials such as packed stone, concrete mix, brick sand, etc. while the 104001 pounds the soil harder due to its increased operating weight and centrifugal force. Both Dirty Hand Tools plate compactors are equipped with folding handles and built-in transport wheels which can flip up and down. There are lift handles on the front and rear so you can load them in and out of trucks or trailers.
We really like the removable rubber paving mat that comes with the 104001. It is a very helpful piece of kit when you are working on patios or driveways, since the mat prevents the stamped steel baseplate of your compactor from scuffing the pavers. You can remove the mat when working with soil or aggregate. With plate compactor models from other manufacturers, you must purchase a paving pad kit separately which can cost an extra 50 or 60 bucks on top of the main tool. But with the Dirty Hand Tools 104001, you get a free detachable paving mat which significantly boosts the overall value of this machine.
Tomahawk TPC80 | Plate Compactor
Ideal for: asphalt patchwork, pipe bedding, back-fill compaction on pools and parks, paving driveways and patios, retaining walls, road repair
Cohesive souls such as sub-base, clay silt, clay, or mixed soils – for projects involving landscapes, hardscapes, road repair, and more.
- 208cc / 6 HP chain driven OHC Kohler Engine
- Compaction force = 3000 lbs/ft² at 6400 blows per minute
- Compaction of cohesive and granular soils and clays up to 22 in.
- Travel speed = 79 ft. per minute
- 17 x 21 in. plate size
- A full 2 dB quieter than competitive models
- Large 1 Gal. fuel
- 3-year engine warranty and 1-year product warranty
- CARB and EPA compliant
- Engine: Kohler Command PRO CH260
- Power: 6HP
- Weight: 220 lbs
- Plate Size (LxW): 17 x 21 in
- Centrifugal Force: 13 Kn
- Vibration Frequency: 100 hz
- Travel Speed: 79 ft/min
First off, let us differentiate the Tomahawk TPC80 from its sister model- the slightly more expensive Tomahawk TPC80H. The “TPC80” is powered by a 6HP Kohler Command Pro CH260 4-stroke OHV (overhead valve) engine which features 208cc of displacement and spins at 3600 rpm. In comparison, the “TCP80H” uses a Honda engine that generates 5.5HP and weighs less. The weight difference between the TPC80 and TPC80H is 44lbs, making the TPC80 25 percent heavier than its Honda- powered cousin. This added weight helps with compaction of soil, even though the TPC80 and TPC80H have the exact same performance specs on paper.
The Tomahawk TPC80 and TPC80H are both designed to be used on loose granular soils, gravel, and paving stones. Their compact design and cast iron baseplates with beveled edges allows these plate compactors to maneuver freely for a complete coverage. No longer must you unnecessarily tire yourself with hand tampers because the plate compactor was too unwieldy to reach those last couple inches of area right next to a wall. You can move the TPC80 plate compactor inside trenches and up slopes, thanks to the narrow 17” plate width and low center of gravity. The exciter in the TPC80 uses Japanese NSK bearings which are extremely resistant to wear and tear. This means you don’t have to worry about the eccentric shaft spinning out of sync as the machine gets older, and you don’t have to refill the oil as frequently compared to most standard vibratory plate compactors which use bearings of inferior quality.
While no gas-powered vibratory plate compactor can be described as “quiet”, the Tomahawk TPC80 and TPC80H are definitely less noisy than competing models from other manufacturers (nearly 2 decibels quieter than similarly performing models from rival companies). The 6HP Kohler powered TPC80 boasts one of the highest vibration frequencies of any plate compactor on the market- 6400 VPM (vibrations per minute). Which automatically makes it the best vibratory plate compactor on our list for loose granular material containing fine soil particles. It is brilliant at compacting concrete sand, pea gravel, ¾ processed gravel, and stone dust. Our only gripe with the TPC80 is its lack of a handlebar- mounted speed control. The throttle is located right next to the engine, which means you have to bend over and maintain control of the compactor while also trying to slow it down.
Explaining Soil Compaction
Until now we’ve been talking about the best vibratory plate compactors and the various applications of these machines in the hands of contractors and DIYers. But many of you reading this article may be completely new to DIY work and might be curious as to why soil needs compacting to begin with. Well, let us begin by defining what it means. Simply put, soil compaction is the easiest and most practical way to increase the load bearing abilities of soil. When we compact soil, we reduce the voids or empty spaces between the soil particles that are normally filled with air. In other words, we are artificially increasing the density of a given volume of soil by applying mechanical pressure (from the vibrating action of a plate compactor).
But why must we compress the soil particles together? Why can’t we just dig a big hole in the ground and pour concrete or lay bricks on top of the soil in its natural state? Well, that’s because soil in its natural state lacks the structural strength to support a multistory building or carpark. Several thousand tons of concrete and steel laid on top of an uneven surface that is prone to settlement or internal displacement (loose soil sliding around) is a recipe for disaster. Even the pavers you lay on your patio or driveway requires a stable base with an even surface that is capable of supporting a truck or car. Mechanically compacting soil is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
There are particles of various shapes and sizes within naturally occurring soil. Soil itself is available in two main forms-
Cohesive: Composed of extremely fine particles, usually a mix of clay and silt. Cohesive soils are plasticky when wet and can be molded into various shapes. When dry, this soil will hold itself together due to inter- particular forces of attraction. This adds shear strength to the soil and prevents a block of cohesive soil from crumbling apart when you drop it on the ground.
Non-Cohesive (or Granular): Unlike Cohesive soils, granular soil consists of larger particles such as sand, gravel, rocks, etc. and lacks the plasticity of clayey soil when wet. When dry, granular soil is held together by forces of friction between the irregularly shaped particles. The coarser, heavier particles exert frictional forces on each other, and the behavior of the soil is reliant on its own weight.
Learn more about soil compaction.
Effect of moisture on soil compaction
Moisture content of a soil will affect the way it compacts. Water flowing through the capillaries within a layer of soil can act as lubricant, helping the soil particles slide around to realign in a denser manner. Too much moisture will negatively impact the structural integrity of soil since it will become muddy and collapse easily. Just the right amount of water, especially in cohesive soils, will create a force of attraction between the tiny particles that holds them together.
The “Hand Test” is a great way of finding out how much moisture there is within a given sample of soil on the field. Scoop up a ball of soil in one hand and squeeze it tightly. Now open your fist, and let the ball drop to the ground from waist height. If the ball is too dry it will shatter on contact with the ground. If it is just wet enough for proper compaction, it will only break into a few pieces that stay somewhat close to the overall ball structure. If the soil is too wet, it will leave traces of water on your hand and stay in one piece after being dropped.
- Rubber shock isolation mounts around the engine and handle
- Handlebar mounted throttle/ speed control
- Onboard water tank and sprayer if you are working with asphalt
- Two- direction/ reversible movement for trenches and large projects (reversible plate compactors are larger, heavier, and more expensive)
- HAV (hand arm vibration) ratings
- Exciter speed (determines VPM or BPM)
- Foam/ rubber padded grip
- Shape of plate (beveled edges are better since they don’t dig into soil)
- Plate material (cast iron or stamped carbon steel plates are better since they don’t crack easily)
Rammer vs Vibratory Plate Compactor
As we explained earlier, there are two types of soil used in construction- cohesive (clayey) and non- cohesive (granular). Cohesive soils are composed of tiny particles packed in a dense manner. In order to be compacted, cohesive soils must contain a certain amount of moisture (between 15 to 18 percent by weight). The strong inter- particular forces give cohesive soil high shear strength, and the tiny spaces between the particles means that there isn’t much room left for realignment through high frequency vibration (what a plate compactor does). So, you need raw impact strength to brute force your way through the compaction process of cohesive soils.
Rammers pack concentrated, high-impact, compaction force. Unlike plate compactors which use a 15” x 20” plate, rammers are equipped with much smaller contact patches. These are called “shoes”. A rammer operates at a much lower frequency, but since it is concentrating all that force into a much smaller area, the compaction pressure is several times higher than a plate compactor. And it also features a much larger amplitude, or “stroke” which allows the rammer to compact much thicker soil layers than a plate compactor.
Compacting granular soil, requires a completely different approach. Non- cohesive soils are composed of much larger particles with lots of empty spaces in between that are filled with air. Instead of slamming them against each other and fighting the frictional forces that hold them together, a plate compactor uses high frequency vibration to shake them around like grains on a sieve. The smaller particles settle in between the larger particles, and the gravel realigns itself in the position that takes up the least space for a given weight of soil. Plate compactors can deliver a smoother finish and since their plates cover a larger area, you can get the job done in fewer passes. But as a disadvantage, they are unimpressive on cohesive soils and cannot compact as deep as rammers since the force is spread out over a wider area.
Rammers are also better within trenches, which is why you will see utility workers, and pipelayers using them all the time. For road construction and paving of asphalt, vibratory plate compactors/ rollers are the undisputed best choice. As a beginning DIYer you can rent either style of compactor from your local hardware rental store. But if you’re really serious about soil compaction or if you own a business, we highly recommend purchasing one of both types. That way you will be able to compact all types of soil across a wide variety of terrain.