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How to use a wacker plate

Date posted: 15 January 2015

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A wacker plate or plate compactor is a vibratory rammer with a large vibrating baseplate that is used in the construction industry to create a level grade. They are vital pieces of equipment when creating a pathway or driveway, or constructing a building – because without compaction the soil, sand or gravel can sink, causing cracks in any structure above.

Compactors with a smaller 'foot' are also available to compact the backfill in narrow trenches such as those created for water or gas supply pipes.

Safety Considerations

Safety glasses, ear plugs / ear defenders, work gloves and steel-toed work boots are essential gear when using wacker plates.

It is important to use wacker machines carefully, for the purpose intended (compaction jobs), and according to the manufacturer's instructions in order to benefit from straightforward operation and achieve the best results. Operators will also need to be physically fit, and confident using the equipment.


In the construction industry most vibratory plates are designed for soil compaction applications. Some have a narrower design intended for use in confined spaces such as cable trenches or marginal strip compaction when working on asphalt pavement patchwork.

Compaction Depth

The maximum compaction depth that can be achieved will depend on several factors associated with ground conditions. These include grain distribution and moisture content. This makes it difficult to estimate accurate figures. Compaction tests and soil samples are necessary to determine the maximum compaction depth with any accuracy.

The Basic Approach to using Compactor Plates

Before using the wacker plate, smooth over the top layer of earth with a wide-toothed rake. This will make the surface easier to work on with the plate compactor.

Put on all your safety gear (glasses, ear plugs, work gloves and steel-toed work boots) plus a safety helmet if you are compacting gravel.

Start off at one of the edges of the area you are compacting. Graspiing the wacker plate handle firmly with one hand, switch on the machine with your other hand. Push the wacker machine forward slowly until you get to the other end of the compaction area, then turn around with the machine and push it back in the opposite direction in a strip adjacent to the one you just compacted (in a similar process to using a lawn mower).

Repeat this process until you have made a single pass over the entire area. Turn off the machine and reposition it so that it is angled perpendicular to the first set of strips. Make a second pass over the entire area from this angle, working up and down in strips once again.

Working on Sloped Surfaces

If you are working on an embankment or slope ensure the gradient is no more than 20 degrees and that the operator follows the manufacturer's guidance on working on gradients.

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