Best way to compact gravel/sand sub-base?
That is - what's the best method for a short, small-boned woman without a lot of upper body strength?
I was part of a mass lay-off and I'm using my new free time to tackle all sorts of long delayed home improvement projects. In the past I built raised beds with landscape timbers and put in a french drain/regraded our side yard to redirect the water drainage from our garage and so I decided to tackle a new project to create a simple short walkway (roughly 3' x 11') with a 7' long, 2' high retaining wall along part of it. I'm really enjoying this project - even though I'm not very strong physically, I've excavated the site, dismantled & removed the previous cmu wall and, with a little brainpower, levers & rollers, removed the boulder from heck.
So, I'm now looking at compacting the base. It's not a huge area (about 30 sf) and I'm pondering the best way for me to get the base properly compacted. I have more time than money and would like to do this myself. I have a utility trailer but it doesn't have a ramp. As I understand it, I have two options:
Hand tamping: When using a hand tamper, does one go all over or do one spot at a time? How does one know when it's compacted enough? About how long does it take to hand tamp? Does one apply downward force or just drop it. Is there a optimum height to raise it before each drop?
Using a Plate Compactor: Would it be overkill for a 30 sf area? How hard is it to control one - is it a matter of brute strength or knowledge? How close can one get to structures (exterior walls) without risk of damage?
Are there any intermediate methods between using a hand tamper and a plate compactor?
Sounds like you are having some fun. That is the best thing you can do with a project like this. From what you described I would say that the hand tamper is what you should use. The plate compactor would be a little over kill and it can damage structures if you touch it against them. It is more a matter of knowledge than brute strength but you may need some brute strength at times to move it. If you choose to use the plate compactor you can practice in a safe area before going close to structures. If there is a structure close to the work area, you may also have trouble turning it around. The hand tamper will take some time but it will definitely be cheaper, and you should have no problem being strong enough to handle it.
Only compact a couple inches at a time. I normally go back and forth in one direction and then when I am done I do it again in the other. So, go back and forth left and right till you have done the whole area, and then again back and forth front to back. If you are doing more than two inches thick then you will need to do the process over for every two inches of thickness. You don't have to raise the tamper higher than is comfortable for you and you don't have to use a lot of strength to bring it down. Gravity will do most of that work. Using strength to bring it down will help but the weight of the tamper will do the job too. I normally move foreward half the width of the tamper each time I bring it down. Make sure it lands flat. When you get done it should feel solid when you stand on it and you will feel the difference in the tamper. If you choose to use the hand tamper, crank some music up with a good beat to tamp to.
Good luck with the project, and have fun.
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