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Jumping Jacks vs Plate Compactors: Which Is the Best Compaction Tool for Your Job?

Jumping Jacks vs Plate Compactors: Which Is the Best Compaction Tool for Your Job?

An operator using a plate compactor to compact rough gravel

Jumping Jacks vs Plate Compactors: Which is the Best Compaction Tool for Your Job?

Reading time: 6 min

In its natural state, soil tends to be loose and filled with voids. This presents a problem for construction, as loose soil can shift over time, weakening concrete and structures that sit on the soil’s surface.

Compaction is a common method for increasing soil’s load-bearing capacity and improving its stability. During compaction, specialized machines vibrate and repeatedly strike the surface of the soil, densifying and compacting it.

Two of the most common types of construction equipment used for compaction are jumping jacks and plate compactors. While both devices work similarly, repeatedly striking the soil at high speeds, they differ in their design and specific use cases.

In this article, we’ll cover the ins and outs of jumping jacks and plate compactors. Understanding the key differences between these popular machines will help you choose the best option for your project.

A jumping jack compactor sitting on the side of the road next to some bricks

Jumping Jack Compactors: An In-depth Look

Jumping jack compactors, sometimes called rammers, jumping jack hammers, or simply jumping jacks, have been around for nearly 100 years. They first appeared in 1930 when Hermann Wacker invented the vibratory rammer.  

These compactors are upright machines with a design similar to fuel-powered jackhammers. They feature an engine and fuel tank with steel handlebars shock-mounted to a compaction plate, which compacts the target surface.

During operation, the engine causes the compaction plate to vibrate at high speeds, repeatedly striking the target surface. This repeated striking motion combined with the weight of the machine is what compacts the soil.

Since jumping jack compactors are hand-operated, they typically don’t exceed 42” in height, or about waist-high. Some models are fuel-powered, while others are electric. Jumping jack compactors are capable of compacting up to 24” of soil, but this depends on the power of the jack’s motor and the type of surface being compacted. While these types of compactors work best in soil, they can also be used on gravel, sand or other loosely-compacted materials. 

One major advantage of jumping jacks is their lightweight, compact design, which allows them to operate in confined areas. Their relatively small compaction plate (usually around 11” x 11”) also gives them an advantage in compacting soil at the bottom of trenches and footings, where space is limited.

A plate compactor sitting on gravel in front of some grass

Plate Compactors: An In-depth Look

Plate compactors, sometimes known as vibratory plate compactors or plate tampers, are the preferred choice for compacting large surface areas. Compared to jumping jacks, the compaction plate of a plate compactor is significantly larger.

These heavy-duty compactors feature an engine and fuel tank that sit atop a wide, flat compaction plate. They are significantly heavier than jumping jacks.

Plate compactors have a walk-behind design, which makes it easy for operators to maneuver it around the target surface while in operation. Due to the high-speed vibration of the plate, plate compactors glide easily above the target surface.

When not in operation, however, plate compactors are much more difficult to maneuver. It may take two people to load and unload one, whereas a jumping jack compactor can easily be moved by a single operator.

Although plate compactors can be used on a wide variety of surfaces, they are most frequently used on gravel, sand and soil. Since the vibratory action of its compaction plate is more even and controlled, a plate compactor is better at compacting loose gravel than a jumping jack.

Due to their larger compaction plate, which is typically around 20” x 20”, plate compactors cannot easily be used in tight, cramped areas.

Jumping Jacks vs Plate Compactors: Operational Differences

Jumping jacks and plate compactors are similar, but there are a few key operational differences between them. Jumping jacks rely on high-frequency vibrations to compact soil. They utilize a vertical pounding action to achieve deep compaction even in confined spaces. 

In contrast, plate compactors utilize a horizontally moving plate that exerts downward force through vibration. While both machines require human operators to guide them, plate compactors generally require less physical effort due to their walk-behind design, making them somewhat easier to handle. 

In terms of safety, plate compactors are often considered to be less fatiguing for operators, but they generate more noise. 

Personal protective equipment (PPE) for both machines typically includes safety gear such as gloves, safety goggles or a face shield to protect against debris, ear protection due to high noise levels and steel-toed boots for foot protection.

Cost Analysis

In general, jumping jack compactors tend to be less costly compared to plate compactors. The average cost of renting or buying each type can vary depending on factors like brand, model and location.

However, while jumping jacks are less expensive, they’re also less efficient. Jumping jacks cannot compact soil to the same depth as plate compactors, and they also cover much less surface area in the same amount of time. Therefore, plate compactors are a more cost-efficient choice for larger surface areas.

Renting a plate compactor can range from $40 to $150 per day while purchasing one can cost between $800 and $3,000. Jumping jacks, on the other hand, are less costly, with rental rates ranging from $60 to $120 per day, and purchase prices typically falling between $1,000 and $2,000.

Transportation of jumping jacks is relatively straightforward due to their compact, lightweight design. They can easily be loaded onto a truck or trailer for transport to different job sites. Plate compactors, however, can be bulkier and heavier, which may require a larger vehicle and more effort to move them.

Maintenance requirements for plate compactors tend to be more straightforward than that of jumping jacks. Plate compactors primarily need routine cleaning, lubrication, and occasional filter or belt replacement. Jumping jacks require more attention to maintenance, including bolt tightening, engine servicing, and regular inspection of the vibrating mechanism.

In terms of longevity and wear, plate compactors tend to have longer lifespans when properly maintained, as they undergo less vibration-induced stress than jumping jacks. Jumping jacks' vibrating mechanism can experience wear over time, leading to higher maintenance costs and a shorter overall lifespan.

Final Thoughts

Whether you opt for a plate compactor or a jumping jack, understanding the specific needs of your job site and the nature of the materials you’re working with is essential to make the right decision.

Both jumping jacks and plate compactors excel in various scenarios, offering efficiency, maneuverability and deep compaction. However, there may come a point where the scope of your project may demand the use of larger compaction equipment like drum rollers. So, before opting for a compactor, you should assess the size and demands of your project to ensure efficient, cost-effective and safe soil compaction.

No matter what type of compaction equipment you choose, the EquipmentShare Shop can help you keep it in prime condition. Our extensive OEM and aftermarket parts catalog has replacement parts for a variety of compactors, from handheld rammers to large drum rollers

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