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How To Use a Wacker Plate

How to use a wacker plate 30 Oct 2019

What is a wacker plate?

A wacker plate, also commonly referred to as a plate compactor or vibrating plate, is a piece of construction equipment with a vibrating metal base plate and an engine or motor on top of it. It is used for compacting various materials on the ground to create a solid surface and a level grade. Vibrating plate compactors are robust and heavy pieces of equipment, in order to ensure proper compaction. Plate compactors are usually available in a choice of different sizes and, whilst most are petrol powered, some electric models are available.

What is a wacker plate used for?

A wacker plate is used for compacting soil, hardcore, gravel sand and tarmac on the ground. This is the first step of many construction projects and DIY jobs, such as building a patio, creating a base for a shed, or laying a driveway, in order to provide a compact and solid base. Vibrating plates are also used on road works and road repair jobs, such as filling in potholes, in order to compact the fresh road surface down into the pothole.

How to use a wacker plate


  • Get the wacker plate into position. Plate compactors are heavy pieces of equipment, so it will probably take two people to carry the compactor to where it is required.
  • Wear appropriate safety equipment. You must wear suitable clothing whilst operating a plate compactor and you must use personal protection equipment such as heavy duty safety gloves, heavy duty boots and ear protection.
  • Start the wacker plate. This process differs depending on the model. Whether you have an electric or petrol wacker plate, you can follow the steps below:

Starting an Electric Plate Compactor

Electric wacker plates are ideal for use indoors and in other areas where the fumes produced by an engine would cause a hazard. With a 110v electric plate compactor, you will need a transformer, generator or 110v site power supply, along with a 110v extension lead, to run the equipment. If you are working at home, we can provide you with a transformer and extension lead as part of your hire - allowing you to power the 110v wacker plate from a 240v domestic plug socket. To start a 110v electric plate compactor, plug the transformer into a normal 240v electric supply and then connect the transformer to the wacker plate using a 110v extension lead. Press the green button on the control handle to turn the machine on and it will start to vibrate, compact the ground and move forward. Then simply press the red button to stop the machine.

Starting a Petrol Vibrating Plate

A petrol wacker plate is a more professional and effective machine. There are a few steps to follow in order to start it up properly:

1. Open the choke. Move the choke lever at the back of the machine to the right, in order to open the fuel tap. If you are starting the engine from cold you will need to set the choke like this. However if you are restarting a warm engine you may not need to use the choke, or you may only need to partially open the choke.
2. Turn the 'ON/OFF' switch on the side of the machine to the 'ON' position.
3. Make sure the throttle at the side of the machine is set to the idle position. This means that when you pull start the engine, the compactor won’t immediately start at full vibration and move forward.
4. Hold the control handle with one hand and hold the pull cord starter with your other hand. Then pull the starter cord until engine resistance is felt. Let the pull cord return to its starting position. Repeat this step until the engine starts. (The engine should start after 2 or 3 pulls. If the machine doesn’t start after 6 or 7 attempts, double check you have followed the start-up procedure correctly. If the issue doesn’t become clear, give us a call).
5. Once the engine has started, close the choke using the choke lever (or only partially close it if required).
6. Set the throttle lever to fully open. The plate compactor will then increase its vibrations and begin to move forward. It is then ready to use.

Using a wacker plate

  • Work in strips. Once the throttle is fully open, the wacker plate will begin to move forward due to its own vibration. Use the control handle to direct and manoeuvre the wacker plate in a straight strip over the surface area. Once you have completed a strip along the area you wish to compact, simply turn the machine around and move it along in another strip next to the area you have just covered. You may need to go over the area a number of times, at perpendicular passes to the previous pass, in order to compact the area properly.
  • Stop the plate compactor. Once you have finished compacting the area, you can switch the machine off. For an electric vibrating plate, simply press the Off button. For a petrol vibrating plate, follow these steps:
  1. Set the throttle back to idle. This will reduce the vibrations and stop the machine from moving.
  2. Leave the motor running on idle for a couple of minutes to let the machine settle.
  3. Turn the ‘ON/OFF’ switch to the 'OFF' position.
  4. Close off the choke if it has been left partially open.

Tips for using a plate compactor

  • When the vibrating plate compactor is not in use, store it in a dry and safe location, such as a shed or garage.
  • Only use petrol & diesel wacker plates outdoors in well ventilated areas. Never use them indoors or in confined spaces. For indoor applications, use an electric wacker plate.
  • After use, clean the machine at the end of each day rather than at the end of the hire period.
  • Regularly check the fuel level and top up the tank when required.
  • Never refuel the vibrating plate when the engine is either hot or running. Turn the machine off and allow the engine to cool down before refuelling.
  • Never push the equipment beyond its operational limits. If you need a machine with more capability, contact us and we can supply you with a suitable piece of equipment.
  • Depending on the application and the ground conditions, you may need to use a plate compactor multiple times over an area before beginning construction. You can make extra passes at perpendicular angles to the previous pass in order to compact the area most effectively. You may need to put down more hardcore between each application and then compact that fresh hardcore down.

Alternatives to a wacker plate

Wacker plates are not the only type of compactors. Whilst wacker plates operate in forward motion only, there are also forward & reverse vibrating plates available, which have a switch that allows them to operate in either forward or reverse motion. Trench rammers are also available - they have a smaller plate which rams in an up and down motion to compact the ground. The smaller plate size means that these machines can be used in tighter spaces, such as for backfilling trenches. They also deliver the energy more directly than wacker plates, so they are great for compacting more cohesive soils with a higher clay content. Manual tamping beams can also be used for compacting small patches of land for basic domestic jobs - they feature a robust plate on the end of a pole, which is manually rammed down on to the ground to compact it.

Do I need to use a wacker plate?

You will need to use a wacker plate or another type of compactor if you are constructing anything on an area of land, or laying a concrete slab on the ground. Professional contractors would never build a structure without properly compacting the ground to ensure a sturdy and solid surface. Plate compactors offer the most effective way of compacting an area of soil, hardcore or gravel prior to beginning a DIY job or small construction job. If you fail to compact the ground properly, the patio or driveway will simply not last - the soil or gravel can sink, causing the structure to slope and crack. During winter, water would enter into air pockets, freeze and then expand, causing further issues with cracking. This is why using a wacker plate is so vital.

Wacker Plate Hire

Plate compactors are expensive pieces of equipment to buy. If you just need a wacker plate for a one-off DIY job or just for a few professional jobs, it makes much more sense to hire a wacker plate than to buy one yourself. We have wacker plate hire available nationwide. Our range includes 320mm plate compactors & 400mm plate compactors, as well as 380mm electric wacker plates. We also have forward & reverse vibrating plates and trench rammers available for hire. You can book a wacker plate hire online or over the phone with our hire team and then either collect the machine from your local store at the start of the hire or we can deliver it to you. The hire controllers in the depots can show you the controls and talk you through the steps to starting up and using the plate compactor. Our vibrating plate compactor hire rates are extremely competitive and our delivery rates are some of the best in the industry. Enquire online or over the phone to find out more.