During some garden or other outdoor living spaces jobs, a need arises to pack down soil, dirt, gravel or other materials. Boots and common garden hand tools like shovels, spades and hoes don’t cut it. Luckily there are garden hand tools for this task, the hand tampers.
This post is updated for 2022.
For buyers in search of a solid hand tamper tool, the steel plate tamper 92540 from Bully Tools is an excellent choice. This ground tamper features a 3/8″ thick 9.75-inch x 9.75-inch square steel plate head, a solid steel handle and helpful a cushioned grip. We like it because of its weight. It is one of the heaviest hand tampers on the market! What’s more, it is made in USA.Check price
What is a hand tamper?
A Hand Tamper is a garden hand tool with a square flat head and a long handle, used for, well, tamping: packing down soil, gravel and other granular or powdered materials by reducing their size and increasing their density.
If you look on the market you’ll find one type of the Hand Tamper tool only. This type features an 8-Inch x 8-Inch to 10-inch x 10-inch square steel head. Square heads are fine because their shape brings slightly better compaction results, but the weight of most of these ground tampers is not ideal. Generally, the heavier the dirt tamper, the faster the soil can be tamped.
For better compaction of spot areas, a heavy Digging Bar with a flat handle perhaps is a better solution.
What are hand tampers used for?
The Hand Tamper tool helps make the surface flat and compacted. It is great for leveling gravel, flatten and smooth dirt, ground, repair asphalt and tamp loose soil. In addition, you can use hand tamper for pavers. In the garden or other outdoor areas, the hand tamper tool can be used to properly compact the ground for installing pavers for paths or patios, garden fountains, fire pits, garden tool sheds or other small outdoor structures.
A wooden tamper, a hand tamper with wooden flat head, is an ideal choice to make the soil firm after sowing or tamp a refilled planting hole and a lot better than tamping with shoes or some other garden hand tool (remember that, in these cases, you only need to firm the soil, not pack it down).
How to use Hand Tampers?
The Hand Tamper has a slim upright design. Because of that the tamping motion is vertical.
- Prepare the soil, rake it and spray it with water
- Keep your feet apart
- Gasp the handle in both hands
- Lift and, depending on the weight of the Hand Tamper tool:
- drop, or
- strike the soil surface with force
- (Add another layer of soil)
- Repeat until the desired compaction level is achieved
Always avoid using your back when lifting; use your legs instead.
The lift and drop technique is used for maximum compaction (made by a garden hand tool of course…). On the other hand, the strike mode is more versatile because you can control the level of compaction.
For the lift and drop technique the Hand Tamper should weigh two pounds for every square inch of its head flat surface. There aren’t many (or any) Hand Tamper models on the market that favor this technique. If this tamping method suits you better then you should consider a custom built or a diy hand tamper.
Hand Tamper vs Plate Compactor Machine
The cheapest Plate Compactor model costs at least ten times more than a great and proven Hand Tramper and needs some kind of power like gas to operate. So, the real question is: Should you buy a good Hand Tramper and keep it forever or rent a Plate Compactor for a few hours?
Plate compactors use vibration. For this reason alone, they are ideal for working with granular soils (sand, silt or gravel).
Whether single plate, reversible plate or plates on plate compactors, most Plate Compactor plates are wide and large, which means that the Plate Compactors are better for open and large flat areas.
On the other hand, hand tampers are portable and easier to maneuver, which means that they are a better choice for smaller areas, spot areas, small trenches and when tamping on slopes.
The three main materials used for the handle of the Hand Tamper tool are wood, steel and fiberglass.
Each one has advantages and disadvantages:
- The wooden handles can easily fit to the head, are repairable if not damaged severely and easy to replace if damaged beyond repair. On the other hand, they are very sensitive to environmental conditions like moisture. The good news is that if you have to replace them you will find a replacement wooden handle for tamper tools everywhere . Also, the wooden handle has to have a straight wood grain pattern.
- The fiberglass handles are lighter, more durable and sometimes have no-slip grips; but their long exposure to direct sunlight damages them severely, they cannot be replaced easily and are more expensive than the wooden ones.
- The steel handles add more weight which can be good or bad depending on your tamping technique. They also have some type of a grip which is nice to have because these metal handles get cold in the winter and very hot in the summer.
If you want to keep your hand tamper compactor for a long time, then you should do some regular maintenance.
- Remove the mud or dirt thoroughly and clean your Hand Tamper with water after each use.
- Use a piece of old cloth to dry it really well.
- Oil their metal parts before you winterize them.
- Store your Hand Tamper tool inside a dry location like a garden tool shed or an outdoor storage cabinet.
- If the handle of the Hand Tamper is wooden then, annually, use a finishing oil in order to finish it and, occasionally, do some light sanding.
As you can see, the Hand Tampers require the typical garden hand tool maintenance.
DIY Hand Tampers – How to make a Hand Tamper
For a DIY Hand Tamper all you need is a handle, a heavy flat faced head and the means to connect them tightly and securely. For example:
A lightweight Hand Tamper made with a sledge hammer. some plywood, 2 u bolts and a few screws.
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