Construction crew using a Tomahawk Power Vibratory Rammer for trench compaction.

Discover Efficient and Reliable Techniques for Your Next Project

In the world of landscape construction, efficiency, and reliability are paramount. For professionals who are shaping the future of residential backyards with patios, retaining walls, and driveways, understanding the nuances of trench compaction and backfilling can be the difference between a project that stands the test of time and one that doesn't. This guide delves into the most effective trench compaction and backfilling methods, ensuring your next project not only meets but exceeds expectations.

The Importance of Proper Trench Compaction

Before we dive into the methods, let's address why trench compaction is crucial. For structures like retaining walls and patios to maintain their integrity over time, the base material beneath them must be compacted properly. This process increases the density of the soil, significantly reducing the risk of settling and shifting that can lead to cracks and structural failures. For professionals, choosing the right compaction technique is key to delivering quality, durable work to their clients.

Selecting the Right Compaction Equipment

Not all plate compactors are created equal. For small to medium-sized projects, a plate compactor with a Honda engine is a reliable choice. These compactors are known for their durability and easy start-up, making them a go-to for professionals seeking efficiency and reliability. When working on projects with paver patios or walkways, it's essential to choose a compactor that's compatible with paver pads to ensure a beautiful, unmarred finish.

Effective Trench Backfilling Techniques

Backfilling is more than just filling a hole. It's about layering and compacting the backfill material in a way that supports the project's overall stability. Here are some effective techniques:

We will cover four main methods of trench backfilling:

1. Jetting

Also known as, “water jetting”, this practice uses pressurized water sprayed into the trench through the use of a long metal device.

Note: Water dissipation decreases the trench volume, thus in the long term this method is best recommended for granular soil types. For example, clay, a cohesive soil type, is not the best type of soil for conducting jetting. As a result, pavement around the area of the trench can dip or fall creating a depression in the roadway. If you are not sure how to identify the soil type of you are working with, learn more in our blog about optimum compaction


2. Filling

Filling refers to “flowable fill”, a type of fragile concrete mix used in construction, particularly for road bases or backfilling. By using a “cementous” material with a low water/cement ratio, filling is delivered straight from the concrete mixer truck onto the trench.


3. Dumping

This method involves filling the trench with granular aggregate without compaction.

Note: One of the common issues found with this method is the granular aggregate naturally contains voids, meaning that fine material can enter. In most cases, contractors prefer this method because it does not require additional time with trench compaction. One of the reasons for contractors to use this method is that the stone compacts itself.

 Dump truck dumping gravel into trench for backfilling

PC: Bomhak Trucking Oklahoma


4. Compaction

Compaction is a process used to densify, or reduce the volume of a mass of material. This method requires knowing your soil well. Before making an informed decision, understand the soil mechanics of the area to be compacted. In cohesive materials, such as clay, tamping rammers work more effectively due to their lower frequencies. Otherwise, for granular materials like sand, the best choice is vibratory plates for their higher frequencies. 

Note: Mechanical compaction demands many passes that depend on the lift thickness and soil moisture content to achieve desired results. This method certainly brings successful outcomes if it is done correctly. Compaction requires higher costs associated with the appropriate equipment and proper labor, but will definitely prove its worth when the project is completed.


Backfill Material

It is imperative to gauge how much material you use when using backfill material, but occasionally lifts can overflow. As a result, you will not be able to achieve proper compaction. Therefore, we recommend placing backfill material one foot approximately (1’) above the top of the pipe. It must be deposited the full width of the trench. Additionally, the fill material should not cause movement of the pipe or damage the pipe joint. Make sure the backfill material is gently rolled into the trench before compaction begins.


Trench Compaction Equipment

Choosing the right equipment for trench work is very important. You cannot compact with backfill material without understanding the limits of each machine. Trench compaction will always be achieved more effectively if the right equipment is used.


Tamping Rammers

Tamping rammers, also known as tampers or “Jumping Jacks,” use vibratory movement to compact material, using two large springs driven by the rammer’s engine itself. The size and percussive force of rammers make them a beneficial tool for compacting cohesive materials, such as clay.

Rammers deliver around 650 to 700 blow per minute, are recommended for tight spaces, such as trenches, and can also be used in a variety of soil types. Construction specialists mention the most common application of rammers are included but not limited to compacting backfill, base preparation for asphalt patching, and line trench work.


Construction worker using 3 HP Honda Vibratory Rammer Tamper with Honda GX100 Engine 3350 lbs/ft from Tomahawk Power


Vibratory Plates

Also known as plate compactors, vibratory plates are especially favorable for working in granular soils, such as sand. These tools are classified as “single direction” or “reversible” meaning they have the capacity to change direction increasing maneuverability in cramped spaces. The machine’s vibration compacts soil particles, with its engine-driven exciter. 

Furthermore, vibratory plate compactors operate best through an “echo” principle. When vibratory waves travel down, waves will reflect back once the plates waves hits a hard surface. We recommend using an appropriate trench fill height that ranges between 4” to 6” maximum. As mentioned before, knowing the soil's moisture content will help to determine the proper amount of compaction needed to complete the job. 

 Tomahawk Power plate compactor for soil compaction.

We hope this guide served you well. We would be very interested in hearing your favorite backfill methods. 

Asphalt plate compactorCompaction equipmentConcrete mixerConstruction equipmentElectric engine tamping rammerForward plate compactorGas engine tamping rammerGranular soilGranular soil compactionReversible plate compactorSoil compactionTamping rammerTrench backfilling methodsTrench compactionTrench compaction backfillingTrenchworkVibe plateVibrating plateVibratory rammerWater dissipationWater jetting


Eli Richardson

Eli Richardson

In a few months, my uncle’s starting a new construction project, so he’s looking for the right team and machinery for the job. It’s good to know that we must choose the right trenching equipment to compact the material effectively, so I’ll email this to my uncle right now. Thanks for the tips on using the best-fitted equipment for trenching compacting.

Anna Collins

Anna Collins

I agree with what you said about how trench work will be achieved much more effectively if you choose the right equipment to use for it. I need to do micro-trenching in my backyard next month, but I don’t have the right blades for it. I’ll have to make sure I avail of them from a well-reputed manufacturing company for microtrencher blades.

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