I plan to build a brick wall, so I need to compact the ground first. The hardware store sells a tool called a tamper, that sells for $60 and only weighs 15 lbs, so it seems inefficient. How is that sufficient weight to pack down the ground? If a worker weighs 200+ lbs, is that more efficient to have them cut on a small square of wood and jump on that? If not, is there some alternative method of stamping the ground down?

  • Are you building the wall on the ground you compact? – Jack Aug 13 '20 at 5:04
  • Yes, the wall is built on top of compacted ground. – Village Aug 13 '20 at 11:54
  • Other answers prompted a few more questions. Is it just a brick wall like a fence? Are you taking the footing down to frost level if you live in a temperate climate? And is the wall being built on an area that has been filled in? – Jack Aug 13 '20 at 13:46
  • cut on a small square of wood and jump on that ... actually, the end of a 2x4 produces more pressure, but takes longer to work an area – jsotola Aug 13 '20 at 19:16

The first question is why you think "you need to compact the ground first" - even without frost as a consideration (not knowing where you live or if it freezes there) the first step in putting up such a wall is to remove the spongy/squishy topsoil and humus and get down into the mineral subsoil, which (if undisturbed) is normally stable and fairly compact already. In a freezing climate you need to get below frost line unless you are simply making a short loose-stack (no mortar) garden wall that can shift with the ground movement and may need occasional restacking. Once down to subsoil or below frost line a reinforced concrete foundation set on undisturbed soil will support the wall, and tamping is not normally needed unless the area you are working in was recently filled and has not consolidated yet. Alternatives might include a well-drained "rubble trench" foundation or other means of preventing frost movement, which will crack your mortared brick wall.

Your typical hardware store "tamper" is of no practical use in compacting earth, as it's commonly 10x10 inches (100 square inches) and is more a "flattener" than a tamper. Good for mashing asphalt driveway patch level, perhaps.

An ordinary sledgehammer is a better hand-operated tool for tamping. Handle vertical, lift and drop, repeat. Doing a good job with one is tedious but quite possible if you prefer not to rent a powered plate compactor. For something like compacting around a fencepost, an iron digging bar can be used to compact.

With any compacting method, the soil to be compacted must be put in as shallow layers, each compacted individually, or only the top few inches/centimeters will be effectively compacted. The pressure applied to the soil surface spreads out in a cone, and is soon negligible and unable to move soil particles. Thus, compacting the bottom of a trench (which you are not building up) has very little overall effect.


You can rent a power compactor which would do a much better job than a hand operated tamper.

  • I agree with Jeff a plate compactor usually is not that expensive to rent there are different models I think starting at 60lb and going up. – Ed Beal Aug 13 '20 at 4:33

if you need to compact the ground before you dig a foundation you definately want to use motorised tools.

probably a whacker/kango type thing

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  • Wait, you're recommending compacting before digging? You're obviously not digging by hand... – FreeMan Aug 13 '20 at 12:18
  • if the ground is too soft that's the only way you can dig a trench and have it stay open. If the the poster is not intending a foundation for the wall they are asking the wrong question. – Jasen Aug 13 '20 at 12:48
  • Ah, yeah, I missed those minor details... – FreeMan Aug 13 '20 at 14:21

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