How to Pack Dirt for Concrete

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Things You'll Need

  • 2-by-4-inch lumber

  • 12-by-12 piece of wood

  • Nails

  • Hammer

  • Hand tamper

  • Lawn roller

  • Vibrating plate tamper

Pouring concrete for slabs, driveways, walkways, patios or any other project necessitates tightly packed soil to ensure the integrity of the concrete. Loose soil allows for too much ground movement resulting in cracks and unstable foundations and footings. The type of compacting tool depends on the size of the project and the final use of the concrete pour. Large concrete pours and weight bearing structures require more aggressive packing than walkways or small patios. Choose the methods based on the size of the project and your abilities.

Foot square

Step 1

Stand a 2-by-4 piece of lumber, cut to chest height, on its end. Place a 2-inch thick, 12-by-12-inch square piece of wood centered on top of the 2-by-4 and nail it in place.

Step 2

Turn it over so the 12-by-12-inch square piece rests on the ground. Lift the wood and drive it forcefully toward the ground to compact the soil.

Step 3

Strike the ground continually with the square base while moving about the excavated area until you compact all of the dirt.

Hand Tamper

Step 1

Lift a hand tamper by the handles and strike the ground with the flat head. Begin along the edge of the dig and work your way across and down the area to compact all dirt.

Step 2

Strike each area three to four times before moving the tamper.

Step 3

Lift and strike the ground continually while moving the hand tamper along until you reach the opposite side of the excavation.

Hand Roller

Step 1

Roll a lawn roller over the excavated area. Begin at the edge and push the lawn roller to the opposite edge of the dig.

Step 2

Pull the lawn roller back over the same area. Continue to roll over the same path three to four times to compact the dirt. Move the lawn roller to an un-compacted section of dirt, overlapping the first path by four to six inches and repeat.

Step 3

Roll he lawn roller section by section over the dig until you pack all the dirt tightly in place. Lawn rollers come in a variety of sizes and weights. Many lawn rollers have a port that allows the barrel to contain water to increase the weight. The greater the weight, the more compacting ability.

Plate Compactor

Step 1

Position a vibrating plate compactor onto the dirt. Start the compactor by either pull start, push button or key start.

Step 2

Walk slowly and steadily while pushing the vibrating plate compactor along the dirt until you reach the opposite side of the excavation.

Step 3

Turn and move the compactor so the next path will overlap the first pass by four to six inches. A vibrating plate compactor rapidly and forcefully moves a metal plate up and down to tightly pack the dirt.


Wear eye protection, safety shoes and work gloves while compacting dirt. Add eye protection when using a vibrating plate tamper.


Avoid attempting to compact dirt that is very wet or is muddy.