Just like how the base is the most important part in a game of Jenga, the hardscaping portion of an outdoor living area is literally the cornerstone of the project and sets the tone for the space.
Because this is such a crucial part of many landscape installation projects, it’s important to have the right tools for the job. Not only does it make the task easier, but it can boost your crews’ productivity.
Some of the simple mainstays of a hardscaping job are string or a hand level, shovels and mallets, but for more demanding jobs landscapers can turn to several different pieces of equipment to help with efficiency and the essential site prep.
If you are looking for a time saver when it comes to hardscaping projects, a skid steer can offer considerable payback. Their versatility can help with a series of tasks such as carrying pallets of pavers, breaking up existing hardscaping, carrying dirt and cleaning up debris.
It is important to get the proper sized equipment for the job as an undersized machine will not be able to do the job fully while, oversized equipment cannot work in tighter spaces.
“A full-sized skid steer is best used when it’s dedicated to moving or loading large piles of dirt and other materials,” said Chris Thompson, Ditch Witch’s product manager for compact equipment. “These larger machines also require an equally large jobsite. For jobsites with increasingly smaller footprints, large and heavy machinery is ill-equipped for the work.”
Mini skid steers are ideal for maneuvering in smaller spaces and models like Ditch Witch’s SK1050 allow it to provide the power needed to operate the necessary attachments.
When looking for a skid steer to rent or buy for a hardscaping job, pay attention to the engine’s horsepower, auxiliary flow and lift capacity.
“Before starting a project, it’s important to match the flow rate of the hydraulic system with what is needed to operate the attachment,” Thompson said. “An incorrect match can reduce the efficiency of the attachment by decreasing how quickly the machine operates or how well the attachment works.”
Mismatching the attachment with a mini skid steer not only effects the attachment’s operation, it can also result in immediate downtime.
“For example, if a low-flow attachment is put on a high-flow hydraulic system, the machine’s system can overpower the attachment, causing motor seal failure and immediately stopping operation,” Thompson said.
While some see a skid steer as a luxury or something to save only for the larger jobs, a plate compactor is considered indispensable when it comes to creating a properly compacted base.
“No matter the type of hardscape project, compaction of sub-grade materials is critical to the success of the project,” said Ken O’Neill with Belgard.
The Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute recommends at least 4,000 pounds of centrifugal force for compaction. Plate compactors are ideal for all phases of the installation process thanks to their size and maneuverability. The vibration of the plate can compact the sand under the pavers and force the extra top layer in between the pavers for better stability and quality.
Plate compactors are especially useful for segmental retaining walls and patio installations.
While plate compactors can come as engine-powered, walk-behind machines, they also come as attachments that can be used on mini excavators. This is just one of the attachments that is ideal for mini excavators in a hardscaping application.
Mini excavators can use buckets for digging, freeing up other crew members to handle other tasks and hammer attachments can help break up concrete or hard soil when doing dirt work.
These machines are also obviously good at excavating for projects like retaining walls, and can create satisfactory grades as well. The compact size allows this type of equipment to not only fit through side gates of backyards, it’s also easily towable from jobsite to jobsite.
Variable track width is important to have on these machines as it lets it shrink for tight spaces, but expand out for more stability when working. Depending on how frequently your company handles hardscaping installations will determine whether renting or buying this type of machinery is smarter.
Another tool that can help save on labor time and extend the working careers of your employees is a paver cart or powered wheelbarrow.
A paver cart can be used to transport a load of banded or unbanded pavers to the laying edge without having to cut the band and load the pavers. Yet this tool can be hit or miss for some landscapers as a useful tool if the paver distributor doesn’t stack pavers in a way where they can be hauled away.
Its usefulness depends on how the pavers are stacked on a pallet in layers.
A slightly similar product that can help reduce strain-related injuries is the powered wheelbarrow or trackbarrow. Manufacturers like Yardmax, Sarlo and Overland Carts offer this sort of machine, which is designed to handle uneven terrain while transporting materials like dirt, cement or stone.
The important thing to remember is that hardscaping is not an entry-level business and it is better to buy the right-sized equipment the first time rather than using something that is underpowered and cuts into your efficiency.
If a machine is only helpful for certain jobs, it is better to look for something that fits in broader applications.