Asphalt Roller

A good road roller makes the job go smoothly

An asphalt roller, which is often called a cement roller, steam roller, road roller or drum roller, is a smaller piece of heavy machinery intended to compact asphalt, concrete, soil or gravel, often with the purpose of finishing a newly constructed roadway.

Although asphalt rollers are still often called steam rollers, they are actually powered by diesel or gasoline. The name steam roller stretches back to the device's roots in the 19th century, when early construction crews (usually private landowners or dwellers) made the switch from horse-drawn rollers to single- or double-cylindered steam rollers that operated via steam engines. The double-cylindered device was more popular back then, since the single-cylindered roller would sometimes leave awkward waves in the roadway as its underpowered engine struggled along. Road construction companies continued to use steam-powered rollers until just after the Second World War.

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By the end of the 20th century, most road rollers were powered by kerosene, gasoline or diesel engines. Today, almost all use diesel power.

Using a Road Roller

The purpose of an asphalt roller is simple: after a paver lays asphalt, the roller presses and compacts it, leaving a surface that is smooth and even.

Rollers vary in size but are usually operated by a single driver. Some rollers are very small (100 pounds or so), and may not even require an engine for power. However, most road rollers involved in road construction projects are much larger. After a roadway has received its base foundation by a grader, asphalt is applied. Then, the road roller or roller compactor – which in most instances ranges in weight from 10 to 25 tons – applies enormous pressure, flattening the road surface to meet highway standards. Metal drum rollers are used to provide a final smoothing of the roadway.

Types of Road Roller

A professional road roller can cost a lot of money: most range from $100,000 to $150,000. However, if the project is smaller, there are other options. These include simple, manual or powered walk-behind models (often used for new residential driveways); remote-controlled trench rollers; and tractor-mounted and tractor-powered rollers for medium-sized projects.