The measurement of bulk density in gravelly soils (>15% soil particles >2 mm) is more time-consuming than for other soils. The excavation method, usually employed for measurement of bulk density in gravelly soils, includes excavating a void and calculating volume of the void from the weight and density of the material (e.g. sand and plaster cast) used to fill the void. A 3-dimensional (3D) scanning system was developed to measure the volume of the void created when using the excavation method. The 3D scanning system combined a time-of-flight camera (Kinect ™), the KinectFusion algorithm, MeshLab and a portable computer to produce a 3D model of the void or plaster cast. Experiments were completed at three field sites where soil gravel (>2 mm) content ranged from 35 to 71% to assess the performance of the system. The void volume measured using the 3D scanning system was highly correlated with measurements using the plaster cast method (r = 0.99). The cumulative time taken to measure soil bulk density using 3D scanning was significantly (P < 0.001) less than for the sand replacement at 0–10, 10–20, 20–30 and 30–40 cm depth. The faster measurement of subsurface bulk density is a significant advantage of the 3D scanning system; the time taken to measure bulk density to 40 cm in 10 cm increments using the 3D scanning system was about one-third of the sand method.