How to Grade a Driveway
Picking the Best Rock for Driveways and Farm Roads
Learning how to grade a driveway on the farm or homestead is not all that difficult, but some basic concepts and tips will make the process easier. For those of us who have long dirt driveways that have a mind of their own, it makes sense to keep them in good shape. Don’t wait for it to become a critical issue! Pin your driveway grader to your tractor and let’s get down to business.
When we drive vehicles and equipment along the same path over and over, we create the “cart path” effect. This is caused by the weight of our cars, trucks, and equipment rolling over the same two tracks, compacting the soil in those areas. If you have an existing two-track driveway that is otherwise traversable, consider filling the ruts with stone instead of cutting the crown and pushing the dirt into the ruts.
Filling ruts with stone gives your tires something harder to ride on and will bring your driveway back to its original grade level, instead of cutting the crown and reducing the overall height of your driveway. Simply grading the crown may be a low-cost construction technique, but over time you’ll notice that your driveway will look less like a driveway and more like a trough or shallow river bed.
Snow and Frost
For those of us in snow country, we get to deal with the added complication of frost and snow. Frost heaving, the resulting potholes, and the stones pushed to the surface all need to be dealt with. Not only that, but the act of plowing snow also moves material around, especially when there’s snow but the ground hasn’t frozen yet. You may find your gravel piled up where you plowed snow, so be prepared to drag that material back to where it’s needed.
Water can hasten driveway deterioration. Existing compaction ruts create a low point for runoff water to follow. As water flows down these ruts, erosion cuts them deeper and deeper. Even driveways that have no ruts can experience erosion, especially if they have more dirt than gravel. Water will find the lowest point and carve its own path, usually in an inconvenient location.
Water also makes driveways muddy, which leads to ruts. Since water likes to collect in low spots, make sure your driveway isn’t one. Slope low points, or even create a ditch that sits lower than your driveway to give the water somewhere else to go. Mud alongside your driveway isn’t an issue, but mud in the middle of your driveway is, so take that into consideration when deciding how to grade a driveway
Crowning a road stops water from collecting and pooling on the driveway. Unlike the severe crowning of a neglected two-track, an intentional crown leaves a slight peak in the middle of the road which sheds water from the center. If you have a long stretch of flat driveway, adding a slight crown to it will stop puddling in the middle of your driveway.
Crowning is an effective way to shed water, but remember that water is going somewhere if you like it or not. Concentrating the water runoff on the sides of your driveway will create ditches, but those erosion ditches may undermine the driveway. Be proactive and provide a definite path for your water runoff, and line it with a coarse gravel to reduce the erosion if need be.
How to Grade a Driveway
Sometimes you can get away with a quick and simple flat grade, but that’s not always the best course of action. If you’ve decided to add drainage ditches, correct a pitch or form a proper crown, you’ll need to properly adjust your driveway grader. Likewise, these adjustments will prove handy if and when you decide to work on a farm pond design in the future.
For those of us using a tractor with an adjustable three-point hitch, we need to take care in how we set up our implement. Landscape rakes and grader blades are typically a light to medium draft implement, which means the top link needs to be in the lowest pin hole available. Scraper boxes are typically considered a heavy draft implement, so be sure to use the top pin hole. Verify this with your tractor’s manual just to be sure.
Most tractors feature adjustable lift arms. For forming a flat grade, maintain your two lift arms in the level position. If you want to add a crown with your rake or dig a ditch with a grader blade or grader box, then you need to adjust your lift arms to put your implement on a slant. Once properly slanted, your implement will carve your desired grade.
When deciding how to grade a driveway, many people settle on a crushed gravel sized somewhere between a ¾ and 1 ½-inch. For those of us with a tractor, we can explore other options such as a 2-inch or larger size, since we have the equipment to manage it. A ¾-inch gravel makes for a smooth surface when groomed, but it’s far easier to wash away versus a 2-inch or larger gravel. If you just can’t keep your stone in place, try graduating to a larger sized gravel. Larger gravel is more difficult to work with, which is why it’s not as popular as the smaller sizes, but when you have a tractor and driveway grading implement, it’s nothing you can’t handle.
Your Mileage May Vary
Everyone’s situation calls for different considerations. Weather patterns, local soil composition, the implements you have available and even the size or power rating of your machine will largely dictate how you decide to manage your driveway. My goal here was to give you some food for thought, and hopefully, answer some questions along the way.
Did I leave a few questions about how to grade a driveway unanswered? Leave them below in the comment section and let’s see if we can find the answers!