Gravel Road Maintenance

Gravel road maintenance is particularly important if a long stretch of driveway is all that connects you to the outside world.

| March/April 1985

Gravel road with trees

Steve Kohler has practiced maintaining his own gravel driveway, and he's ready to share some tips with you.


Heavy rains, freezing and thawing, and the constant wear and tear from cars and trucks all take their toll on the gravel drive that leads to my place. The white-rock road runs nearly half a mile down one side of an Ozark hollow, across a stream and up the other side — in short, the country it covers isn't exactly the best terrain for a driveway.

The road was built by a man referred to locally as "an artist with a dozer," a reputation he earned by being able to clear a path through even the stupidest of chosen routes without doing unnecessary damage. And the cost of the job he did for me indicated that the place I had chosen was plenty stupid. (It also suggested that the dozer operator could probably afford to change his name to Picasso and retire to the south of France.)

Considering the money I'd invested — and the funny habit we have of occasionally wanting to leave the farm for shopping trips and the like — I decided I'd better learn how to take care of our driveway. After seven years of trial and error, some reading and a lot of talk with people who know their gravel roads, here's what I've learned about gravel road maintenance.

Gravel Road Maintenance Basics

If you own a tractor (almost any size, other than the smallest yard and garden machine, will do), the only other tool you'll need is a 6-foot, rear-mounted blade that's reversible and adjustable for angle and slope. A 6-footer is best because it gets about half the road's width in a single swipe and still will cover the tracks of all but the biggest tractors. A blade much longer than 6 feet is hard for the average person to handle. If you don't own a tractor, try to borrow or rent one; the principles I describe here for keeping a gravel road in good shape will still apply if you're willing to do a lot of digging and raking with hand tools, but you'll be in for plenty of hard work, to say the least.

The first step toward successfully maintaining a gravel road is to realize that producing a smooth surface — the smoother, the better — is your ultimate goal. Undulations set vehicles bouncing up and down on their springs. The vertical forces generated, even though they may be too small for you to object to while riding in the vehicle, are then transferred back to the road. After enough of this bouncing activity, things eventually worsen until the road is nothing but a series of humps and gullies. Car travel on such passageways takes tremendous fortitude. (If you open your mouth to scream when your head hits the roof, you're likely to bite your tongue off when you're jammed back into the seat a moment later.)

The second step toward maintaining a gravel road, once you've decided to strive for a tabletop-smooth surface, is to accept the fact that you'll never be able to achieve that goal. Then make up your mind to go ahead and try for the impossible anyway.

pat miketinac
7/11/2009 10:01:02 PM

I prefer a box blade because it is heavier, smoother, cuts or grades in either direction and can drag a lot of material over a longer distance. It also has adjustable teeth to get below the surface to break it up or clear roots. I even used it to excavate and backfill my earth shelter [sandy soil] and spread the sand for the septic system.

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