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Build A Gravel Driveway

How To Build A Gravel Drive TIPS

DEAR TIM: I need to build a gravel driveway on some land I recently purchased. Is a gravel driveway going to hold up as a permanent driveway paving solution? What types of gravel are used for a driveway? Do you think I can construct a build-it-yourself gravel driveway? Ed M., Basking Ridge, NJ

DEAR ED: Congratulations on your new land purchase! Over a year ago, my wife and I did the same thing with the intention of building our retirement home. Currently, there is a rough gravel roadway that extends to the top of our property. Just last week, I was at my land to start the process of extending this gravel driveway up to our new home site.

The simple answer is a properly designed and constructed gravel driveway can function as a permanent driveway paving solution, and with some rented equipment you probably can do the job. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of gravel roadways and driveways in the USA.

They work well, but come with a small amount of periodic maintenance issues. But the lower initial cost of the gravel driveway is often reason enough for most to deal with whatever needs to be done to keep the driveway in good shape over the years.

CLICK HERE to Get FREE & FAST BIDS from local excavators that install gravel drives.

Driveway Is Small Road

The first thing I would do, if I were you, is to research basic road-building techniques. College textbooks that deal with introductory civil engineering often cover this topic very well. A long-lasting gravel driveway needs to have all of the same design characteristics one finds in a well-constructed major roadway. You can often find great information on the Internet if you can't locate a road-building textbook.

Make it Wide

Early in the process you should think about the width of the driveway. All too often I see gravel drives in wooded areas that are not only too narrow, they often have turns that are too sharp. You should make the drive no less than 14 feet wide. If the drive is long, think about what happens if two cars meet each other going the opposite direction. You may want to widen the drive for 40 feet in places to 18 feet so two cars can pass without going off onto a soft shoulder.

This is a gravel drive on land I own. It's about 14-feet wide, it's got a deep ditch on the right side and slopes to the left. It's hard to see, but the drive has about a 5-inch crown. © 2017 Tim Carter

Think ahead about delivery trucks and moving trucks. Don't make turns too tight. Gradual curves are best. Don't have trees next to the inside part of a curve as a long truck could scrape against it.

Great Drainage

For starters, the soil under the gravel driveway must be well-drained and strong. It also must be free of any organic material like sticks, tree roots and leaves or grass. All topsoil must be stripped off the driveway location and stockpiled for use at some other place on your lot. It is a very bad practice to build a driveway on top of spongy topsoil filled with organic debris.

Water is the enemy of gravel driveways and any roadway. Surface water can erode the gravel off the surface of the driveway and subsurface water can turn strong subsoil into a quagmire. The weight of cars and trucks pressing down on a gravel driveway is not much different than the powerful hydraulic pressure used on construction machinery, car lifts and any other machine that uses the leveraged force of hydraulics.

CLICK HERE to Get FREE & FAST BIDS from local excavators that install gravel drives.

Water that is forced under pressure under the gravel can transport silt from the subsoil into the gravel. As the silt squeezes between individual pieces of gravel, it causes the friction bonds between individual pieces of gravel to weaken. When this happens, your gravel driveway can fall apart in no time.

Geotextile Fabrics

It is often a great idea to install a geotextile fabric on top of the subsoil before the first layer of gravel is installed. This fabric prevents the silt in the subsoil from fouling the gravel. These products come in wide rolls and can easily be installed by two people who just unroll the fabric allowing it to lay on the soil.

This is a giant roll of geotextile fabric. If the soil in your area is clay, you MUST INSTALL one. CLICK THE IMAGE TO ORDER THIS FABRIC NOW.

On windy days it needs to be covered quickly with a 4 or 6-inch-thick layer of crushed gravel. If you don't do this, the fabric might end up on your neighbor's lot.

Large Stone is STRONG

The first layer of crushed gravel needs to be a larger-sized gravel. Try to locate stones that are the size of baseballs or even softballs. NEVER use pea gravel nor rounded river rock gravel. These stones are like ball bearings and will easily roll and move as tires start to spin. A car or truck can would never stand a chance going up a hill with rounded gravel as the wheels would spin like a top. Angular gravel interlocks with adjacent pieces and the combined mass can act as one larger piece of rock.

Driveways get their strength from the base layer of stone. If you want a driveway that will stand up to large heavy trucks, then this first layer of stone needs to be 8 inches thick. Two 4-inch layers with each one compacted would be good.

Finish Stone

Compact each layer with a mechanical roller or tamping machine. The final layer of gravel should have pieces of angular stone no larger than a golf ball, with many of the stones being the size of marbles or grapes. If you can install 10 - 12 inches of gravel on top of the geotextile fabric, you should have a gravel driveway that will last decades.

Crown Prevents Washouts

Be sure the gravel driveway has a crown in it. This means the center of the driveway is always higher than the two edges. The crown allows water to flow off to the sides of the driveway preventing any ponding of water on the gravel surface. A 5-inch crown is one where the center of the driveway is 5 inches higher than the edges. It will do a superb job of getting water to the edges of the road quickly.

A crowned driveway also helps prevent washouts. The worst profile of a driveway on a slope is one where the center is lower than the edges. If your drive is shaped like this in a heavy rain you'll have a wild river racing down the center of your driveway washing away all your expensive gravel.

This is a gravel drive just down the street from where I live. The center of the drive has always been lower than the edges. Each time there's a heavy rain, this is what it looks like when the sun comes out. The owner then has a tractor take the gravel back up the hill to create the same problem again. © 2017 Tim Carter

York Rake

Gravel driveways need some periodic care in the form of grading or dressing. Low spots need to be filled with gravel scraped from any high spots. If your driveway has curves, you will discover that car and truck traffic tends to push loose gravel to the outer edges of the curves. This gravel needs to be brought back to the center and inner part of the curves.

Farmers have an attachment for their tractors that comb gravel drives. It's called a york rake. They work great.

Culverts & Ditches

Gravel driveways built on hillsides need ditches on the high side of the driveway. These ditches capture surface water that runs down the hill and otherwise would run across the driveway. Larger angular rocks should be placed in the ditch to slow down the speed of the running water in the ditch. Monitor the ditch to ensure the running water is not cutting too deep a channel or eroding the ditch causing failure of the gravel driveway.


Author's Notes:

Leo Kudej of Haymarket, Virginia, offers these comments from his years of experience.

"Tim,

I think you need to tell the readers just what they need to apply to the road bed layers. This way they can just call in to their local quarry exactly the type of stone they want.

The build up should go as follows - the first layer will be #3 stone (fist size); the second will be #57(little less than ping pong ball); and the final will be #21-A, or called crusher run (thumb nail sized stone with stone dust mixed in with it).

With a layered set up like this, you will have a driveway that will last many, many years. I am a carpenter, but living up on Bull Run Mountain for 20 years taught me a little about gravel roads." Leo K.

CLICK HERE to Get FREE & FAST BIDS from local excavators that install gravel drives all the time.

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23 Responses to Build A Gravel Driveway

  1. great info there Tim. I built my first one almost 20 years ago using just the techniques you put forth here, with the exception of the underlayment of fabric. I'm a cheep sum beotch... I used my '91 Wrangler as a "tamper" over the course of a few weeks on the fist-size first layer. then added about 6" of 1" and gently tamped it. anywhoo, with a bit of annual maint., it still looks practically new after all these years. I think the bordering is the most crucial aspect. I used discarded utility poles in 2' to 6' lengths from a couple of local phone and electricity outfits outside Tulsa. stake those down with a couple of 3' pieces of 1/2" re-bar (also salvaged & repurposed) and it looks great.

  2. I want to put gravel down for my Father on our ranch. Hasnt been done in awhile. Id like it to be a surprise. It's a few miles long. I know it'll cost. But I don't know what type to ask for? I would like the cheapest type of rock considering the length. But I don't even kow what that would be. Can you help me?

  3. Grading Question.
    I live on a gravel road which is meets my driveway which is about 20x30. Currently the "driveway" is loose soil with mixed in gravel which makes for a muddy mess in the rain. Question: Using the guidance in this artical, at the point where my reconstructed gravel driveway meets the public road. Which layer of gravel should be level with the public road? First (large), second (medium), or Third (Small).

  4. I have an old limestone driveway that is directly leading from my garage ( concrete floor) with a concrete edge sloping down to the driveway, do I have to remove existing gravel to avoid sloping into garage or can I just add to it. The existing driveway has little or no slope

  5. I've got two, flat, driveways, each 8' x 44'. One sits alongside a inclined lawn, about 3-4' high. Both have pea-sized gravel now but starting to deteriorate, especially in tire tracks...as in sinking into dirt. SUV's are about the heaviest vehicles utilizing driveways. I've been told to add 3" of Mountain Granite (3/4" angular stones). Given it's "light" usage, will this be ok? Pea gravel lasted decently for about 5 - 6 yrs....not great, but given what I paid for the stuff, not awful either. I'll own the place for another 10 years. Should I use different material, in layers as described above? Do I still use fabric over existing gravel? Does this help with weed control? Use Round up first?

    • Dan, I believe my column answers all your questions. Weed control is constant unless you can obtain the highly poisonous herbicide used by railroads. Pea gravel is the WORST material one could ever use on a driveway.

      • Why is pea gravel the WORST material for a driveway? We are about to work on ours and planned to order pea stone. What should we use instead?

  6. Hi i am starting to build a gravel i cleared off all the top soil and my road now is kind of like a roller coaster and water gathers in the low spot almost a foot deep. Most of the low spots are from where i removed large stumps can i fill these areas with something and put drainage pipes in some of my low spots.

  7. Hi Tim,

    Putting in driveway this week. The geotextile fabric website says NOT to plow the organic layer off a driveway before using the fabric because it causes a "bathtub" effect. What is your thought on this logic?

    Thanks. Stan

  8. Hello Tim, et.al.

    We are on the verge of purchasing land in Boulder CO. with the hopes of building a very modest home on the land. We are getting quite the education! Unfortunately, we'll have to work out some issue with the road to the land. We'll have to do some grading work to make it a true drive way to be certified by the City of Boulder and Rescue district. Do you have any advice on where we start or who we could contact in this area to get an estimate? We do have quite a lot of information via a 2007 building permit from the current owners and their driveway/easement challenges (they did not build).
    Thanks for any help you can provide. Our best, Sheila and James.

  9. I have a cleared lot, 1Blk off of beach in NW Florida. Mostly sand, I want to have a gravel drive for my RV which is 42000 lbs. what configuration of gravel would u recommend?

  10. Hi, Quick question. I have a gravel driveway that is covered with #9's rock. Problem is they have been down for 1 year as of this witting. Very loose still. So, will treating with lime lock this gravel so it won't be loose anymore? I use a snowthrower, and last year, threw many stones onto roof of house. Please advise...thanks in advance.

  11. It's really good to know that the base of a gravel driveway, I had no idea! We want to put a gravel area in the back yard, so we have somewhere to park our trailers. I'll be sure to tell my husband that we will need a few different sizes, so that we can make that base.

  12. We have had a gravel parking area for years and it works great for the parking. Problem is the gravel kicks up unto the adjacent paved road and driving over it is chewing up the paved area. Is there something we can put down on the gravel to cut down on the amount that kicks up?

  13. I have the same question as Don. I placed 4-6 inches of 1" crushed rock on top of driveway fabric earlier this summer. Still not locked in. Will placing a layer of class 5 an inch or two thick lock it down? Please help!

  14. You mentioned BBQ tour. If you get to Texas per George W Bush his preference is Coopers BBQ in Llano TX about 75 miles NE of Austin in Texas hill country

  15. I've got an interesting situation. About 45 years ago a neighbor was contracting with the City of Minneapolis as they were repaving a massive section on the north side of the city. He'd drive loads of broken up old pavement down to a crushing station on the south side of the city -- all except the last load since we all lived in the northern suburbs and that last load would be going the wrong direction at quitting time. Bringing it home saved him an hour of commute time.

    We operated a dairy farm with a big "loop" driveway and Dad told the neighbor to dump the loads in the farm drive. Smaller chunks of concrete were easily leveled but after milking was done in the evenings Dad would give us spades and tell us to dig holes in the driveway to fit the really big sections (some weighing 150 - 175 lbs. each--you could say we built a driveway out of giant jig saw puzzle pieces).

    This driveway is impervious to box graders, scarifiers and the usual equipment used by folks who own a larger chunk of land. Maybe a D-8 Caterpillar would work but I prefer to let sleeping dogs (and sleeping concrete) lie. I'm wondering if I can consider Layer #1 already laid and just add Layers 2 & 3?

  16. You should be able to cap the concrete with smaller material. Start with courser material first and then reduce the size as you build higher.
    Norm

  17. Purchased Vacant property 2 years ago 40 miles north of my location from the outskirts of the city to a rural setting and am now starting to look into putting a road on it. Doing the work myself (Im a Do-It-Your-Selfer), but need a little bit of guidance to what materials are best to use, if I need multiple types of materials, if im missing something in my calculation, and maybe to check my math a bit. I have the permit for the road and am just starting to look around for materials. Im going to try and break down my plans and you can give me feed back info! Please understand im trying to be somewhat flexible with my ROAD PLANS, but im forced to stick within the allowable guidelines of my permit (took me 6 months to get it approved) to be allowed to go through WETLANDS! I will try to give you as much relevant information as possible.

    MY MATH CALCULATIONS FYI - I did some of my own calculations off of a 20 ton truck / carrying 40,000lbs s/20tons / rock weighing 2700lbs per Cubic yard / 14.29 yards per truck load and rounded up to the nearest Truck load as my extra material, just in case. (SO NO PARTIAL LOADS )

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    ROAD INFORMATION - Its a NEW ROAD CONSTRUCTION right now I need it to be a dirt road, But later on down the road I may decide to do the road in Concrete or pavers. Road Width - is to be 14' wide / Road Length - is approximately 800' - 1000' long (Not sure where house is going,so length is Unkown) / & Road Depth is any where from 6"- 12" deep (Im unsure of how deep the road material needs to be for a new road).

    PROPERTY INFORMATION - Have to cross a 600' of wetlands zone crossing 3 creeks. 1st culvert (6' diameter squashed culvert) is 10' from the main road / 2nd culvert (10' diameter squashed culvert) 300' from main road / 3rd culvert (4' diameter round culvert) 525' from main road. As of now there is ZERO access to get on to property, so culvert needs to be installed just to get a vehicle onto the property. The 2nd culvert /main creek wraps around the road in a C form for approximately 200' of the road. So the creek is on the left and right side of the road for 200'.

    SOIL INFORMATION - Wetlands. Ive been there 2 years and never seen heavy flooding of any type (so if it does flood, its carried away by the creek in less then 12hours time). Usually puddles during the hardest rain is all ive seen, but never actually underwater. Soil seems to drain Very well, did the bucket size holes in the gound in Numerous areas and fill with water test . I havent had a soil tester out there yet to test load bearing, but am assuming the worst based off a soil map for the area that was done within last 5 years.
    So Load Bearing Pressure- is 1,500 (pounds per square foot). Even though I havent seen any real flooding, in the flood zone I would like to put a heavy base down just to play it safe, so that it wont wash away/ easily with water or disappear into the soil.

    Aggregate Location - Surprisingly the Round trip from the source material to the job and Back is 17 miles total.

    ROAD THICKNESS I 6" Deep I 9" Deep I 12" Deep I
    LENGTH

    800' Length 15 Loads 22 Loads 30 Loads
    312 tons 467 tons 623 tons
    1756 Yards 1730 Yards 2307 Yards

    1000'Length 19" Loads 28 Loads 37 Loads
    389 tons 584 tons 778 tons
    1441 Yards 2163 Yards 2882 Yards
    Found 1-3" crush concrete $8 PER ton $3112 $4672 $6224
    Topping Coat undecided

    Called up some truckers to get a delivery quotes per load Just to get the base load out there!
    1st Trucker - Told me $135/NO MATERIALS a Load and has a 25 ton truck and doing the 9" depth at 1000' long @ 23 loads = $3105 + $4672 = $7772
    2nd Trucker - Told me $369 a load + Materials and has a 25 ton truck Doing 9" depth at 1000' long @ 23 loads = $8487
    3rd Trucker - Told me $200/NO MATERIALS and has a 25 ton truck Doing 9" depth at 1000' long @ 23 loads = $4600 + $4672 = $9272

    -Im looking at 9” for the base and 3” for top coat. Thats my thought process on it.
    -All 3 of these companies have gravel trains, but told me they wouldnt want to use a gravel train, because of the road being new with no base!
    -Now I need a bit of guidance with the truck cost. Im under 20 miles round trip and the cheapest guy is telling me $135 per load (Seems high to me!). All trucking companies are within 8 mile radius of the gravel yard.
    -Nearest my location of my current residence a landscape company which has been known to be somewhat higher in price then others in the area. They are a decent size operation in a city like area. They offer a 15yd / 21 tons dump with in 25 mile radius for $67.50 a load. But also have a 30 yd / 42 ton dump $115 a load.

    -So I guess what Im asking is, did I miss something in my math? If not then should I keep looking for a trucking company and if so, should i expand the search more then 20 miles away or what? Im looking for tips and Ideas on how to get the darn shipping cost down. I mean the shipping cost as much as the darn materials and materials are 8-9m iles away from the source. I just cant wrap my head around the cost being 8-12 bucks a dam mile or for one days worth of sitting around in a truck doing 11 loads for the day making 1425-2200 a day.

    -When I do the math for the company near me, if they were out there to do the trucking and I was the full 25 miles distance away from the pit doing a single truck 28 loads for $1890 or a double load $1610.

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