How To: Create a Gravel Driveway
A gravel driveway can be a classic, low-maintenance, and inexpensive addition to a home. It complements a range of house styles and—even better—is a reasonable undertaking for a determined DIYer. Here are the basics.
A gravel driveway can be very attractive in a characteristically unpretentious way, introducing casual curb appeal to the first and last element of your home that a visitor sees. Throughout the United States, gravel remains a perennially popular driveway material, not only for its aesthetics, but also for its relatively low cost in comparison with the alternatives. Furthermore, whereas poured concrete or patterned brick typically require professional installation, even a somewhat novice DIYer can install a gravel driveway successfully on his own, without having to pay for either design consultation or skilled labor.
Though it’s possible to cut corners, a well-made gravel driveway usually consists of three layers. In this striated approach, the bottom layer features six-inch-diameter crushed rock, while smaller, two- or three-inch stones form the middle layer. Only the third layer, the surface, comprises what most of us would recognize as true gravel. Here, eschew smooth stones in favor of rough, angular ones, because these can be depended upon to provide a firmer, more stable gravel driveway surface.
Using landscape stakes in combination with string or twine, define the path you wish the gravel driveway to take from the curb all the way to its end point. Next comes a labor-intensive proposition: To prepare the way for the gravel, you must remove any grass or topsoil from the marked-off area. If you’d rather not do this manually, consider bringing in a bulldozer—and someone to operate it—to make quicker work of this unglamorous but essential stage of the project.
Having cleared a path for the gravel driveway, now you need to calculate the volume of stones you’ll need. To do so, you’ll need to determine the number of cubic yards each layer will occupy. Start by measuring the length and width (in feet) of the driveway you’ve laid out, then multiply these two numbers together to find your driveway’s square footage. So, if the width is 10 feet and the length is 15 feet, your driveway will be 150 square feet. Multiply that number by the desired depth of each layer to get the number of cubic feet of stone you’ll need for each layer. The recommended height for each layer is four to six inches. If you want a four-inch layer, divide the square footage by 3 (because four inches is one-third of a foot). Now that you’ve calculated the necessary volume of stone in cubic feet, convert that number to cubic yards by dividing by 27 (because there are 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard). Our 150-square-foot example is 50 cubic feet, or approximately 1.8 cubic yards (50 divided by 27), per layer. You’ll need about 1.4 tons of stone per cubic yard, plus four percent to account for compaction. So 1.8 x 1.4 x 1.04 equals your total order of stones (in tons) for one layer.
Think strategically when it comes to scheduling the delivery of the stones for your gravel driveway. (Also, bear in mind that some gravel delivery trucks are capable of not merely dropping off the stones, but also spreading them.) It’s best to schedule separate deliveries for each of the three driveway layers. Further, it’s recommended that you stagger the deliveries a few days apart, so you have time to address each layer in turn. If you’re spreading the gravel manually, prepare yourself for the job by assembling the right tools: a heavy-duty wheelbarrow, a shovel with a sturdy trough, and a rake with metal tines.
Before the first gravel delivery truck arrives at your property, it’s important to even out the dirt in the path of the driveway. Depending on the area of your driveway, you can handle this work with your own tools or by enlisting the help of a professional with a backhoe. Are you planning to lay down a weed barrier? Do it after you’ve finished smoothing out the ground; take pains to ensure that the fabric doesn’t bunch up.
The bottom layer of the gravel driveway, of course, goes in first. Once you have spread these six-inch stones over the driveway area in a single, interlocking layer, ideally you’d bring in a bulldozer to compact the stones with its roller. Failing that, so long as you don’t think you’ll imperil the tires, drive over the base layer repeatedly with your car (or a neighbor’s truck). The object here is to pack the crushed rocks into the soil beneath, creating as strong a foundation for your gravel driveway as possible.
Next comes the middle layer of two- to three-inch stones. In a perfect world, the gravel delivery truck would spread this layer for you, but whether or not that’s possible, the edges of the driveway are first going to need a little TLC. Neaten the perimeters with a shovel and rake and, if necessary, your gloved hands.
Finally, introduce the surface layer of gravel. To facilitate rainwater drainage, grade the stones in such a way that they peak in the middle of the driveway and incline slightly to the sides. Every few months, you may wish to use a rake to restore this peak. Likewise, you may need to neaten the edges from time to time. But for the most part, the gravel driveway you’ve now completed is—and will remain—a low-maintenance affair.