Tired Of A Rutted, Uneven Driveway? Use A Plate Compactor To Get It Right!

If you have a gravel or dirt driveway that is full of ruts and potholes, then you understand the frustration of driving in and out of your property. When it rains, your driveway becomes dotted with miniature ponds, and your shoes and car gets covered in mud. The undulating surface puts extra wear and tear on your suspension and even puts your body at risk by creating a trip hazard. The great news is that you don't have to put in an expensive concrete driveway to solve your problem. By using a rented plate compactor, you can create a firm, level driveway that will last for years with little maintenance. Here is how you can do it yourself:

Materials and equipment needed

  • Plate compactor – these machines use a gasoline-powered engine to vibrate a flat, metal plate that tamps down the working surface.  They are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, but you will need a small unit that is pushed by hand over the surface. While plate compactors are available for purchase, it makes little sense to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy one. Instead, contact your local equipment rental company to rent a professional-quality machine that will provide you with excellent results.
  • Gravel – this can be obtained from a local cement or gravel supplier, and they can deliver it to your property for an additional fee. You will need two types of gravel for this project:
    • Crusher fines – also known as crusher runs or screens, this is a mix of finely crushed gravel and rock dust leftover at the end of the gravel making process. This material will be the base layer for your driving surface.
    • Number 57 gravel – this consists of rock pieces that range from three-fourths of an inch to one inch. This gravel will form your driving surface.
  • String-line level and wooden stakes
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Eye protection
  • Steel-toed boots
  • Face mask
  • Work gloves

Calculating the amount of gravel needed

Before beginning, you will need to determine how much crusher fines and Number 57 gravel you will need:

  1. Measure the length and width of your driveway in feet.
  2. Multiply the length and width to find the surface area of your driveway in square feet.
  3. Divide the surface area of your driveway by three to determine how many cubic feet of crusher fines and Number 57 gravel are needed.

As an example, if you measure the length and width of a driveway, and it is 100 feet long and 12 feet wide, the surface area will be calculated as 1,200 square feet. Divide 1,200 by three, and the result is 400. Thus, you will need 400 cubic feet of crusher fines and 400 cubic feet of Number 57 gravel for a grand total of 800 cubic feet of material.

Preparing the driveway

Once you have your gravel and equipment in-hand, you are ready to get started on your driveway. Be sure to wear your eye protection, face mask, steel-toed boots and work gloves while operating the plate compactor:

  1. Stretch the string-line level across the surface of your existing driveway by tying each end to a wooden stake. Adjust the stakes or strings up and down so that the level reads true.
  2. Using your shovel and rake, move existing dirt, gravel and sand around until the surface is parallel to the string-line level. It doesn't need to be perfect, but the closer to level you can make it, the longer your driveway will last without needing significant repair.
  3. Run the plate compactor over this sub-base of your driveway two to three times until it is firm; if your plate compactor doesn't come with a water tank, spray the sub-base with a garden hose before each run of the compactor. The surface should be damp, but don't saturate the material.
  4. Spread your crusher fines over the top of the compacted base. If you measured correctly, you should be able to build-up a layer that is 4 inches deep across the surface. Use the string-line level to check for a level surface, and build-up or remove crusher fines as needed.
  5. Once you finish spreading and leveling the crusher fines, run the plate compactor over the base material until it is packed firm; this will take two to four runs. As before, spray the crusher fines with a garden hose before each run of the compactor if your machine doesn't come equipped with a water tank.
  6. When the crusher fines are packed, spread Number 57 gravel over the surface of the driveway to a depth of 4 inches. Spray the gravel with water, if necessary, and run the compactor over the gravel another three or four times to firmly pack the materials.
  7. While your driveway should be available to use immediately, avoid driving heavy vehicles, such as multiple-axle trucks and trailers, until the crusher fines and gravel have had a chance to "cement" together after the water dries.

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