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How to Create a Low-Maintenance, All-Gravel Driveway

Use a chip seal paving technique to get a classic driveway look that stands up to plowing and doesn't require annual raking and replenishment

Q: We'd like to have a gravel driveway, but we also need to be able to plow it in the winter. Is that possible? —roland boucher, Weston, Mass.

Roger Cook replies: Sure, if you use a paving technique called chip sealing. Basically, it's just a layer of washed stone embedded in a tar-like substance sprayed over asphalt. (It won't work on concrete.) But when the paving crew is finished, usually in a couple of hours, you have what looks like an upscale, all-gravel driveway without gravel's maintenance headaches: There's no raking stones out of the yard or adding new ones every year. And when it snows, the surface can be cleared with care using a plow or a snowblower, just like regular pavement.

This job must be done in dry weather—after the ground gets above 50 degrees F and before the leaves fall—by a paving pro with experience handling the hot tar, heavy machines, and tons of stone that chip sealing requires. Here's what to expect when a crew shows up at your house.

Note: Not a DIY project. Requires a paving crew of eight, heavy machinery, and specialized equipment for heating and applying bitumen.

Step 1

Apply the Bitumen

Photo by Keller + Keller

Before the crew arrives, remove any weeds or moss and sweep the driveway clean with a broom. Hot tar can't stick to wet pavement, so the paving contractor will schedule the work for a dry day. The crew starts the process by using a long wand to apply an even, ¼-inch coat of MC3000 bitumen heated to 190 degrees F.

Step 2

Dump the Stone

Photo by Keller + Keller

As soon as the bitumen is down, the wheelbarrow crew hauls dry stone from a dump truck and unloads it onto the hot tar. The material used for this project—tan peastone—is a popular choice. Other colors and types, including crushed stone, can also be used, as long as the stone is washed and screened to ⅜ inch or less.

Step 3

Spread the Stone

Photo by Keller + Keller

Following right behind the wheel-barrows, crew members with wooden lutes spread the stone over the tar, making an even layer about a half inch thick. This step must be done quickly, before the tar cools. Stones that fall outside the driveway's edge should be raked or swept back.

Step 4

Roll the Surface

Photo by Keller + Keller

Once the stones are spread, a multi-tire pneumatic roller machine is driven back and forth over the stones to press them firmly into the bitumen. (A pavement roller with a steel wheel would crush the stones.) When the rolling is done, the driveway is ready for use.