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How to lay a gravel driveway

How to lay a gravel driveway

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

248 guides

Gravel driveways can be laid in a few different ways depending on the size and the slope of your land, and the types of vehicles expected to use the driveway. The main steps involve excavating and levelling the land before laying coarse compacted gravel, gravel grids, geoxtextile membrane and finally decorative gravel.
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There are several ways to lay a gravel driveway and the method you choose depends on the result you're after and the layout of your land, as well as any future plans you may have for the area. For example, methods will differ if you have:

  • a driveway that will be tarmacked at a later date. In this case, do not use decorative gravel (10/14mm); it's best to lay a larger aggregate (0/31.5 mm) sub base that can be compacted;
  • sloping land: in this case you will have to level the land using a mini digger;
  • a driveway where cars will always pass over the same spot: in this case, you won't have to lay gravel grids over the whole surface – simply lay the geotextile membrane and grids where the tyres will pass.
The length of time it take to carry out the work and your budget will also vary depending on the method you choose and the size of the driveway.

4 methods for laying a gravel driveway

There are four main methods to lay a gravel driveway:

  1. Laying a gravel driveway with gravel grids without excavating
  2. Laying an excavated gravel driveway with gravel grids
  3. Laying the driveway by digging two trenches
  4. Laying a gravel and tarmac driveway
No matter which method you choose, the steps to mark out the driveway are the same.

Gravel type

Gravel size

Number of kg / m² per 5cm thickness (minimum)

Average price for 1.5 ton bulk bag

Use

Granite

10/14 mm

75 kg / m²

£80

Decorative, driveway and garden, compactable

Pink gravel

10/14 mm

75 kg / m²

£95

Decorative, driveway and garden, compactable

Limestone

10/14 mm

75 kg / m²

£115

Decorative, driveway and garden, compactable

Grey limestone

0/31.5 mm

80 kg / m²

£40

Mix sand and gravel for optimal sub base compaction

Each part of the country has its own type of local gravel which usually costs less than traditional decorative gravels.

If you are laying decorative gravel over honeycomb gravel grids, you'll need a minimum thickness of 5 cm. However, we'd recommend laying at least 8 cm of 10-14mm gravel.

As gravel grids will generally measure 3 cm in height, you'll only have 2 cm of gravel above the grid if you lay 5 cm. This may not be enough – when vehicles pass over the driveway the gravel will move and may expose the gravel grid beneath. An 8cm layer will give you a more comfortable and attractive finish.

  • Mark out the perimeter of the driveway using string and stakes, line marking paint or even a chalk line if your ground is hard and compact.
  • Mark out the width of an average car along the length of your future driveway using the centre point between each tyre. This should be about 150 cm. If you have a wider car than standard, measure the distance between the tyres at the centre point.
  • Mark the ground using a chalk line or lay string along the driveway where the tyres will pass.

This method will raise the ground level up to the height of the gravel.

1. Position your gravel grids

  • Lay out your gravel grids along the length of the lines you previously marked out.
  • Cut your grids to size using secateurs, a saw or a 125mm angle grinder if required.
Gravel grids or stabilisers are honeycomb-shaped grids designed to hold the gravel in place inside the hollows of the grid. You might choose to cover the entire driveway with gravel grids for a more secure foundation.

2. Lay the geotextile membrane

  • Unroll the geotextile membrane and position it over the entire driveway except where the gravel grids will sit.
  • Cut the edges of the material so that they overhang slightly (if you are planning to lay a cement border).
The geotextile membrane can be replaced by gravel grids placed over the entire surface, especially if you are laying a larger gravel driveway where cars won't necessarily follow the same route.

3. Lay the gravel and level the driveway

  • Lay the gravel as evenly as possible over the driveway so it is easier to level out.
  • Level out the gravel using a rake so you end up with a thickness of 5 or 8 cm across the entire surface. Check the height of the gravel in several spots.

This method won't involve increasing the height of your driveway.

1. Excavate the driveway

  • Excavate about 8 cm over the entire surface of the driveway.
  • Dig the edges using a spade for a neater finish and to make it easier to lay edging later on.
Depending on the size and layout of your driveway, you may need to hire a mini digger to excavate as well as a dump truck to dispose of the soil you remove.

2. Lay the geotextile membrane

  • Unroll the geotextile membrane and position it over the entire driveway except where the gravel grids will sit.
  • Cut the edges of the material so that they overhang slightly (if you are planning to lay a cement border).
  • Lay your gravel grids where the car tyres will pass.
The geotextile membrane can be replaced by gravel grids placed over the entire surface, especially if you are laying a larger gravel driveway where cars won't necessarily follow the same route.

3. Lay the gravel and level the driveway

  • Lay the gravel as evenly as possible over the driveway so it is easier to level out.
  • Use a rake to level out the gravel across the surface of the driveway. Check the height of the gravel in several spots.

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Garden edging and borders

Side view

This method won't involve increasing the height of your driveway.

1. Excavate the soil

  • Dig two 15cm-deep trenches measuring about 50 cm in width along the entire length of the driveway. This is where the car tyres will pass.
  • Lay a strip of geotextile membrane in the base of the trenches
  • allowing the material to cover the edges of the trenches.

2. Prepare the sub base

  • Cover the geotextile membrane with a 15cm layer of coarse gravel along the length of both trenches.
  • Rake the gravel.
  • Compact the surface using a tamper or plate compactor.
  • Cover the entire driveway with more geotextile membrane. This time, be sure to trim down the edges so it does not overhang.

It is not necessary to fill in the trenches with decorative gravel – coarse 0/31.5mm gravel will suffice. In fact, this type of gravel is easier to compact and will provide a more stable base.

3. Lay the gravel and level the driveway

  • Cover the geotextile membrane with a top layer of decorative gravel.
  • Spread the gravel as best you can
  • using a rake to level it out to your desired height across the surface of the driveway. Check the height of the gravel in several spots.
Beware that the finished level of this layer will be 5 to 8 cm greater than the initial height. If you want to keep the original level of your driveway, you will need to dig down the total height of your gravel layer.

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Tampers

This process is the longest and costliest, but also provides the most durable surface and can be carried out for any type of terrain. The steps set out below apply only to spaces used for lightweight vehicles. If your driveway has to deal with heavier vehicles, add an initial sloping layer of coarse 0/60mm gravel over geotextile membrane then lay 15 cm of coarse 0.31.5mm gravel (compacted using a plate compactor) before adding a 5cm layer of tarmac over the top. Factor in about £45-65 / m² for tarmacking a drive. If you prefer, the tarmacked layer can be replaced by 5 to 8 cm of decorative limestone gravel (10-14 mm).

Side view

This method won't involve increasing the height of your driveway.

1. Excavate the driveway and lay membrane

  • Excavate about 25 cm making sure to leave a slope to carry rainfall away from your home's foundations.Excavate the entire driveway area making it as square as possible. The level to which you dig down will depend on the finished height you want for the driveway. The total depth of the materials (including tarmac and/or decorative gravel) is roughly 25-30 cm.
  • Finish the edges with a spade for a straighter finish which will make it easier to fit garden borders later on.
  • Lay geotextile membrane over the base. If you are joining strips of geotextile membrane, do so in the direction of the slope.
You will need to hire a mini digger to excavate as well as a dump truck to dispose of the soil you remove.

2. Lay the gravel sub base

  • Cover the geotextile membrane with coarse 0-31.5mm gravel over the entire surface at a depth of 20 cm. Spread the gravel over the surface using a rake to ensure it is as level as possible.
  • Level out the gravel with the rake and check that the layer is even.
  • Compact the gravel over the entire surface using a plate compacter or tamper.
  • Check the surface is level using a straight edge and spirit level as required.
0/31.5mm gravel is the best option for driveways that will be tarmacked over. Create a slope as you are excavating to direct rainwater away from the house and position your geotextile membrane in the direction of the flow to aid drainage.

3. Tarmac the driveway or lay decorative gravel

You can either tarmac over the sub base or cover it with honeycomb gravel grids and lay decorative gravel such as 10-14mm limestone gravel. In either case, you cannot simply lay the grids for the tyre tracks – you will need to lay gravel grids over the entire driveway.

The advantage of preparing the 20cm sub layer is that if the driveway has to be tarmacked at a later date, you just need to lift the decorative gravel layer to do so.

Required skills

  • Taking accurate measurements.
  • Using a spirit level.
  • Being physically fit.
  • Using a mini digger (if required).

Time required

  • Depends on chosen method and size of driveway.

Number of people required

  • 1 or 2 people

Tools and equipment

You don't need a special licence to hire or use a mini digger. However, both DIYers and tradespeople can always benefit from training courses on how to operate this type of machinery.

Safety and workwear

Please note: this is a non-exhaustive list; be sure to match your personal protective equipment to the job at hand.
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Workwear

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Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter, 248 guides

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

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