I recently got an email from a reader essentially asking me one question: Are snowblowers safe to use on a gravel driveway?
Kelly and his family recently moved from the city out to a more rural area. They don’t live far off of a country road, but their driveway is made up of packed gravel rock. They already have a snowblower but were concerned that using it might be dangerous.
I wrote back an answer to Kelly, but thought it might be worth it to share the info with everyone.
Certain Snowthrowers ARE Dangerous on Gravel
Most people wouldn’t think about using their lawnmower on a gravel road, unless they are on Mythbusters or have a death wish! Imagine the high speed projectiles flying out of your machine, causing damage to both property and people.
Yet certain styles of snowblowers are nothing more than lawnmowers turned on their axis from a mechanical standpoint. Instead of a mower blade, you have an auger that throws out snow through the chute.
That auger is spinning fast, and can project any debris out the chute just like a lawnmower could.
The Solution: A Two Stage Snowblower
Did you know that there are two types of snowblowers? We won’t go into all the details of the differences here, but if you are looking to safely use a snowthrower on your gravel driveway, you need a two-stage machine.
Single stage snowblowers are the type whose augers, the spinning spiral part of the snowblower, touch the ground. This means it picks up and throws at a high speed EVERYTHING on the ground – snow, rocks, Lego toys your kids left out – whatever is there.
Two-stage (or three-stage if you really want to know) throwers usually have adjustable heights for the auger housing. There are typically three settings for these two stage snowblowers. While there’s no industry standard for labels, most have categories along the lines of Normal, Packed Snow, and Transport. Normal is the mid level for the auger, while Packed Snow has the auger dig deeper to get as much snow as possible. DO NOT USE THIS SETTING!
Transport is not a usual setting for actually using the machine. It is used to help move, or transport, it from place to place without the auger getting stuck on the ground. This is the setting we want to use to keep the front of the blower as high as possible. If you have this setting, use it to give the most wiggle room on a gravel road. If you don’t, use normal with as high an adjustment as possible.
Snowblower Safety Requires Patience
Royal Reynolds is the man in the above video. He’s able to use his snowblower on a gravel road with no problem thanks to two things: His two stage snowblower being set to the “Transport” setting, allowing the auger to not dig into the gravel, and the skids on each side of the auger housing. The skids are two plastic plates set on either side of the metal shovel-shaped housing around the auger and bolted in to allow adjustments, giving the auger a buffer against the ground.
It’s up to you to set the augers in the correct position, however. There is no “one size fits all” in this case, since different heights are required for different roads. Practice is required to make this happen, and the best way to start would be to set the skids at the highest position, and go down a few millimeters at a time until you have a good one inch of packed snow above the gravel. Keeping a bit of snow on top of the gravel is a good way to keep to a minimum the amount of pebbles caught in your snowblower. Another detail that Roy mentions is the use of tracks on his snowblower, rather than a single wheel as is default, which helps keep the snowblower level.
Mr. Reynolds mentions he uses the Troy Bilt Storm Tracker 2690 in his video. That model might be a bit of overkill unless you have a moderate to long driveway. We do have a comprehensive guide to helping you buy the best snowblower for your situation that you should check out if you want more choices and information. There are choices that fit in most budgets.
Thinking Outside The Box
While not for everyone, here’s an alternative for those who either can’t afford an expensive snowblower or for simple convenience. A snow plow can be attached to a tractor lawn mower, allowing for year round use of one machine, or an ATV, for those that love to do sick stunts but don’t want to put down a ton of money for a snowblower. Make sure you dial in the height of the atv plow, or you might just end up digging up gravel as you drive.
In the end, while using your snowblower on gravel is a dangerous prospect, with practice, patience, and the right tools, it can be done safely and efficiently. Remember the most important things that your snowblower must have to properly be used on gravel: A two-stage mechanism and adjustable skids. If you have any questions about anything said here, be sure to comment below.