Tell me about your experiences using a Snow Blower on a Gravel Driveway
February 2, 2015 10:44 AM   Subscribe

The snow is winning. We are surrounded. We can barely see over the drifts, and we are down to our last bag of Funyuns. The cats still expect us to go out and get them food. It's getting dark in here, and the guy we hired to plow and shovel this year may actually be a turncoat working for Winter. Tell me about snow blowers and gravel driveways, and snow blowers in general.

For years now, I've been shoveling our ridiculously long driveway out by hand, with the occasional assist from my next door neighbor's son, and the next door neighbor as well. Sadly, time marches on, and son has gone off to do frivolous crap like college. This year, my housemate has a new job that requires her to be able to commute an hour each way, so my time honored method of taking public transportation and just ignoring the white stuff until evening is no longer an option. With this in mind, we decided that this would be the year to have this handled professionally, and hired a local youngish college aged kid with his own company to take care of the driveway so we could get out in a Snow Event.

Turns out Massachusetts is having a rough year week, and the kid we hired didn't show up in time for the first smallish snow fall (I handled it). Then he didn't show up in time to handle most of the insane blizzard second snow fall. When he did, he pushed the snow from my driveway across the street onto my neighbor's lawn. They were understandably unhappy. I told him not to do it again, in person, this morning. GUESS WHAT? Yeah. He did it again. I just spent an hour undigging what his plow had done, and I am pretty pissed off, since the idea was to spend money, but at least be rested and unstressed -- not spend money and be wet, cold, exhausted, and at war with angry neighbors.

I have resisted a snow blower up until this point because the driveway is long long long, narrow, and made of big heavy chunks of purple gravel the size of a toddler's fist. The drive passes between the house on one side, and a thin line of bushes on the other, meaning we don't have a lot of space to put the snow, and it can become pretty narrow when there is a lot of it on the ground to move around. I've also have had a terror that if I bought a snow blower I would 1) destroy my windows and shingles on the house with flying rocks, maybe hit the neighbors car and our own as well and 2) mangle myself horribly in some ghastly blade related snow removal incident, or 3) LOSE AN EYE.

Today might be the end of that resolve, however. I ask you, metafilter, do you have a snow blower that you use on a gravel driveway? What is this like, and how do you do it safely and efficiently without harm to body or property? Do rocks fly everywhere? We can't really afford to lose much more gravel, as it is already down to the earth in some spots, and when we priced out paving it, it came in at approximately eighty bajillion dollars.

Bonus question: Any snow blowers you recommend? For a middle aged short woman faced with a driveway long enough to park five cars in single file, as well as a front and back walk?
posted by instead of three wishes to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've never owned one, but at my last house I regularly borrowed my elderly (but not frail) neighbor's snow blower and did both my gravel driveway and his. During operation you have some control as to how deeply the scoop bites, so with practice you can keep it skimming just above the gravel most of the time. Nevertheless you will throw some rocks around with it, and in the spring you'll be picking them out of the grass. There'll be a crank that allows you to swivel the chute around to point the snow where you want it to go, and you'll be reaching for that crank frequently. You shouldn't shoot it at houses, cars or people. If you occasionally clear your neighbor's sidewalk then they might be understanding if you have to put some of your snow in their yard. The size/power of the snowblower you want will depend on how deep and heavy you expect the snow to be. A good snowblower will make the job much easier than shoveling, but you'll have to dress very warmly (expect airborne snow to be flying back into your face at times), and deal with storage space, mothballing it properly in spring (so that it starts again the following winter) and repairs.

Have you considered shopping around for a better snow plow guy instead?

Also, paving might be expensive but a truckload of additional gravel probably isn't. A competent dump-truck driver should be able to lay down a reasonably even layer for you.
posted by jon1270 at 11:18 AM on February 2, 2015

We have a long gravel driveway, and our neighbor has been kindly snowblowing it for us with no evidence of any gravel flying. It doesn't clear ALL the snow off the ground, just the majority of it, so it isn't going down to the gravel level.

As for ghastly incidents, as an ER physician, all I can say is NEVER reach into the snowblower for any reason. All the snowblower incidents I have ever seen are related to people reaching into snowblowers to remove stuck branches or rocks in them. Even if you turn the snowblower off first, when you remove the item that's stuck, it can still spin and chop off a finger. /public service announcement
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:21 AM on February 2, 2015 [8 favorites]

For a gravel drive you'll do better with a two stage snow blower, you can typically adjust those as to how close to the ground the auger comes (thereby avoiding throwing a lot of stones). In addition, most two stage blowers are self propelled, a real plus in deeper snow. That said, I just cleared my drive area of 17 inches of snow (on top of dirt and gravel) with a single stage snow blower and I'm old as the hills. So, anything is better than a shovel, but a two stage,self propelled is what you want to shop for.
posted by HuronBob at 11:37 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OK, so this is us, albeit in Delaware (i.e. less snow), and I've learned a lot over the past few years since asking this question. Here's what I can tell you:

1) You can use a two-stage snowblower on gravel, but you need to be sure to set it high (for us, about an inch above a smooth surface (i.e. the floor of the shed) works pretty well.) You really want a two-stage snowblower, and if you often get heavy snow, I'd recommend a 208CC or larger motor. I think ours is a 26" model, but if I had it to do over (and a big budget), I'd get bigger and more powerful.

1b) If you're not especially strong, and your budget permits, I'd recommend one of the models with "power steering." If you have a gravel driveway, and especially some tight turns, a snowblower can require a bit of manhandling.

1c)The skids that come with most snowblowers aren't great, but I got "ArmorSkids," which are essentially a bigger skid, and they help A LOT. Home Depot sells them online. Be careful; they sell individual skids instead of the pair you need. I don't know why.

2) You're going to throw some rocks, so be sure to aim carefully. They don't fly very fast, so they probably won't hurt anything, but I wouldn't want to hit a window or person. It's pretty easy (with just a bit of practice) to control where the snow goes unless it's very windy.

3) You're going to get gravel stuck in the auger. Follow treehorn+bunny's advice, and do NOT reach in. The plastic bar that comes with the snowblower is useless, so invest in a crowbar that you keep with the snowblower. When it gets stuck, use the crowbar (not your hand!) to get the auger loose. Do NOT reach in if the auger is stuck.

4) Plan on breaking a lot of shear pins when you get the auger stuck. That's what they're there for, and they're easy to replace, but buy a few extra. Make sure the augers are not stuck before reaching in to replace the shear pin; significant rotational force can be built up in a stuck auger, and you could lose a finger. Just to reiterate, treehorn+bunny's advice is very very good advice.

5) This is pretty rough on the snowblower, and ours (we got the Craftsman that was the Consumer Reports Best Buy when we bought it) looks older than it is. Think of it as the cost of having a gravel driveway.

6) If you don't know how to use a snowblower, it's ideal to have someone show you how. I had loaned ours to a neighbor a few years ago (when we had lots of heavy, wet snow), and I suggested she probably wanted to use the 1st gear (i.e. the lowest speed) because of the heavy snow. I didn't think to mention to her that the motor should still be on the fastest speed, and after 3-4 hours of her clearing her (admittedly long) driveway, I went out to check what was going on. Once I realized what was going on, I felt terrible that I hadn't provided more advice (and I insisted on finishing the rest.)

I hope this helps, but having gone through this not so many years ago, let me know if I can help. Again, TL;DR: 2-stage, set it high, and don't reach in. Also, don't reach in!
posted by JMOZ at 12:12 PM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

We don't do the snow blowing, our landlord does, but we also have the long gravel driveway issue, as well as the narrow bits. Your goal is not to get the driveway clear, your goal is to build a good solid snow pack above the gravel. Basically, as long as you are scrupulous about aiming the snow away from anything that would mind getting hit by a rock, you will probably be ok. But do have a veteran show you what to do, because I do feel this task requires a bit of experience. I wouldn't be comfortable just doing it out of the blue.
posted by telepanda at 12:30 PM on February 2, 2015

Seconding don't aim the snow at anything that would mind being hit by a rock. Our neighbor broke one of our basement windows snowblowing his gravel driveway.
posted by dfan at 3:15 PM on February 2, 2015

My snowblower is 30". The guy who sold it to me would have recommended a wider one for your longer driveway. They tend to be big and require a lot of garage or shed space.

As an alternate, you could get some sort of lawn tractor/ATV machine with a plow blade. Or, park your cars at the end of the drive when it snows. Or get a better plowing service.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:27 PM on February 2, 2015

What ever snow blower you decide to go with, always buy the next bigger size and a more powerful one, than you think you need. Buy a quality one. I'm not in any way affiliated with but they have usually the best prices and shipping. They can also answer any questions you may have.
posted by JohnE at 10:40 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

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