Grade School: Skid Steer Blades, Box Scrapers and Rakes Tackle Soil Preparation

Contractors use many tools and attachments for grading, leveling and removing debris from a site. Each one offers its own unique features and benefits to specific applications, not to mention pricing. A few such attachments for site preparation, restoration, leveling and more include the skid steer grader blade, skid steer box scraper and powered landscape rake.

Grader Blade

Skid steer grader blades are the ideal tool for the contractor looking to control the finished grade to within 1/4 of an inch. These units may be operated with or without a laser system depending on the accuracy required. Generally speaking, most models have similar features and specifications. Skid steer grader blades feature a steel moldboard located beneath the frame and gauge wheels in the front to assist with its operation. The blade is adjustable through hydraulic cylinders that allow the operator to control the height, tilt and angle of the blade while it is in operation. Some grader blades are equipped with a laser system allowing the operator very precise control over the grading operation.

The moldboard is designed to create a flat level surface, and most times the skid steer grader is operated as a means of finishing the grade that was started by other site prep tools. Some contractors use the grader blade as a tool to create better drainage next to farm lanes or access roads by allowing the blade to create shallow ditches to control water drainage.

A skid steer grader blade is operated, either manually or with a laser, by lowering it to the height at which the grade is to be set. It then pushes any higher material as the unit moves forward. During this forward movement the grader smooths down or moves any excess material to the side of the moldboard. By angling the moldboard, excess material moves away from the blade, leaving a small ridge of material, which will be leveled with the next pass. When laser control is used, the laser system controls the movement of the moldboard through the cylinders by continually making the smallest of adjustments to maintain the grade.

Grader blade models can range in price from $10,000 to $12,000, and if a laser control system or GPS is added the cost can increase by another $10,000 to $15,000.

Box Scraper

Another tool that assists contractors in controlling the finished grade is a skid steer box scraper or grading box. These units may also be operated with or without a laser, and some brands also can interface with a GPS unit. They are designed to control the depth of the material being moved and are generally a ridged angle mount. The grader box is mounted under the unit’s frame with gauge wheels in the front, providing stability and balance. When operating the unit in manual or laser/GPS mode, the cutting edge is lowered to the grade height and the unit is driven forward with the box, gathering material that is being spread or removed from the area. The material is pushed forward and smoothed with any excess material deposited at the edge of the worksite.

When using a laser system to control the depth, the grading box hydraulics are controlled to maintain the position of the cutting edge. When driving the unit forward, the automatic control system (laser) constantly senses the laser beam and uses that information to keep the cutting edge at the required height. Costs for a skid steer box scraper or grading box range from $12,000 to $19,000, with laser/GPS systems costing an additional $10,000 to $15,000.

skid steer powered landscape rak

A skid steer powered landscape rake (also known as a power box rake) is a versatile tool allowing the operator to grade, level, rake and remove debris to prepare the seedbed.

Powered Landscape Rake

When doing a landscape project, one of the first tasks is to create manageable dirt. A skid steer powered landscape rake (also known as a power box rake) is a versatile tool allowing the operator to grade, level, rake and remove debris to prepare the seedbed.

Skid steer models range from 5 to 8 ft in width and are equipped with a roller (rotor) that is hydraulically driven. The rotor is equipped with teeth generally of carbide (some use a composite material) which are welded in a pattern to loosen or work the soil, providing the release of the optimal amount of moisture from the soil, preparing it for seed or sod. The power rake is equipped with a material bar which can be adjusted by the operator to determine the amount of material that is allowed to flow over the rotor and remain in the seedbed. Controlling the size of material allowed to flow over the rotor determines the size of rocks, roots or debris that are removed. They also have end plates that when installed can gather the material that is moved by the power rake to the end or edge of the work area for removal.

When pulverizing topsoil, such as compacted soil or hardened baseball diamonds, the power rake is positioned to take the gauge wheels off the ground so only the toothed roller is contacting the ground. In this manner, it performs in a tilling fashion to loosen the soil. Once the surface has been loosed, the process of removing debris can start. Generally when removing debris, the material bar is set close to the toothed roller to reduce the amount of rock and debris that is allowed to move over the roller. The gauge wheels are used to set the operating depth of the toothed rotor. With the side shields installed as the unit moves forward, the debris is collected and moved to the end of the work area for pickup. The power rake can set at an angle to windrow the debris or straight to move the debris to the end of the work area.

Powered landscape rakes can also be used to spread fill or topsoil prior to finish grading. During the finishing process, the roller is set so the teeth are barely touching the surface, and as the unit moves it creates dimples in the surface, creating small water pockets to help with seed growth. Powered landscape rakes range in price from $8,000 to $12,000.

Mike Kloster is the president of Worksaver Inc.

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