How to Use a Box Blade to Level Your Yard

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a Walco Box Blade

a Walco Box Blade

            A box blade, also known as a box scraper, is one of the ultimate and most useful landscaping tools. Carefully used, box scrapers can create perfectly graded golf greens, dirt racing tracks, fields and trails, but let us first examine how to level your own back yard using a box blade.   Box blades may be used for the removal of roots and trash, removing topsoil to establish driveways, cutting or building grades, and leveling building sites. Preparing grades for drainage, scarifying, or backfilling holes or trenches are other possible applications, but the primary use of a box blade is the uniform spreading of topsoil and gravel, and surface grading to a level condition  in preparation for lawn and turf, be it sod or seed.   To level your yard using a box blade, you require an appropriately sized box blade and tractor. Rent or obtain a unit that is reasonable for the size of your project. Using a 42" lawn-tractor size box blade, it would take weeks to landscape a 20 acre estate-sized project, and if your yard is a small city lot, you would soon realize a huge unit is difficult or impossible to operate properly for lack of room to maneuver.   Box scrapers commonly range from  small 42" units that might be pulled by a small garden tractor or ATV (quad), to much larger 6' and 8' landscaper models that require  powerful wheeled tractors to pull them.   Box scrapers are usually equipped with several removable scarifier "shanks" that are adjustable in height. The shanks serve to rip and loosen the soil to allow the cutting blade to move and level it as the unit is dragged forward. The number of shanks on any box blade is limited by the horsepower available to pull the unit.   It is important to recognize that the horsepower requirement changes substantially with additional shanks, depending upon soil conditions. Your 16 hp 2WD lawn tractor will not pull or operate a 6 foot box scraper with 6 shanks fully extended or not.   A 42" unit pulled by a 16hp garden tractor or quad may have 3  adjustable shanks, while a 6' unit could have 6 or more shanks and require a tractor of 40 hp or bigger to operate it satisfactorily. Depending upon the manufacturer's design and size of the unit, the shanks can be raised and lowered hydraulically, mechanically, or simply by manual adjustment. Smaller box blades designed for use with a small lawn tractor may have wheels adjustable in height to control the depth of cut and thickness of soil spread. Moderately easy to master, box scrapers used by homeowners  are most commonly used for leveling soil to fill holes,  change drainage characteristics,  and create a smooth, attractive graded surface for lawn seeding, landscaping, or surface preparation for sod. As with any do-it-yourself project, the end result depends a great deal upon the skill of the operator.

This is how to level your yard using a box scraper.

  1.      Install the box scraper on the hitch of the tractor. With smaller, wheeled units, there is only a single hitch. Adjust the wheels on the scraper as required. 2.      Larger units are attached by a three-point hydraulic hitch; two lower arms are attached, and the adjustable upper link should be set so the unit sits level. Attach the unit first and then adjust the upper link. Do NOT lower the teeth or shanks until you are on the actual job site. 3.      Check to see if the hydraulic lift is working correctly. Observe all safety precautions when operating tractors and power equipment. Drop the implement slowly to prevent damaging it. 4.      Examine the job site and remove any large logs, sticks, rocks and other impediments to the landscaping project. Place stakes and a safety ribbon around the root area* of any heritage trees that you may wish to protect; a box blade can easily rip out tree roots! (*Hint:   Keep in mind, as a rough guide, the root system of most trees is approximately the same size in diameter as the crown, or branch structure of the tree.) 5.      Always observe  safety protocol  with power equipment and follow manufacturer's instructions.  Work safely.  Move  observers out of the work area, especially curious children-- to a safe location! 6.      Move the equipment onto the site, and if the soil is not spread, you can use the back of the blade as a bulldozer to carefully push down any large piles of imported dirt or gravel if required . Do NOT drive on top of a huge pile of soil, but instead, work safely starting from grade level. Start on one side, moving the material towards the area requiring filling. 7.      Lower the box blade shanks minimally, either hydraulically or otherwise, and drag the area. The idea is to rough-grade the area so you can evaluate the overall existing grade and plan where levels must be built up. Thinking twice and moving the soil only once is a worthy goal for efficient use of your time, especially if you are renting equipment. Taking time to evaluate the rough grade properly first can save time, work and money. 8.      Lift the box with the hydraulic lift and begin developing an even grade, first dragging soil or gravel into the lower areas. Keep your drainage plan in mind as you work Use the hydraulic lift control to maintain a constant grade as much as possible. 9.      For substantially higher areas that require cutting down to grade, lower the shanks and cut the same path several times until the required grade is achieved. Use that grade as a bench mark and begin cutting adjacent areas to the same grade. Run repeat passes as required, and when the overall grade is close to the benchmark elevation, work at right angles on subsequent passes. Do not be concerned with minor defects at this point. 10.      After all major grade corrections are made, raise the shanks and grade the whole area again, dragging the area with the shanks totally retracted or only minimally exposed. Check the grade and slope for conformity to the drainage pattern desired. Remember that all drainage should be sloped away from buildings, walkways and driveways 11.      For the final grading, raise or retract the shanks completely and drag the grade to a smooth condition. When you are finished, the grade should be consistent, sloped as desired,  with no hollows or high spots remaining. If you have been successful, only minimal hand-raking will be required to create a virtually perfect surface for seed or sod.     ## Is that Incoming I hear?  FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

6 Responses to How to Use a Box Blade to Level Your Yard

  1. ROBERT COX says:


    • hi Robert,
      You can generally rent a box blade and tractor from any general equipment rental, from a well-equipped rental outfit like AAA Rent All, they are located at
      55 Nance St,Batesville, AR 72501
      here’s their phone number
      (870) 793-2147

      A hint, If you’re adding more gravel, get the delivery truck to roughly spread it with the tailgate dump instead of dumping it in a pile, that will save you a lot of time too.
      Have fun, and be careful!


  2. Red j says:

    This article over simplifies the use of a box blade. If you have no experience with a box blade, it will take you 40 or 50 hours of use to become proficient. It is a much better idea to hire an experienced tractor operator to complete your leveling job, especially for a lawn. If you have a substantial amount of land and the time, learn yourself and have fun.

    • Redj, that’s a given, we do assume the individuals who might tackle this project and use a box blade already have basic machine and tractor operating skills and common sense knowledge. Over-simplified? Not to people who understand the concept of this piece of equipment and have any experience operating a tractor. The best ‘approach’ to any project? Takes experience and learning, no doubt. Doing a professional job takes practice, and the more experience the better, no doubt about that.

      If anyone feels it may take 40 or 50 hrs. to become proficient, yes, absolutely, it would certainly be smarter, beneficial and more cost-effective to hire a competent, experienced landscaper-operator.
      As with any power equipment with attachments, understanding the equipment, common sense and practice go a long way to completing a project properly with minimal problems. We always encourage homeowners to learn from the pros. Thank you for pointing this out. Good point. ~R

  3. jerry Jorgensen says:

    My property has a lot of rocks, generally 4 to 6 inches in size, but some larger. A lot of the rocks are below the surface and I find them when doing something else like planting trees. I have a large section that I want to grade and smooth. Any tips for using a box blade in rocky soil.

    Once the area is graded, I plan to bring in some top soil before planting grass

    • Hi Jerry,
      Rocks and box blades aren’t always the best combination, so the amount of potential pick and shovel prep work done is always an interesting conundrum.

      A box blade by its very nature will locate, hit, hook and turn out rocks hidden in the soil. Even with the shanks UP, soil will not be spread evenly if rocks are sticking up. If there are any visible rocks do the smart thing, dig them out and remove them first.
      That can be very time-consuming but on a smaller holding, a necessary step. On larger estate-sized plots ie. acres, other options are possible. (Farmers with acreage of rocks usually use a ‘rockpicker’ –a large tractor-size piece of equipment which turns out the rocks and collects them up for disposal–which requires a high-horsepower tractor )

      For an estate-sized project, ie. 10-20 acres you could likely hire or rent a rockpicker to great advantage and save a lot of work . For a normal back yard-it’s usually the manual pick and shovel routine. Perhaps convince someone with a compact excavator to remove very large stones for you. One way or the other, loose surface rock and visible partially-buried stone should be removed before you use the box blade. If there are a lot of them, get some friendly help, stone-picking is heavy work.
      When the surface soil appears to be rock-free, set the shanks quite shallow and scarify the surface soil working slowly and carefully both ways to avoid damage to the shanks and the box blade itself. If no rocks are encountered, you’ll be able to set the shanks progressively deeper and try again, removing any rocks you encounter until the top grade desired.

      Even if you were to import an expensive thick layer of stone-free topsoil and planned to use the box blade to establish your finished grade, it’s still a good idea to remove the surface rocks–which will eventually work their way to the surface.
      I hope that helps…and do use those rocks to build a wonderful stone fence, line a pond or something creative.
      Best of luck with your project!

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