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Find solid shop footing

Have a dirt floor in your older shop building and are tired of eating dust whenever you have to do any shop work? Sure, concrete would be great. But, by the time you've got it down, you've also spent a pretty penny.

That's exactly the predicament for Shop Talk member SpringBrookFarm. He knows he needs an upgrade, but doesn't like the look of what concrete will cost him.

"For most of the shop floor, we don't have concrete and really don't want to spend the money on it. But what's there now is just powder dirt and it gets in everything," he says. "Just wondering what other materials have been used for a floor shop other than just dirt and concrete."

So, if you want something better than dirt, but don't feel like you've got the budget for concrete, what are your options? There's asphalt, which itself can be expensive, occasionally have durability issues and can be difficult to keep level when you're driving heavy equipment on it frequently.

Concrete can run up to $12 per square foot, while asphalt can get up to $6 per square foot. Macadam, a combination of crushed stone or gravel and asphalt, can cost up to $5 per square foot installed.

But, at around $25 to $30 per ton for most crushed stone and gravel, these can be cost-efficient solutions if they're installed in the right way, says Successful Farming magazine Machinery Director Dave Mowitz.

"The best alternative to a concrete floor is crushed limestone, especially if you can order the limestone with 'fines,' says Mowitz. "Those fines are smaller bits of stone (smaller aggregate) which fill between the larger stones to provide a more solid base."

Different types of rock and gravel can have different affects on your workspace. That also depends a lot on how you install it, say other Shop Talk members.

"Plain old road gravel will keep the dust down, but the best non-concrete floor I have seen was in a neighbor's shed, where they used a layer of small, crushed white rock," says Shop Talk member Nebrfarmr. "The size is about like your thumbnail or so. What he did was put a layer down, then wet it and drive back and forth over the rock to pack it down into the dust below. He took extra care to keep it level and now it is so firm he can roll around the floor with a big-wheeled creeper with no problem."

If you're looking at using rock and want it packed down tightly, Mowitz says it's important to start with a level surface and, especially in the case of crush limestone, let the rocks' structure do some of the work for you.

"Level the larger stones to provide a solid base. After leveling the stone out, pack it repeatedly with a steel roller, if one's available, or a large tractor without duals," Mowitz says. "Pack entire floor repeatedly with a steel roller or large tractor without duals. The action of repeated packing allows the angled aggregate of limestone to shift and then fit together in a tight mass."

Larger, rounded "river" type rock or gravel works too, but the stones' shape makes it tough for them to interlock like the limestone pieces, Mowitz adds.

"I have seen pea gravel or larger 'river' rock utilized the same way for a shop floor or machinery storage. Its only draw back is that it doesn’t pack as tight as limestone and, as such, can berm up when driven over by large tractors running on single rear tires or by turning steering wheels," Mowitz says.

Once you have the rock down, make sure to protect against potential dust issues. "I have not heard of any corrosion problems resulting from the use of limestone on a floor," Mowitz adds. "You can certainly wash your packed limestone down to remove dust. And doing so actually helps pack the stone together."

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