How to Lay a Tarmac Driveway

Tarmac driveways, also known as asphalt or blacktop driveways, are a popular choice for homeowners due to their durability, cost-effectiveness, and attractive appearance.

This versatile paving solution offers several benefits, such as ease of installation, low maintenance requirements, and a long lifespan.

In addition, tarmac driveways provide excellent resistance to various weather conditions and can be easily repaired if damaged.

In this article, we will guide you through the process of laying a tarmac driveway, enabling you to enjoy the many advantages that this paving option has to offer.

Materials Required for Laying a Tarmac Driveway

  1. Tarmac (asphalt): The primary material for the driveway, available in different grades and types to suit your specific needs.
  2. Crushed stone: Used for creating a stable sub-base, ensuring proper drainage and providing a strong foundation for the tarmac layer.
  3. Edging materials: These can be concrete, brick, or stone, and are used to define the boundaries of the driveway, providing a clean finish and preventing the tarmac from spreading.

How much does a tarmac driveway cost?

Necessary Tools to Lay a Tarmac Driveway

  1. Shovels: Essential for digging and removing any existing driveway material, as well as for spreading the crushed stone and tarmac.
  2. Rakes: Useful for leveling the sub-base and spreading the tarmac evenly across the driveway.
  3. Compactor (plate or roller): Required for compacting the sub-base and the tarmac layers, ensuring a stable and long-lasting driveway.
  4. Tarmac spreader (lute or asphalt rake): A specialized tool for spreading and leveling the tarmac, helping to achieve a smooth and even surface.

By gathering these materials and tools, you’ll be well-prepared to lay a durable and attractive tarmac driveway.

Driveway Site Preparation

Importance of site preparation: Proper site preparation is crucial for laying a tarmac driveway, as it ensures a stable and long-lasting foundation.

A well-prepared site minimizes the risk of future issues such as sinking, cracking, and water pooling, which can compromise the driveway’s integrity and appearance.

Removing Existing Driveway or Vegetation

  1. Start by marking the boundaries of the new driveway using stakes and string.
  2. If an old driveway or pavement exists, remove it by breaking up the surface with a jackhammer or sledgehammer and clearing away the debris.
  3. For areas with grass or vegetation, dig out the organic material with a shovel, ensuring a depth of at least 6-8 inches to accommodate the sub-base and tarmac layers.

Leveling and compacting the ground

  1. Once the site is cleared, use a rake or shovel to level the ground, removing any high spots or filling in any low areas.
  2. Check for evenness using a level or a straight edge. The ground should have a slight slope (around 1-2%) to allow for proper water drainage.
  3. Compact the soil using a plate compactor or roller, ensuring a firm and even surface for the sub-base layer. This step is crucial for preventing future settling or shifting of the driveway.

By thoroughly preparing the site, you’ll lay the groundwork for a successful tarmac driveway installation, increasing its lifespan and maintaining its visual appeal.

Installing The Driveway Sub-base

Purpose of the sub-base

The sub-base serves as a stable foundation for the tarmac driveway, supporting the weight of vehicles and distributing it evenly.

It also provides a level and well-draining surface that prevents water from pooling and causing damage to the tarmac layer.

Recommended materials for the sub-base include crushed stone or aggregates, such as Type 1 MOT (Ministry of Transport) or similar materials that offer good compaction and drainage properties.

How do I work out how much sub-base I need?

To work out how much sub-base you need use this simple formula: Length of driveway x width x depth of sub-base or you can visit our type 1 mot calculator

Laying and Compacting the Sub-base Material

  1. Spread a layer of crushed stone or aggregate (approximately 4-6 inches deep) over the leveled and compacted ground, ensuring even coverage across the entire driveway area.
  2. Use a rake to level the sub-base material and create the desired slope for proper drainage.
  3. Compact the sub-base material using a plate compactor or roller, making multiple passes to ensure a firm and stable foundation. You may need to add additional crushed stone or aggregate and re-compact as necessary to achieve the desired depth and compaction.

Ensuring proper drainage

Proper drainage is crucial for the longevity of a tarmac driveway, as standing water can weaken the tarmac and cause damage over time.

When preparing the sub-base, ensure a slight slope (around 1-2%) away from any buildings or structures to direct water runoff.

The use of well-draining materials like crushed stone or aggregates for the sub-base also helps prevent water from accumulating beneath the tarmac layer.

By installing a well-compacted and properly draining sub-base, you will create a solid foundation for your tarmac driveway, contributing to its durability and long-term performance.

Installing edging

  1. Excavate a shallow trench along the boundaries of the driveway, deep enough to accommodate the chosen edging material and provide a stable base.
  2. Lay a thin layer of sand or fine crushed stone in the trench to create a level surface for the edging material.
  3. Align the edging material along the trench, ensuring it is level and flush with the planned height of the finished tarmac surface. Use a level or straight edge to check the alignment.
  4. Secure the edging material in place using one of the following methods, depending on the material chosen:
    • For concrete edging, you may need to mix and pour concrete into a form or use precast concrete blocks or curbs.
    • For brick edging, apply a mortar mix to the bottom and sides of each brick, laying them one at a time and tapping gently into place.
    • For stone edging, set the stones in the trench and backfill with soil, sand, or crushed stone, ensuring a snug fit and proper alignment.
  5. Compact the backfilled material around the edging to ensure it stays in place during the tarmac installation process.

By installing edging around your tarmac driveway, you will enhance its appearance and ensure a stable and well-defined boundary, contributing to the overall success of your project.

Laying the Tarmac Driveway

Preparing and mixing the tarmac

  1. Tarmac, also known as asphalt, is a mixture of aggregate (sand, gravel, or crushed stone) and bitumen (a petroleum-based binder). The proportion of these materials can vary depending on the specific application and desired properties.
  2. The tarmac mixture is typically prepared at an asphalt plant and transported to the job site in a heated state to maintain its workability. Alternatively, you can use cold mix asphalt for smaller projects, which can be mixed on-site and doesn’t require heating.
  3. Ensure that the tarmac mixture is at the right temperature (usually between 250°F and 350°F) and consistency before application. Too cold or too hot tarmac can be challenging to work with and may result in a poor-quality finish.

Laying the tarmac

  1. Before applying the tarmac, ensure that the sub-base is compacted and the edging is in place.
  2. Using a wheelbarrow or a paver, transport the tarmac to the driveway and deposit it in a line along one edge.
  3. Spread the tarmac evenly across the driveway using a rake or a tarmac spreader (lute), working in small sections to maintain control and achieve the desired thickness (usually around 2-3 inches).
  4. Use a straight edge or a screed bar to level the tarmac and remove any high or low spots, ensuring an even surface.
  5. Compact the tarmac using a vibratory plate compactor or a roller, making multiple passes to achieve a dense and stable surface. Be sure to compact the edges of the driveway as well.
  6. Allow the tarmac to cool and harden before using the driveway. This process may take several hours to a day, depending on the weather and the specific tarmac mixture.

Maintaining an even thickness throughout the driveway

It’s essential to maintain an even thickness of the tarmac layer throughout the driveway, as this ensures consistent load distribution, reduces the risk of cracking or settling, and provides a smooth and aesthetically pleasing surface.

Be mindful of the tarmac’s thickness while spreading and leveling, and use the appropriate tools and techniques to achieve a consistent result.

By following these steps for laying tarmac, you will create a durable and attractive driveway that can withstand the test of time and provide years of reliable service.

Finishing touches

Additional steps:

  1. Sealing the tarmac: Applying a high-quality sealant to your tarmac driveway can help protect it from UV rays, water, oil spills, and other contaminants, extending its lifespan and maintaining its appearance. It is generally recommended to wait at least six months after installation before sealing the tarmac to allow it to cure fully. Reapply the sealant every 3-5 years, or as needed, to maintain its effectiveness.
  2. Installing decorative elements: You can enhance the appearance of your tarmac driveway by adding decorative elements, such as patterned borders, inlaid designs, or contrasting colors. These can be created using colored tarmac, stamped asphalt, or by embedding materials like bricks or pavers into the tarmac surface.

Maintenance tips for extending the lifespan of your tarmac driveway

  1. Regular cleaning: Keep your driveway clean by sweeping away dirt, debris, and leaves. Use a hose or pressure washer to wash away stains or spills, and consider using a mild detergent for stubborn marks.
  2. Addressing cracks and potholes: Inspect your driveway regularly for any signs of damage, such as cracks or potholes. Repair minor issues promptly using a suitable crack filler or cold patch asphalt repair product to prevent them from worsening.
  3. Avoiding heavy loads: Although tarmac driveways are designed to support vehicle traffic, it’s best to avoid parking or driving heavy trucks or equipment on the surface, as this can cause premature wear and damage.
  4. Protecting the edges: The edges of your tarmac driveway are more vulnerable to damage from vehicles driving off the edge or heavy loads. Installing edging, as mentioned earlier, can help protect and maintain the driveway’s boundaries.
  5. Snow and ice removal: During the winter months, promptly remove snow and ice from your driveway to prevent freezing and thawing cycles, which can cause damage to the tarmac surface. Use a plastic snow shovel to avoid damaging the surface and avoid using harsh de-icing chemicals that may harm the tarmac.

By incorporating these finishing touches and following proper maintenance practices, you can extend the lifespan of your tarmac driveway and keep it looking great for many years to come.


Laying a tarmac driveway involves several key steps, including:

  1. Preparing the site by removing any existing driveway or vegetation, leveling, and compacting the ground.
  2. Installing a stable and well-draining sub-base using crushed stone or aggregates, compacting the material to provide a strong foundation.
  3. Adding edging around the driveway to define the boundaries, prevent tarmac spreading, and enhance the overall appearance.
  4. Laying the tarmac by spreading, leveling, and compacting the mixture to create a durable and smooth surface.
  5. Applying finishing touches, such as sealing the tarmac and adding decorative elements, to protect and improve the driveway’s appearance.
  6. Maintaining the tarmac driveway through regular cleaning, addressing minor damage, and following proper care practices.

A well-installed tarmac driveway offers numerous benefits, such as durability, cost-effectiveness, low maintenance requirements, and an attractive appearance.

By following the steps outlined in this guide and paying attention to detail, you can tackle this project with confidence and create a long-lasting and visually appealing driveway that will serve you well for years to come.

Author Profile

Mark Cullen
Mark Cullen
I have many qualifications and certificates in construction, such as City & Guilds, CPCS and CITB. These are the highest standards of training and competence in the industry. Whether you need help with plumbing, carpentry, bricklaying or any other trade, I’m here to help you succeed.