Skip to content
The Best Equipment for Leveling Ground: Grading Tips & Best Practices

The Best Equipment for Leveling Ground: Grading Tips & Best Practices

2 machines leveling dirt

The Best Equipment for Leveling Ground: Grading Tips & Best Practices

Reading time: 7 min

From towering skyscrapers to expansive infrastructure projects, ensuring solid foundations and proper water drainage are crucial to achieving impressive feats of engineering.

Grading, the intricate process of reshaping land, serves as the initial step toward achieving a balanced and functional construction site. It involves the use of heavy equipment to manipulate terrain and achieve the desired slopes, contours and drainage patterns for the project.

During the grading process, areas of the construction site where foundations will be laid are leveled. Leveling is a crucial part of the grading process that ensures foundations are perfectly level and capable of handling the structure’s weight. Not only is grading important for improving a structure’s stability, it also helps redirect water around structures, prevents erosion and lowers the risk of flooding.

In this guide, we’ll explore the best heavy equipment options available for grading and leveling in large-scale construction projects. We’ll delve into the capabilities of machines involved in the grading process, discuss their unique features and provide insights into their optimal applications. By gaining a deeper understanding of these invaluable machines, construction professionals can make informed decisions that will enhance the efficiency and success of their projects.

Rough vs Finish Grading (Fine Grading)

For most large-scale projects, grading occurs in two steps. First, the project terrain undergoes rough grading, where the general slopes and contours of the project site are established. Then, the site undergoes fine grading, during which rocks and debris are removed, leaving behind a uniform surface ready to receive concrete, landscaping or other improvements.

Rough Grading

Rough grading is the general reshaping of the project site’s terrain. During the rough grading process, grading experts alter the slope of the project site and establish the rough features of the site as required by the project blueprints.

Some projects, such as buildings and warehouses, require the building site to be perfectly level. Other projects, like roads and parking lots, may require the ground to be slightly sloped, so as to achieve proper water drainage.

Specialized equipment, such as lasers, are commonly used during rough grading to improve precision and achieve the slopes and elevations required by the project.

Finish Grading (Fine Grading)

Fine grading, sometimes called finish grading, typically takes place after rough grading. During the fine grading process, a project site is made uniform and is prepared to receive building foundations and other improvements.

Unlike the rough grading process, which involves moving large amounts of topsoil and debris, the fine grading process involves only the top 2-5 inches of topsoil. Sometimes, finish grading also involves building up the project site with various materials, such as topsoil for landscape areas or gravel for spaces that require enhanced drainage.

Following the fine grading process, a project site is expected to meet the elevation requirements of the project.

Best Heavy Equipment to Level Ground

Skid Steers

Among common types of heavy equipment, skid steers have emerged as a valuable asset for grading and leveling work. Skid steers can be equipped with a variety of attachments, such as buckets, rakes and grapples, making them uniquely capable at handling complex grading tasks.

The most commonly used attachments for grading with a skid steer are buckets. Bucket attachments are great for grading because they can be used like a blade to level uneven surfaces. They can also be used to scoop up and transport rocks and other debris, as well as for laying new layers of gravel or topsoil.

In addition to their versatility, skid steers are highly maneuverable. Their compact form factor and zero-radius turning capabilities allow them to navigate job sites nimbly and efficiently. 

For grading work, tracked models are common, since they offer superior weight distribution and can operate on mud, soft soil or uneven surfaces more effectively.

Grading With a Skid Steer: The Basic Steps

The steps for leveling terrain with a skid steer are straightforward:

  1. Select The Proper Attachment. Make sure you choose a bucket that is wide enough for your skid steer. For rough or rocky soil, you may need a bucket with bucket teeth.
  2. Make Rough Grading Passes. Begin by excavating soil from points that are too high, and relocating it to points that are too low. Once you’ve built up your top layer to the desired elevation, move excess soil into a soil pile.
  3. Establish Reference Points. Once you’ve made your initial rough passes, install grade stakes that will help you establish the level of your grading. 
  4. Address High and Low Spots. Identify areas that require additional attention, such as high or low spots. Use the skid steer to redistribute material accordingly, gradually achieving a consistently level surface.
  5. Make Fine Grading Passes. Finally, begin the process of fine-grading the project site by flattening out inconsistencies and removing debris from the terrain. Use a bucket in the lowered position as a grading blade, operating the skid steer in reverse to even out rough soil.

Other Heavy Equipment

While skid steers are commonly used for grading and leveling, other types of heavy equipment can be useful, too.

Motor Graders

Motor graders are specifically designed for grading work. They excel in creating smooth and precise slopes, establishing accurate cross slopes, and fine-grading large areas. They are commonly used for road construction, highway maintenance and creating level surfaces for building foundations.

Best attachments: The motor grader itself is equipped with a specialized blade, often referred to as a grader blade or moldboard. This blade is adjustable and can be angled or tilted to cut, move and shape the soil during the grading process.

Ground conditions: Motor graders perform best on relatively flat or slightly undulating terrains. They are effective on compacted soil, gravel or asphalt surfaces. However, they may struggle with highly rocky or extremely soft and loose soil conditions.


Bulldozers are versatile machines used for various tasks, including grading. They are particularly useful for rough grading and pushing materials such as soil, rocks and debris. Bulldozers are commonly employed in land clearing, site preparation and construction of embankments or trenches.

Best attachments: Bulldozers utilize a blade attachment known as a straight blade or a U-blade. These blades are fixed and do not provide the same level of adjustability as a motor grader. However, some bulldozers may have blades that can be tilted or angled to a certain extent.

Ground conditions: Bulldozers are well-suited for challenging ground conditions. They can handle rough and uneven terrain, loose soil, rocky surfaces and forested areas. Their powerful engines and robust undercarriage allow them to operate on diverse terrain types.


While excavators are primarily known for their digging capabilities, they can also perform grading work. Excavators are commonly used for site preparation, bulk earthmoving and creating trenches. They can be utilized for rough grading, shaping slopes and removing excess material during the grading process.

Best attachments: Excavators can be equipped with grading buckets or grading attachments that feature a flat, wide blade. These attachments provide the ability to scoop and grade materials effectively.

Ground conditions: Excavators are versatile machines that can adapt to a range of ground conditions. They excel in environments with loose soil, gravel or clay. However, they may face challenges with very compacted or highly rocky surfaces.

Best Practices for Grading

Here are some best practices to follow when grading your project’s terrain:

  • Level the ground 2 inches below the pavement (if applicable)
  • Water the dirt after the first pass and check for puddles
  • Allow dirt to settle
  • Gradually build up layers
  • Utilize overlapping passes
  • Maintain consistent speed
  • Monitor blade angle and height

Maintenance and Troubleshooting

Certain grading and leveling practices could have negative impacts on your machine’s performance and potentially cause damage. Here are a few areas to watch out for:

  • Using an ill-fitting attachment
  • Improper maneuvering or aggressive operation
  • Overloading the machine
  • Neglecting maintenance and inspections
  • Operating on unstable or hazardous terrain

Final Thoughts

Grading and leveling are essential parts of the construction process. Skid steers and other heavy equipment, such as bulldozers and motor graders, improve project efficiency and enable teams to complete projects on time.

The EquipmentShare Shop is a convenient one-stop online store for purchasing OEM and aftermarket parts for skid steers and other heavy grading equipment. Our parts experts make it easy to find the exact component you need for your equipment.

Back to Guides

Are you signed up for our newsletter?

We'll send you a monthly email covering everything from specialty parts to machine overviews, packed with tons of knowledge from our industry pros and no filler.


Building Blocks Blog
Previous article Diesel Fuel Storage for Construction Sites: Best Practices and Safety Protocols
Next article Tire Types and Tread Patterns: How to Choose the Right Wheels for Construction Equipment