How to become a better grader operator.
In my opinion, graders are THE most complex piece of kit to operate, and when in the right hands, I could sit back and watch for hours.
Why complex? Well, they are long, they articulate, they crab steer, the front wheel’s lean, the blade swings out at 90 degrees, and most of the time, combine multiples of inputs at the same time to make the magic happen.
To understand what it takes to run a grader, imagine a circus performer spinning plates on top on poles. Got it? That’s a grader operator.
A grader is a machine that can take a lifetime to master. And when I say master, I am not talking about hacking in a haul road but about final trimming top course to 10mm of its life or trimming a one to one batter, leaving a sheen on it that looks like it’s been laser cut.
Here are five tips to becoming a better grader operator:
- UNDERSTAND A GRADER’S GEOMETRY
If you can understand a grader’s geometry, you’ll go a long way to understanding how you can eliminate some of the frustration (there’ll be frustration, learn to embrace it) when learning to operate one.
The blade follows the front tyres and your tandem follows your blade. Pretty obvious right? But what this means is, when your front tyres roll over something, your blade will come off the ground leaving a hump for your tandem to travel across. Another element to ponder is that your front axle and tandems oscillate.
- LOOK AHEAD, WELL AHEAD
When starting out, your eyes are going to be glued to the blade, it’s only natural. But what I strongly suggest is to look up and ahead (30m in front of you) to see what is coming your way. You want to be looking for any high or low spots in the material you are manipulating, to prepare for it before you’re sitting on top of it.
- PASS MATCHING
To help create a surface that is consistent with each pass you make, work on nailing “pass matching”. Assuming that your first pass is neat, you want to focus on placing the toe of your blade slightly above the previous cut when you move across to make additional passes. Lower the heal of the blade into place. Then swing your head back over to the toe to ensure that you are not digging in and or run too high.
- SLOW IT DOWN
Graders are quick but resist the temptation of grading in a gear too high. When your ground speed is elevated, any mistakes you make with the blade will be amplified. Another thing to think about is your cutting edge (G.E.T). The quicker you are travelling with the cutting edge engaged, the more friction you’ll create, which will burn through your cutting edges faster than a politician’s promise on election day.
Generally speaking, when you are heavy cutting you should only be in the working gears of 1st or 2nd (diff lock applied). When you are bringing the material back across, then you can afford to be in 3rd or 4th gear. Trust me though, when you are starting out, maintain the steady, steady approach.
- STAY ZEN
Graders are an animal all to their own. What I tell all my trainees is to work on dialing in one technique, then go on to the next. Trying to apply all the trick shots that a grader has in its repertoire at once, early in your grader career, will have you curled up in a ball in the corner. It is like that saying – how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.