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Spreading it Around
by Mark Hamilton
It has been a very icy winter here, and we've had to spread a lot of sand in the kennel and on the walkways in the back yard for the dogs' and our safety. We use salted sand on our driveway, but we prefer to use plain sand anywhere the dogs will be walking. Rock salt isn't good for the dogs' pads and they will ingest some of the rock salt if they lick their feet after walking on it. Here is a statement from the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for rock salt: "May produce nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort and, if swallowed in very large amounts, may cause increased urination and central nervous system depression." We avoid the potential for all that just by spreading only plain sand in the areas the dogs use.
Because our town's highway department sand pile is salted, we purchase 50 lb (23 kg) bags of what is advertised as "play sand" at a big box home improvement store. Play sand is screened, fine grained and, since the bags are stored under cover this time of year, also very dry. We use a small, hand held garden spreader to dispense it, taking advantage of the fact that the sand is absolutely dry (wet or coarse sand will not dispense from these small spreaders). A thumb slide adjusts the feed rate of the sand through the spreader. It has a detent mechanism with stops at the 25/50/75% feed rates. I found that the play sand frequently jammed the detent mechanism, but those troublesome parts can be quickly, simply and permanently removed without adversely affecting the spreader's functionality.
Sanding large areas is accomplished quickly and with a nice, even distribution. The little spreader only holds slightly more than five cups (a liter) of sand at a time. So you're not holding a lot of weight in your hand, but those five cups are more than enough to render 400 sq. ft (40 sq. m) of ice safe for the dogs and our foot traffic. I've also found that the light colored play sand doesn't heat up as much in the sunlight as does darker sand. The play sand is still providing useful traction on the ice long after dark colored or salted sand would have sunk below the surface of the ice and been rendered useless to us and the dogs.
I've seen these spreaders, as well as larger 10 cup (2.36 liter) versions, in garden centers, hardware stores and big box home improvement stores.
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