What Is the Difference Between Chat and Gravel?

Landscaping projects can significantly enhance the beauty and functionality of outdoor spaces. However, the wide array of materials available, like washed rock, can make choosing the right ones a bit overwhelming. Among the most popular and versatile options are chat and gravel. While they may seem similar at first glance, understanding the differences between these two materials can help you make the best choice for your specific needs. In this blog from Kilgore Landscape Center, we will explore what chat and gravel are, their key differences, and the best applications for each.

What is Chat?

Chat is a fine gravel-like material that originates from the mining and processing of lead and zinc ores. These materials are often found in regions with a history of mining activities, such as the Tri-State Mining District (which includes parts of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma). Chat consists of small, angular particles that are typically smaller than traditional gravel but larger than sand. 

Characteristics of Chat

  1. Particle Size: Chat particles generally range from 1/16 inch to 1/4 inch in diameter. This makes it finer than standard gravel, which typically has larger particles.


  1. Shape: The particles of chat are usually angular due to the crushing process they undergo during mining. This angularity helps them interlock better than rounded particles, providing a more stable surface.


  1. Color: Chat can come in various colors, including shades of gray, white, and even reddish hues, depending on the mineral content.


  1. Texture: Due to its fine and angular nature, chat provides a relatively smooth yet firm surface, making it suitable for different applications.

Common Uses of Chat

  1. Pathways and Walkways: The fine, stable nature of chat makes it an excellent choice for creating walkways and garden paths with washed rock. It provides a smooth surface that's comfortable to walk on while preventing weed growth.


  1. Driveways: Chat's interlocking nature makes it a good option for driveways, offering stability and durability.


  1. Playgrounds: Due to its smaller particle size and softer texture compared to traditional gravel, chat is often used in playgrounds as a safer surface for children.


  1. Base Material: Chat is commonly used as a base material under concrete slabs, pavers, and other structures due to its excellent compaction properties.

What is Gravel?

Gravel is a broad term used to describe a variety of rock fragments that have been naturally weathered and eroded over time. Gravel is commonly sourced from riverbeds, quarries, and pits and comes in various sizes, shapes, and colors. Unlike chat, gravel is usually rounded and smoothed by natural processes.

Characteristics of Gravel

  1. Particle Size: Gravel particles typically range from 1/4 inch to 2 inches in diameter. The size can vary significantly depending on the type of gravel and its intended use.


  1. Shape: Gravel particles are generally rounded or sub-rounded due to natural weathering and erosion. This roundness contributes to the smooth texture of gravel surfaces.


  1. Color: Gravel can come in an array of colors, including shades of gray, white, brown, red, and even blue, depending on the source rock's mineral composition.


  1. Texture: Gravel surfaces are generally rougher and more varied in texture compared to chat due to the larger and rounder particles made with washed rock.

Common Uses of Gravel

  1. Landscaping: Gravel is widely used in landscaping projects for decorative purposes. It can be used to create garden borders, accentuate plant beds, and add texture to outdoor spaces.


  1. Driveways and Roads: Gravel is a popular choice for driveways and rural roads due to its durability and ability to handle heavy traffic. It provides good drainage and reduces mud.


  1. Drainage Systems: The larger particle size and porous nature of gravel make it ideal for drainage applications. It's often used in French drains, retaining wall backfills, and other drainage systems.


  1. Construction: Gravel is a crucial component in the construction industry, used as aggregate in concrete and asphalt, as well as for foundations and sub-bases for roads and buildings.

Key Differences Between Chat and Gravel

Understanding the differences between chat and gravel is essential for selecting the right material for your project. Here are some key distinctions:

  1. Particle Size and Shape:

   - Chat: Smaller, angular particles (1/16 to 1/4 inch).

   - Gravel: Larger, rounded particles (1/4 inch to 2 inches).


  1. Source:

   - Chat: Byproduct of mining and processing lead and zinc ores.

   - Gravel: Naturally occurring rock fragments from riverbeds, quarries, and pits.


  1. Texture and Surface:

   - Chat: Smooth yet firm surface due to fine, interlocking particles.

   - Gravel: Rougher and more varied surface due to larger, rounded particles.


  1. Color:

   - Chat: Varies based on mineral content, typically shades of gray, white, or reddish.

   - Gravel: Wide range of colors, depending on the source rock's mineral composition.

Choosing Between Chat and Gravel

When deciding between chat and gravel for your landscaping or construction project, consider the following factors:

  1. Purpose: Determine the primary use of the material. For pathways, playgrounds, and as a base material, chat with washed rock may be the better choice due to its fine, stable nature. For decorative landscaping, driveways, and drainage systems, gravel might be more suitable.


  1. Aesthetics: Consider the desired look and feel of your outdoor space. Gravel's larger, rounded particles and variety of colors can add a distinctive appearance to gardens and landscapes. Chat's finer texture provides a more uniform look.


  1. Maintenance: Think about the level of maintenance required. Gravel surfaces may need periodic replenishment and raking to maintain an even surface. Chat, with its smaller, interlocking particles, generally requires less maintenance.


  1. Cost: Evaluate the cost of materials and installation. Both chat and gravel are relatively affordable options, but prices can vary based on the source, quality, and local availability.

Environmental Considerations

When selecting between chat and gravel, it's also important to consider the environmental impact of each material. 

  1. Sourcing and Sustainability:

   - Chat: As a byproduct of mining operations, chat offers a way to repurpose material that might otherwise be considered waste. Utilizing chat can help reduce the environmental footprint of mining activities by minimizing waste and promoting recycling.

   - Gravel: Gravel extraction can have significant environmental impacts, such as habitat disruption and water table alteration. However, responsible sourcing and modern quarrying practices can mitigate some of these effects. Look for suppliers who prioritize sustainable practices and land reclamation.

  1. Erosion Control:

   - Chat: Due to its fine and interlocking nature, chat is excellent for erosion control on slopes and embankments. It stays in place better than larger, rounder gravel, reducing soil erosion and promoting stability with washed rock.

   - Gravel: Larger gravel can also help with erosion control, particularly in areas with heavy water flow. Its porosity allows for efficient drainage, which can prevent water buildup and reduce erosion.

Practical Tips for Installation and Maintenance

Whether you choose chat or gravel, proper installation and maintenance are key to achieving the best results. Here are some practical tips:

  1. Installation:

   - Ensure a stable base by compacting the soil before adding chat or gravel.

   - For driveways and high-traffic areas, consider installing a geotextile fabric beneath the material to prevent weed growth and stabilize the surface.

   - Use edging materials to keep the chat or gravel contained and maintain clean lines in your design.

  1. Maintenance:

   - Regularly rake the surface to maintain an even layer and prevent compaction in high-traffic areas.

   - Add more material as needed to replenish any areas that may have settled or thinned over time.

   - Keep the surface clean by removing debris and organic matter, which can decompose and affect the material's stability and appearance.


Chat and gravel are both versatile materials that can enhance various landscaping and construction projects. Understanding their differences in terms of particle size, shape, source, texture, and common uses will help you make an informed decision. Whether you choose chat for its stability and fine texture or gravel for its durability and decorative appeal, both materials offer unique benefits that can improve the functionality and aesthetics of your outdoor spaces.

At Kilgore Landscape Center, we provide a wide range of high-quality landscaping products, including chat and gravel, to meet all your project needs with washed rock. Contact us today to learn more about our products and how we can help you create the perfect outdoor environment.