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If you have ever admired a blacktop driveway that is perfectly flat, you have witnessed the proper application of an asphalt lute. An asphalt lute is a tool used while spreading asphalt to ensure that it is applied evenly. The lute consists of a handle, made from wood or a lightweight metal, with a flat, thin rectangular head. Beneath the head it is common for a lute to have two thin struts connecting to the handle to reinforce the head. The head of the lute is usually made with a lightweight, heat resistant metal, as asphalt must be applied hot, usually at temperatures in excess of 300°F (204°C). The overall length of the tool ranges from about 54 to 65 inches (1.3 to 1.65 meters), depending on the manufacturer. It is also common for an asphalt lute to have hand grips to ease the use of the tool.
To use this tool, you must, of course, have asphalt. Holding the tool by the handle, use the head to push the pile of asphalt forward and then pull it back. By pushing a large amount forward, and smaller amount back, you can spread the asphalt efficiently and evenly, while maintaining a nice flat surface. Distributing the asphalt evenly with a lute is much easier when the asphalt is still fresh and hot.
If given the chance to cool, the asphalt will become hard and somewhat gummy, making it difficult, if not impossible, to create a flawlessly flat surface with the asphalt lute. Think of the asphalt like butter. If it is the right temperature it spreads evenly and easily, but if it is cold it will clump.
After the asphalt lute has done its job, and a flat, even surface is present, the asphalt is typically worked over with a roller. It is important to clean the tool after it has been used, because once the asphalt hardens it is notoriously difficult to remove. There are a number of commercial cleaners available for purchase. If these are not present, diesel fuel is an adequate substitute.
Asphalt lutes are available in nearly all hardware stores, and from a wide variety of retailers online and through magazines.