Building a patio with pavers. Part 1


alvie on the patio

Alvie checks out my work at the midway point.

Well, it’s done, my patio is now 36 sq. feet larger and it looks fabulous. I accomplished a lot and, as is this blog’s purpose, I learned a lot. Many have asked if this is a project they could do. Absolutely.
Let’s look back at the process.

One advantage for me is that I already had all the tools I needed, including several kinds of spades and shovels, string line and a rake. And plenty of five gallon buckets to move the excavated dirt. I didn’t rent anything, though a wheelbarrow might have been nice. And I picked a pattern made from whole pavers — no cutting involved.

Here are the basic steps:

  • Measure the area
  • Create the bed for the pavers
  • Lay and tamp down (compact) the paver base
  • Lay and tamp down the sand
  • Lay the pavers
  • Fill gaps with sand
  • Install the edging
  • Backfill the area around the pavers
  • Rejoice

I’ve been a tinkerer for a long time, mostly in woodworking. I’ve always been a functional kind of

Karen sweating

The digging coincided with the hottest weather of the year. I took lots of breaks.

tinkerer — stuff that’s made to be used, that has a function, that’s not just ornamental. I’ve made everything from jewelry boxes in nice walnut to an entertainment center with plywood and threaded rods and bolts to every picket of my proverbial white picket fence. So when I decided that I wanted a few more feet of length to my patio (or maybe it was the width?) I opted to do it myself.

I learn well by watching someone else do something, so I remembered back to old episodes of Hometime on PBS (with Dean Johnson and his various female partners,) did a little reading then watched a bunch of how-to videos on YouTube. I was even knowledgeable enough to know a really bad job when I saw it.

Next, off to the home center to find supplies. They have a fancy design computer there, so I was able to easily figure out how many bricks I needed along with paver base, (say that three times fast) sand, edging and spikes for the edging. According to the computer, my project was going to cost me just under $200 in materials, including 180 8×4 inch Holland pavers. I do this kind of work for fun and as an escape from the brainiac work I do on the job, so I rarely think about the cost of my own time and effort. This, for me, is stress relief.

photo of excavation

Creating the bed for the patio. I broke the sod up into many manageable pieces. The rain worked in my favor at this point, keeping the sod alive.

The hard part of the project was something no one ever mentioned: excavating the dirt. I never really thought about how hard that was going to be or what the hell to do with all that dirt! Fortunately the sod was used to fill bare patches in the yard, but what do I do with yards and yards of Missouri clay? Yes, I made a flowerbed, but I still have a ton of dirt to get rid of.

The main tool I used was a narrow garden spade, digging down about eight inches deep. Then I moved to a flat shovel to try to level the surface as much as possible.

The temperatures around this time were in the high 90s with heat indices in the 100s. It was miserable work but since I wasn’t under any deadline, I just did what I could when I could.

Once the hole was excavated, it rained. For days on end. I bailed water from “the pit” at least three times. The up side of the rain is that the sod

the backyard

The pit filled with water every time there was even a hint of rain.

clumps I had reused were actually still alive. The rain also clearly showed me just how much of a slope there was to the ground, which could make the process of leveling the paver base and sand difficult.

depth of the pit

I dug to about the same depth as the existing patio — about 8 inches. I lined up some pavers to get a feel for what it was going to look like.

The project is now at least three weeks old and I was getting antsy to move on to the next stage — laying and compacting the paver base and sand. There were many days when all I could do was stare at the watery hole, watch the weather forecasts and think about the next steps. On one of those days it occurred to me to make a screed. One end of the board would ride along the existing patio, the other end would ride along the ground, thus maintaining a consistent depth of materials while following the slop of the land. Brilliant!

It took about four weeks to get to this point, but it was all downhill from here.

Part 2: The rain stops, the fun work begins. Coming soon.


3 responses to “Building a patio with pavers. Part 1

  1. Okay, you’ve convinced me. I’m building myself a patio.

  2. wait until you see our patio brick work.

  3. Hi,
    I like your post. Your blog is fantastic. thanks for sharing,..

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