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How To Lay Your Own Patio


It's not that hard to create your own patio. The following tutorial is designed to help you better understand the principles of laying paving stones, commonly called "pavers". While there are many variations and different designs possible, the principles are the same. You need to begin with a solid foundation to prevent any settling and you need to firmly set the pavers. Fortunately, we have the tools that can help you do your patio or walkway the fast and easy way. Hopefully the following information will help get you started. If you need any further information we are always available to help you with suggestions to help you finish your project. Just give us a call and we'll be happy to answer any questions you may have. If you have entered this page from our website's rental listing just hit the Back button on your browser to return to your previous page.

Tools Needed
You're going to need some tools to lay your paving stones. Many of these are common hand tools while the less common ones we'll probably have available in out rental inventory. Here's a brief listing:

  • Grade Stakes
  • Masonry Line
  • 4' Level
  • 4# Hammer
  • Measuring Tape
  • Pry Bar
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Square Point Sand Shovel
  • Vibratory Plate Compactor
  • Masonry Block Saw
  • Straight 2x4 or 2x6 Screed
  • Bow Rake or Concrete Kumalong

Naturally, you are going to need some pavers. Be sure to measure the area of your patio or walkway. Depending on the pattern that you choose, you'll need to allow extra for trimming. Also, if you plan on laying a soldier course, figure out the perimeter of your flatwork and adjust up accordingly. You don't want to run out of pavers before your project is completed - especially if your source of supply is out of stock or the color has changed slightly between batches.

You're also going to need something to put them on. You can't lay pavers on any old dirt or you're going to have problems. The need a firm solid foundation that won't shift as it weathers the elements. That rules out topsoil and clay. Also, weed control is next to impossible with good dirt. Instead, you need to create a 2 stage bed to place your masonry on.

The base material should be gravel. Gravel typically weighs 1,200 lbs per 100 sq ft at a 1" depth. Consider how many square feet of area you'll be paving and then multiply by the depth in inches. Divide by 100 and multiply by 1200 and you'll get an idea how heavy your load of gravel is. You may want to have it delivered unless you have a large enough truck or are willing to make a number of trips. We do have dump trailers available for rent if you choose to go that way.

Immediately above the gravel is a final layer of sand. Sand isn't quite as heavy but it still ads up. At 900 lbs per square foot per inch of depth it 75% as heavy as gravel, although you will use less. Be sure to add on another 10% though for filling in the cracks. There are masonry products that can be used to fill in the joints if you choose to go that route. If so, you'll have to do the math there as well.

Laying out the Slab
Step one is to decide how much area you will be paving. That will determine how much material you'll need to get. It's helpful if you draw a plan out, then bring it with you when you go to your masonry products supplier to help illustrate just what you want to do.

Once you have a plan, lay out the slab on the ground. Install stakes at the corners that you can use to connect string lines across. Be sure to extend the stakes past the corners. Let the lines cross to form your corners. Then, place some extra stakes around the perimeter to use as additional height guides. Pound the stakes into the ground and connect the string lines at the proper height. Establishing the height can be done with either a line level, a 4' level, or an automatic laser. Once you have the 4 sides strung at the proper height it's easy to run extra lines across as needed to check your depth when excavating the area or adding fill. An automatic laser greatly simplifies this task.

Be sure to allow for water runoff. A perfectly flat slab may sound like a good idea but in reality, it's not. A flat slab will allow water to puddle and ice patches will form in winter. Common practice is to pitch the slab 1/4" for every foot. Generally the slab is pitched away from any building to direct the water runoff away from any foundation walls.

Excavating and Preparing the Base
You'll need to excavate the area before laying the pavers. You need to dig out plenty of depth to allow for the base gravel, sand, and pavers. A minimum of 7" depth is required but more is always better, especially if you plan on running a lawn tractor over it. You need to allow a minimum of 3" for the gravel base, 1-1/2" for the next layer, which is either sand or crushed stone dust, plus 2-1/2" for the pavers. If your pavers are thicker, be sure to adjust your depth accordingly. If you want a firmer base, or if the existing soil is fairly soft, increase your gravel layer and a add a couple of more inches.

Once you have the area dug out to the required depth, run a vibratory plate compactor over the existing soil to ensure that it is solid. If it settles out a fair amount, that goes to show that you do indeed have softer soil so you'll definitely want to increase your gravel layer to compensate.

Next add your gravel. Don't add it all at once. Compact your gravel in layers. Never put more than 2" of gravel down per layer or else your compactor won't be effective enough to prevent your patio from sagging later on. Compacting in layers ensures a good, firm foundation.

Once your gravel is in place and compacted it's time to add the sand. Some homeowners prefer to use ground stone dust instead. Either way works and the same procedures apply to either product. Again, do not exceed 2" of depth when compacting. Given that most sand bases are 1-1/2 to 2" in depth this shouldn't be an issue. Once you have the sand graded and compacted you should have a firm, flat base that is just the right height to lay your pavers on.

Laying the Pavers
It helps to install some sort of edging. Commercial edging is available that gets mounted as a frame and held in place with 12" long spikes. This edging is designed to be hidden underneath the grass when installed. If you don't want edging it's still helpful to lay a temporary 2x4 frame to help contain the pavers, at the very least on 2 sides. This gives you the ability to tap or "set" the pavers in a nice, tight pattern. If you set your edging just prior to the final compaction you can set a screed board with the desired pitch and strike off your sand accordingly.

When laying the pavers, lightly set them on the sand bed. Do not tap them down into the soil with a mallet or else you'll get a very uneven surface. Use your mallet to tap them sideways against the starting edging so that they are consistent in gap. Work from left to right on one row and then right to left on the next, alternating back and forth as you go. Every now and then set a string line to ensure that you are making parallel rows., moving the string line along as you go. If one row gets compressed a bit you can use a small pry bar to move the pavers out a bit. Be sure to move a number of pavers a little bit each rather than move one joint a lot.

Depending on which pattern you chose, some cutting will be needed. In many cases you can cut the pavers in two and use the cutoff half for the next spot. If not, you'd better figure out how much waste you will be having before you order your pavers so that you'll have enough product. Pavers are masonry products so they need to be cut with a masonry block saw. These saws have diamond blades and the pavers lay on a table that rolls underneath the blade. They are a very popular rental item. Pavers typically have spacing nubs on their edges so when you do make a cut it's easiest to plan that cut so that the cut edge is to the outside, or edge, of the patio.

Sand Screening Your Pavers
Once your pavers are fully laid in place, install the final side of the edging, if you are using it. The next step is to fill the joints with sand or powdered stone, then compact it. During this process your pavers will settle approximately 1/4" so be sure that you have left your gravel and sand foundation high enough to allow for this.

At this point you can sweep some sand or stone dust over the top of the pavers, filling the joints somewhat. Next run a vibratory plate compactor over the patio. The vibration of the compactor will settle your pavers into the sand base that last 1/4" and also vibrate the loose top sand into the cracks of the pavers. Many installers prefer to lay an old piece of plywood over the top and set the compactor on top of that. The plywood helps to transmit the vibration over a larger area, keeps the stones at a more consistent height, and prevents any marring of the surface of the pavers by the steel base of the compactor. Once you make your first pass, remove the plywood and take a look. Some of the sand will have vibrated in but there will still be plenty of gaps left. Sweep your sand (or dust) around a bit more, adding as necessary, then run your compactor again. You may need to do this several times before the gaps totally fill up. Note that if your gravel and sand base were properly prepared, it won't matter how many times you run your compactor over the patio. It'll only settle that 1/4".

Now it's time to sit back and enjoy your patio. It should last a long, long time..

plate compactor
Vibratory Plate Compactor


handheld air saw


walk behind air saw


masonry block saw
Masonry Block Saw


concrete chain saw
Magnesium Screed Board


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