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Laying Out and Digging a Patio

Project Overview

Laying Out and Digging a Patio

Even beginning do-it -yourselfers can master laying pavers without mastering the techniques of mixing and spreading concrete. Since no concrete is involved, you can start one day and finish another. Most pavers even simplify getting the proper spacing between blocks because tabs on the sides keep them the proper distance apart. The pavers lie on a 5 1/2 -inch bed of sand and gravel. The bottom 4 inches is gravel to provide drainage. The top 1 1/2 inches is bedding sand that helps hold the pavers in place once they're compacted into it. Finer sand, sprinkled between the pavers, keeps them from shifting. Edging around the outside of the outside of the patio holds the pavers in place. When you lay out the patio, slope it away from the house at a rate of 1/8 to 1/4 inch per foot to keep water from working its way into the house. Make sure you compact the gravel in 2-inch layers. If you don't, the top will be hard but the surface beneath it will be soft.

9 Steps

  1. LAYOUT THE PATIO
  2. LAY OUT THE SLOPE
  3. EXCAVATE
  4. CHECK THE SLOPE
  5. PUT DOWN LANDSCAPE FABRIC
  1. BUILD A 4-INCH BASE
  2. INSTALL EDGING
  3. MAKE A SCREED
  4. SCREED
Show all steps »
LAYOUT THE PATIO
LAYOUT THE PATIO

Step 1

LAYOUT THE PATIO

Lay out the outline of the patio with batter boards and mason’s line. Check that your layout lines are level using either a water level or a line level, and drive the batterboards father in as needed. Make sure the corners are square using the 3-4-5 triangle method: Mark a point 3 feet from the corner on one line and another point 4 feet from the corner on the other line. If the distance between the points is 5 feet, the corner is square. If not, make the necessary adjustments. Repeat for each corner. Measure the diagonals of the patio. If the corners are square, the diagonals will be equal. If not, use a framing square to see which corner is out of square; correct it and repeat set 2 and this step.

LAY OUT THE SLOPE
LAY OUT THE SLOPE

Step 2

LAY OUT THE SLOPE

The patio needs to slope away from the house at a rate of 1/8 to ¼ inch per foot to prevent flooding. Check what’s required locally. To lay out the slope, first drive stakes about 1 foot beyond the corners of the patio. Run level lines between them with the help of either a line level or a water level. Measure down the appropriate amount on the stakes farthest from the house. Slide the lines down to the marks. Drive stakes every 4 feet approximately 1 foot outside the layout lines. Tie mason’s line to the stakes to lay out a grid that follows the slope of the lines laid out in step 2.

EXCAVATE

Step 3

EXCAVATE

The highest point of a patio surface can be as much as an inch above grade-enough so that the lowest section is at grade. Remove the sod. Then remove 4½ inches of soil plus the thickness of the pavers to make room for the 4-inch gravel bed and a 1½-inch sand base, leaving the lowest surface of the pavers 1 inch above grade. Excavate the rest of the patio, following the slope of the lines.

CHECK THE SLOPE
CHECK THE SLOPE

Step 4

CHECK THE SLOPE

Measure down from the staked lines to make sure the excavation follows the slop. If the slope is correct, the distance from the line to the bottom of the excavation will be constant. Dig or add soil to correct any problems. Using an 8-foot straightedge or have a home center cut an 8-foot length of plywood, 3 to 6 inches wide, that you can use as a straightedge. Check the bottom of the excavation wit hit to see whether it’s flat. Mark high spots with spray paint. Remove them and use the soil to fill in low spots so that the gap between the straightedge and the surface is never more than 3/8 inch. Compact the surface with a power tamper running at full speed.

PUT DOWN LANDSCAPE FABRIC
PUT DOWN LANDSCAPE FABRIC

Step 5

PUT DOWN LANDSCAPE FABRIC

Landscape fabric keeps gravel from work into the subgrade and weakening the base-woven fabric is best. Spread the landscape fabric across the excavation and up the sides. If you need more than one length of fabric, overlap the edges by 12 to `8 inches. Spread and compact at gravel base In layers. If you were to put in all 4 inches of gravel at one time, the power tamper would compact only the top, leaving the rest too loos. Spread a 2-inch layer of gravel across the excavation and rake it smooth. Compact with power tamper running at full speed.

BUILD A 4-INCH BASE
BUILD A 4-INCH BASE

Step 6

BUILD A 4-INCH BASE

Spread and compact another 2-inch layer of gravel. Once compacted, the layers won’t be quite 4 inches deep, so add and compact gravel in small amounts until you have 4-inch-thick base. Test the compaction of the gravel by driving a landscape spike into it with a 3 pound sledgehammer. If the gravel hold firm, the base is compact. If you can use less than a 3-pound sledgehammer to drive in the spike, compact again.

INSTALL EDGING
INSTALL EDGING

Step 7

INSTALL EDGING

Use a structure as the edge restraint for one side of the patio. Put edging along one of the adjoining sides. (You'll put in the rest of the edging after the pavers are installed.) Use the layout lines as a guide for both the proper location and slope of the pavers. Make sure you use an edging designed for pavers rather than garden edging, and follow the manufacturer's directions. In this example the edging is a plastic restraint held in place by landscape spikes driven into the compacted gravel. Shovel bedding sand on top of the gravel to create a layer about 1 1/2 inches deep. Rake the bedding sand smooth.

MAKE A SCREED
MAKE A SCREED

Step 8

MAKE A SCREED

A screed is a straightedge, usually a piece of wood, that you pull along the sand to smooth it. Have a home center or lumberyard cut a straight piece of 3/4-inch plywood 8 feet long and about 3 inches wide. Reinforce it by screwing a 2x4 to the back. Drive a nail in each end of the 2x4 so the distance between the nail and an edge of the plywood is the thickness of a paver. Remove all the lines perpendicular to the slope except the one at the edge. Remove every second sloped line so there are lines at the edges of the patio and every 8 feet in between. Slide the sloped lines down the stakes. Move each line an equal distance until it is at the same level as the intended top of the patio.

SCREED

Step 9

SCREED

Work with a helper to smooth the sand by guiding the nails along the top of the mason's lines. Use the lines as a guide only and be careful not to move them by pushing down on them with the screed. Have a second helper add sand to the low spots and remove sand that builds up behind the screed. Repeat until the surface is smooth. After you screed the sand, screed it again, starting at the end where you finished and working in the opposite direction across the patio.

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Project Details

Skill Level: Intermediate

Time: 3 hours

Before you start, read this »

Due to differing conditions, tools, and individual skills, The Home Depot® assumes no responsibility for any damages, injuries suffered, or losses incurred as a result of attempting to replicate any of the home improvement ideas portrayed in this website Before beginning any home improvement project, review it thoroughly to ensure you or your contractor can finish the project and if any doubts or questions remain, consult local experts or authorities. Because codes and regulations vary greatly, you always should check with authorities to ensure that your project complies with all applicable local codes and regulations. Always read and observe all of the safety precautions provided by any tool or equipment manufacturer, and follow all accepted safety procedures.

Materials

  • Batterboards and mason's line
  • powdered chalk
  • tape
  • spray paint
  • gravel
  • bedding sand
  • joint sand
  • landscape fabric
  • interlocking pavers
  • edging

Tools

  • Tape measure
  • line-level or water level
  • plumb bob
  • straightedge
  • spade
  • shovel
  • garden rake
  • rubber mallet
  • power tamper
  • level
  • broom
  • 3-pound sledgehammer
  • plywood-and-2x4 screed
  • paver splitter
  • wet saw or drysaw
  • work gloves
  • safety glasses
  • dust mask

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