Step 1: Gear Up
For this project we used a wide array of digging instruments from various types of shovels, to pick axes as well as hoes, rakes, and an ax all for digging out the space for the patio. Once the space was dug out we used a drill, a hammer, and a circular saw for the border, a wheel barrow for hauling, and a rubber mallet for placing the pavers, as well as several makeshift "tools" along the way. A tamp, a level and a tape measure are also all must haves for this project.
We used cheap concrete paving stones, gravel (called a "crusher run"), sand, 2"x6" pressure treated lumber, and surveyor stakes.
Step 2: Planning
Planning a patio is always very personal as it has to fit each individuals needs and personal taste. So for this step I can only offer some thoughts to consider.
When planning a patio think about how it fits in with the rest of the area, not just how it will look by itself. Ours was designed to fit around the corner of our house with mulch beds between it and the house and between it and the fence. It has a cutout in the corner that will act as a transitional point of interest so it doesn't just look like a slab of pavers in our yard. It also leads towards our back stoop but not all the way to it. This is because we plan on replacing the back stoop with a deck and rather than having to rip up the patio (and all of our hard work) we decided it would make more sense to bring the deck to the patio. In the mean time we'll fill that area with some pea gravel and use a few pavers as stepping stones which should be much easier to move when the time comes.
Think about how big your patio should be. What looks right for your yard? Where we put ours gave us a pretty set amount of space to work in. We needed enough space between the patio and the house for plants but we also couldn't block our gate. Also, we went with the most basic stone layout you can choose (checkered) and used pavers that were exactly 1 square foot which meant that all of measurements were incredibly easy and we didn't have to cut any pavers! That cut down on work and cost since we didn't have to buy or rent any special tools.
Step 3: Can You Dig It?
There's obviously tons of dirt coming out of this hole that you're digging. Don't spend too much time carting it away just yet. You will need at least some of it to fill back in around the border once you get it down. Just remember not to surround the hole with it either since you will need various access points for your wheel barrow later when you bring in the gravel and sand.
*A Note on leveling:
I briefly tried to do the whole string/line level thing and gave up. I just figured there was probably another way. And there was! I'll get in to that more later on but basically for this step I just put down some pavers to verify that the hole I had dug was both large enough and fairly level. When they're down they give you a pretty darn good idea of how level (or at least how even) the ground is. At that point I decided to move on to the next step.
Step 4: Borderline Crazy
I bought all of the lumber and cut it in the warehouse at my work on my lunch. I kept my diagram handy and numbered each board as I went so I could easily reassemble it in the right order when I took it home. Using the big flat area I had at my disposal I laid everything out to check my work. I pre-drilled all of the holes in the boards so when I got it home I could just screw it together and not have any of the boards split. On the longer sides I used a Kreg jig so I could attach two shorter boards together to make one long side.
I brought everything home, set all of the boards in place, and screwed them together. I did a test fit with the patio pavers again to verify all of my measurements were still good. I swear I measured about seven different times at several different stages as if somehow things had changed in between the different steps. It seems a little excessive but you really can't measure too many times.
Helpful Hint and Full Disclosure:
When you measure the boards you MUST remember to account for the thickness of the boards. I totally measured part of this wrong because I forgot how the corners I was making would work. Thankfully I over-measured because one of my corners cuts into the patio and so I made a couple cuts and corrected my mistake.
Step 5: Checkin' Levels
Once I was sure it was completely level we back-filled the area outside of the border with dirt and hammered in stakes for added stability. I hammered the stakes down far enough that they support the boards but will be covered by dirt once everything is done.
Step 6: Rockin' and Rollin'
Step 7: This Step's a Beach
I started much like the gravel step by simply dumping sand in, raking it out, and tamping it down. For the sand I didn't worry so much about leveling like I did with the gravel. That would come later.
After I had roughly 2 1/2" of fairly flat sand I could move on to leveling it out. I didn't have an extra board long enough so I ended up cobbling together a "leveling contraption". It consisted of the two pieces of PVC tube I had used to level the gravel, some boards, and lots of tape. The PVC acted as the level by running across the width of the patio and resting on the borders. The boards were attached to the bottom of the PVC pipe to scrape any sand away that was too tall. I intentionally filled it too high so that there were no voids I would have to go back and fill in. The thickness of the boards was actually just a little less than the thickness of the pavers so that the pavers would stick up slightly since they settle a little bit. You could easily make a much better contraption of your own using a level board and cutting notches so the bottom rests inside the borders at whatever depth you need.
I started at one end with my contraption and began to drag it along; verifying as I went that either side was in contact with the border and checking for any voids left behind in the sand. Any time I ran into an area that wasn't high enough I back up a little, dropped a shovel-full of sand in the low area, tamped it down, and went over the area with the level again.
To expedite the work (and this is the part where I kind of ran things together a bit) I started laying pavers as soon as I had leveled enough space for a row and about a 12" space between them and the leveling tool. To lay the pavers I started by standing outside the border at the corner and placing them down one at a time flush with the border. Each time I set one down I gave it a couple whacks with a rubber mallet to settle it nicely into the sand and up against the other pavers. Once I had a couple rows down I couldn't reach it from outside the border anymore so I just stood on the pavers themselves. I didn't notice them shifting from my weight but I did make sure to never stand on the row with the exposed edge since it had nothing holding it in place.
Once I got to the smaller L shaped bit on the end my cobbled together leveling tool turned out to be a great idea since I was able to split it in half again and have a smaller tool that I could still use in that area.
Step 8: Sweep the Sand Johnny
Step 9: Decorate!
I hope you enjoyed this walk through and it inspires you to create your own outside entertainment area! Feel free to share pictures of your creations in the comments (even if you made it before you read this I'd still love to see it)!