Introduction: How to Build an Awesome Sidewalk With Recycled Lumber for Only $50.00

Picture of How to Build an Awesome Sidewalk With Recycled Lumber for Only $50.00

        After reading that title you might wonder, why would anyone make a sidewalk out of wood? Well, there are a few very good reasons for doing it.

  A little history

      More than 25 years ago my wood sidewalk started out as an experiment to see how practical it might be. We needed some kind of walkway for the country house we had just moved into. I thought of using the traditional concrete but in the climate that I live (Northeastern Montana) cement sidewalks have some problems. The ground here moves around a lot. It shrinks in the hot dry summers, sometimes making cracks that are 4 inches wide. In the winter it freezes 6 to 8 feet down so the ground heaves up a lot. Between the shrinking in the summer and freezing in the winter concrete does a lot of cracking. Also cement stays cold and frozen all winter whereas wood warms up and the ice melts off of it anytime it gets above freezing. It was also the least expensive of my available choices. So I built a wood sidewalk. It lasted far longer than I ever thought it would, more than 25 years.  But all things deteriorate and my sidewalk has been in need of replacing for a while now. Once again I found myself debating about what to use. I had been looking into making my own pavers but in the end I went back to wood, especially when I got used redwood for free.

My challenges for this project were:

   Come up with a design that could use all the different sizes of redwood I salvaged without producing a lot of waste.

    Resurface the older weathered wood so it matched with everything.

    Create a good-looking, practical sidewalk at a reasonable cost. 

By the way, I have included a lot of comments and extra info in the pictures so be sure to check any yellow outlined squares in them.

Step 1: The Wood

Picture of The Wood

     I heat a lot with firewood so I am always on the lookout for wood. Lumbar scraps and discarded wood burns just as good as anything else, so when a friend of mine told me he had a pile of wood from a flood cleanup I went to look.  I was soon the owner of a large collection of used redwood that normally would have gone to the dump. I acquired a second pile from an old redwood deck that was torn down and replaced. Now I had the wood I needed for my sidewalk, except that it was not all nice standard same size pieces. It was a mix of 2x4, 2x6, and 2x8’s with varied lengths from 8 feet long to 12 inches.  In addition The wood from the old deck was very weathered on the top side from years of exposure.

Step 2: The Tools

Picture of The Tools


I have a 30-year-old Craftsman table saw that played a pretty major role in this project. Another key tool is a wood planer. Craftsman sells one almost identical to the one I used for this project. The reason I bought this one was that it was on sale with free shipping and at 65 pounds that made a difference. If the Craftsman one had been on sale I would have bought it instead. I also used an 8½ inch miter saw, a cordless drill for driving screws, a circular saw for some of the difficult cuts of the longer boards and a square and tape measure, hammer, dirt moving tools, lots of miscellaneous things. Lastly I used a Dremel which is featured in another of my Instructables here:

 My saw went out of production long ago but Sears  does have some nice looking new ones that probably work better than mine. Here is a reasonable priced one.

Here is a craftsman planer very much like mine. You should wait to buy it until  you can get free shipping which they do every now and again. Or order it and pick it up in a store.

Just as a general principle I would rather spend the money on the tools to do the job and have the tools left over afterwards for other projects rather than spend a lot for materials that you don't need the  tools for to begin with. 

Step 3: The Cost Breakdown

Picture of The Cost Breakdown

    The Final cost breakdown for this project is as follows. And yes I did it cheap.

Six boxes of deck screws. The original price on each box was $7.50 per box but I got them all when a local hardware store went out of business and auctioned everything off. So I bought three large boxes of various packages of screws for $20.00. That would put the final price for the screws I used at about $5.00.

      1/2 gallon of deck sealer which I also bought at the auction. I bought four gallons for $20.00, so about $3.00 for the amount I used.

      A gallon of diesel fuel which I mixed with used motor oil to treat the underside of the wood and support pieces as a preservative.  About $3.00 (More on this later)

      2 trips in my pickup to get the free redwood, using roughly 6 gallons of gas, or about $18.00 for transportation.

      Finally, I ruined the blades on my planer after hitting a number of hidden screws in the wood, which is a hazard of working with used wood. The blades are double-sided, so I could use the other side, which means only half the blade was worn out. I bought a set of replacement blades for $28.00, figuring half of that for this project is $14.00.


The total was $43.00. Just to be safe I rounded it up to $50.00.That's pretty reasonable for the results that I got. Of course I am not counting my slave labor. But remember, you must feed slaves even though  you don't pay them, hence the BBQ grill.

Step 4: A Close Shave

Picture of A Close Shave

    A wood planer shaves off the top layer of the wood to expose the good wood underneath. It is very important to check the lumber for any hidden screws or nails. The plane spins at very high-speed, and if it hits a metal object in the wood it takes a notch out of all the blades. From then on you will see a line down anything you plane where those blades are damaged. You can run the wood through again to take off the line but if you get to many dings in the blades you will have a real problem. I start with the board just clearing the blades and work the depth down from there. It usually takes at least three passes to get it looking good.  Remember that you are going to have to plane all the boards to the same size in order to avoid having some boards sticking up above others.  Decide from the start which side is going to be the top. I usually run the bottom of the board through the plane at least once to take off any high spots but you don’t have to worry about cutting it down to fresh wood as it’s not going to show. A plane makes big piles of chips and sawdust very quickly. Have a plan for dealing with it. I rototill all my sawdust into the garden so it’s recycled.
(See my Instructable “Shred and Till”)

Oh, and watch out for lead paint on old boards. If you suspect that they may have it dispose of them. If you plane them the lead will go everywhere in the fine dust from the planer

Step 5: The Table Saw

Picture of The Table Saw

Some of my boards were badly worn on the edges. A few had  been steps and so they were very rounded from being  walked on. You can use the table saw on these to cut 2x6’s down to 2x4’s. Also 2x8’s can become 2x6’s. Start by cutting off the worst edge; don’t just try to cut it down completely in one pass. Next run the board again and square up the other edge. You now should have a good flat square side that will work against the rip fence. Measure and set the fence for the final dimension (3 ½ inches for a 2x4) and again cut off the worst edge to make your 2x4. I was only able to salvage half of the one in the picture because of the big knot. In addition be aware of any screw or nail holes in the board, if you can trim them out while cutting down the board, so much the better. Sometimes the holes actually line up with where you need them to be and you can just reuse the hole. 

 Important: A Note about Safety

 All new table saws come with guards on the blades. Mine did, but it broke many years ago so that is why it’s not on there. I do not recommend running the saw without the guard. These blades are so sharp and so fast that you will see you finger lying on the ground and wonder what it is before you even realize that yours is gone. I had a friend who sliced his finger right down the middle before he had a chance to pull his hand back.  They sewed it back together but it never worked the same because of the damage to the joints. Treat this saw with absolute respect and you should have no problems. Never lose track of where that blade is when it is running. Also remember that table saws love to throw stuff—they can launch a hunk of wood with great speed. It’s called kickback. Make sure you are not in the line of fire. Mine threw a chunk of wood through a window once.  Always use sharp blades. A dull blade will tear up the wood and smoke and char the kerf. I always use carbide tipped blades; they are definitely worth the money.

Step 6: The Layout and Designe

Picture of The Layout and Designe

I tried a number of different patterns but quickly decided on this one. It made best use of the sizes of wood that I had and from the first layouts I did I thought it looked really interesting. It did make for some difficult cuts for the supporting boards, but that is just all part of the challenge.

I made this in sections, the length of each section was determined by the length of the longest 2x4  board that I had since they were the ones going lengthwise. The sections can come apart just by taking off the connecting 2 x 6"s where they come together. By doing this the sections are small enough that I can stand them up on edge if I need to get underneath them.The sidewalk sections are free floating. They are not attached to the ground. The support boards rest on bricks that can be adjusted to get it level.

 For the supporting boards you can use the boards that are in the poorest condition. This is one of the reasons you should sort out your wood and decide what will be used for what.  The support boards don’t need to be planed. However if they are going to be in contact with or close proximity to the ground they should be treated.

   I have tried commercial wood preservatives and some of them just don’t seam to work very good. Something that does work though is a mix of used motor oil and a half to a third part diesel fuel. This has been in use around this area for a very long time. I learned that they used to use it to treat wooden wagons. Some use it to treat flatbed trailers that are left out in the elements for years. I know from my own experience it works and is cheap. The oil penetrates into the wood and appears to seal it from moisture. It’s that simple. Oil and water don’t mix so if the wood is saturated with oil no water will get in. No water means no rot, and also the bugs really don’t like to chew on it. The diesel fuel thins the oil and acts as a transport agent to move it deeper into the wood.  I have seen fence posts that were treated with oil still in the ground after 30 years.  Very little oil transfers to the ground so it’s not a pollution problem. One down side to it is that it smells for while. It takes time for the diesel fuel to evaporate but if you live where I do that’s not a problem. It also is more flammable than just plain wood until it weathers for a while, but again that is not usually a problem for outside landscaping projects.

      To apply it just paint it on with an old paint brush and let it soak into the wood. Pay special attention to the ends of the boards and any holes or cracks in the boards. Weathered wood with lots of cracks actually works very good for this because it gives the oil more places to soak in. If you have the time to wait you should let it stand for a few days until most of it soaks in. If you are in a hurry you can use it right away, but it might get a little messy.

Step 7: Complex Joints

Picture of Complex Joints

I made the support boards so they were under each place where the ends of the top boards came together. Since I was using this pattern the support boards did not meet at a 45 degree angle.  You can cut these types angles and pieces by laying one board on top of the other and marking it for the cut. You don’t need to try and draw the angles with a protractor, just align everything and mark them  and make the cut. These joints were the only places that I used my circular saw.

Step 8: Section Two

Picture of Section Two

  For the next section I reversed the pattern I was using which created an even more interesting look. Keep in mind that since there were no standard sized lumbar pieces  I had to measure and cut each board to fit its specific place.

Step 9: Sealer

Picture of Sealer

After completing the first 2 sections I put the sealer on it. I didn't want it to get wet before I had a chance to seal it. The wet sealer looks really impressive. To  bad it doesn't stay that way. It really shows off the redwood color.

Step 10: Section Three

Picture of Section Three

Because this next section turns both right and left I had to change the pattern a little and send it in both directions.

Step 11: Section Three to the Left.

Picture of Section Three to the Left.

Again using interesting angles

Step 12: Section Three to the Right

Picture of Section Three to the Right

Now the split going to the right.

Step 13: Finished for the Season.

Picture of Finished for the Season.

I  screwed the last boards down and declared my project finished and it started snowing 3 days later. I would love to replace the remaining section along my driveway but I only have a little bit of redwood left. Maybe by next summer I will scrounge up some more. In the meantime I am happy with my results.

I also plan to replace the logs along the flower bed, they are rotting away and it needs something new. Who knows maybe I can reclaim some of the ground from the bushes and get flowers growing again.

Maybe in 20 years if this has to be replaced again I will try something different but for the moment I think its great and the price was definitely right.


onrust (author)2012-07-01

Awesome! The snow photo gets me. Nice work

AlexanderDW1959 (author)2011-08-05

That is just beautiful!

Annatar2 (author)2011-08-05

Own the same saw as you, and from experience none of the saws craftsman makes now match it for performance until you start getting into the 500 dollar range. The old cast iron topped craftsman saws are great and if you watch craigslist or eBay can usually pick one up from 150 to 250 depending on condition and accessories.

MrLunnaXIII (author)2011-08-05

I REALLY enjoyed your instructable. It is like watching a work of art done step by step. The nail holes give the wood the impression of telling a "story".
If only the wood could talk.
Great job!!

vrbnstl (author)2011-07-30

Thank you! I've been wondering how to do a wooden walk w/o all the digging, fill, gravel, etc. That wood preservative also seems like a great idea! I too appreciate the work you put into the project and to your presentation here. Beautiful!

llodge (author)2011-07-23

very nice, liked the comments too, was a lot of work to do the sidewalk but also I think a lot of work to put it up here, so big thanks for that, very, very nice, thanks for sharing.

whisper14072 (author)2011-07-08

I was wondering if you could use this idea for a deck? I want to put one in the front of my house... it would be ground level.... what ya think?

Vyger (author)whisper140722011-07-08

It would probably work great. Mine has performed really good so far. And, unlike cement if your not happy with the results you can change it.

simerice (author)2011-06-06

I love this is awesome and I was looking for an idea in creating a walkway from the back of our house to the barn...thanks for did a really great job!

kameelyon (author)2011-03-18

that looks incredible, well done, the time and effort you must have put into it really paid off imo

sebastianmal (author)2011-01-26

wonderfull job , masterpeice work , just the base will be good with a raised simed finishing, save the world

learntotechie (author)2011-01-08

nice performnce

Hiroak (author)2011-01-05

This would look great indoors, now to find redwood in Alaska.

bmontalvo (author)2011-01-03


Dr. Pepper (author)2011-01-02

Very cool project!

jeff-o (author)2010-12-20

I'm facing the replacement of my old, ugly, cracking backyard path this coming summer. Now you've got me wondering if I should use wood to do the job. I suppose the weather here in Canada is no worse than in Montana...

Vyger (author)jeff-o2010-12-21

If the old walk is cement you could just leave it in place and build the wood one on top of it. That would eliminate the cost and work of removing and disposing of the cement. The savings in that alone would probably pay for a large part of the wood. In addition building it on top of an already level surface would make construction that much easier. About the only problem you might run into is needing to add some short posts to help keep it in place so it doesn't slide off the cement.

jeff-o (author)Vyger2010-12-21

Hey! Now there's an idea. Unfortunately, the path we've got needs to be wider, some of it needs to be removed completely (so we're already paying for removal), and some pathways need to go elsewhere.

But, I do wonder if I could use big 2x2 concrete slabs instead of bricks as "anchors" for the wood pathways. I could make modular sections that bolt together, too! Oh, I gotta write this down so I don't forget. Thanks for the inspiration!

tleet59 (author)2010-12-16

I love the recycled beauty of this. The last picture in your final step shows snow on the ground. I'd worry about the surface being slipery when wet or frozen. Did you use any final finishing product besides sealer? Also, did you use any sort of spacer between the wood slats to allow for expansion of the wood?

Vyger (author)tleet592010-12-21

I started out using a putty knife blade as a spacer but after a while I just eyeballed it. Experts might think that I spaced the wood to close, but I got tired of having to fish stuff out from under the walk that fell through the cracks. If it turns out that they are spaced to closely I will unscrew the boards and shave a little off with the table saw.
When the snow first started the surface was slippery but as this winter is going on that appears to be going away. It got so cold so fast that there was never a chance to put anything else on it except the first coat. I am hoping that its enough for this winter.

dlginstructables (author)2010-12-19

Nice touch showing all your tools in the same photo.

noesc (author)2010-12-19

This is one of the most beautiful walkways I've seen.

Not just only for the finished result, but for the whole concept. And it is instructables like this that prevents this site to drown in sloppy and crappy instructables. Thank you =)

Wounderful descriptions
Clear and good photos
Scavenged wood
DIY-sealant with comparatively low poisonous effects (and the motoroil is already used once before. Reuse yet again!)
"Function over estetics" where parts does not show: I vote for that one!

Even the comments so far is of good quality!
This is what internet is for!
Good job!

PS. You even made me want to move from our apartment and get a house so I've got a reason to do something similar :)

noesc (author)noesc2010-12-19

I forgot to mention that it really shows that you were thinking about next steps all the time.

The time and effort put into this must be incredible, and it shows!

doubleshockz (author)2010-12-18

this is beautiful! very nice job

Gothbunny (author)2010-12-18

Love it!!!! The wood you can get in Montana is great, I love the design!!!

frazeeg (author)2010-12-17

That's the kind of project I like to see. I had some initial concerns about using the motor oil/diesel mix for treating the wood (especially considering redwood is naturally rot/bug resistant) but your comments have put those fears to rest.

We don't get redwood out in the midwest but I'd sure like to try a project with some. It's a gorgeous wood, and as long as it's sustainably harvested I'm all for using it. I'm glad to see it recycled so well in your project.

iminthebathroom (author)2010-12-17

uh, wow!

ryangranado (author)2010-12-17

Beautiful wood sidewalk!!! I wish I could have friends and family throwing away this kind of lumber. Here in the oil country part of Texas we only get pine, cedar and ugly pressure treated where oak, redwood and other beautiful woods are a hard commodity to get a chance to reclaim. Just a note; if you have more kickback as your saw gets older you might need to re-align it with the miter slot as it tends to kick out of square (parallel) witht the slot. Besides that, you made a very very beautiful piece of functional art that you should be very proud of!!!

subi4ester (author)2010-12-16

I have the same table saw. Still works great!

Sequimania (author)2010-12-16

Beautiful! It makes me wonder if large "stepping stones" could be made out of discarded pallets. We find a lot of pallets made out of oak up here in the NW. New Project!


Dream Dragon (author)2010-12-13

It looks gorgeous, a very elegant solution. I'm guessing Redwood ages rather like Oak, so it should last well.

A couple of suggestions I'd offer to anyone else embarking on such a project.

The enemy of wood in any exterior installations is moisture, and certainly here in the UK you'd need something more than "sealer" to protect your wood. What you buy here as "sealer" won't go NEARLY far enough. I'm sure this project is fine for the author's particular situation but the best solution will depend on many factors including the particular type of wood, the prevailing climate, and there may be chemical toxicity laws to consider, it's always wise get good advice on the correct treatments for the particular wood you use in the country you live in. It might also be a good idea to install a damp proof membrane to act as a permanent barrier between the wood and the ground, in this case it may not be necessary, but again it might be worth the extra effort. If you DO install a damp proof membrane you will need to consider ventilation also. you will need some means to ensure air can circulate underneath the wood so that there are no "dead spots" that could cause water to collect and damage your beautiful work..

Vyger (author)Dream Dragon2010-12-15

Did they ever try putting several inches of gravel down for drainage? Gravel does a good job of keeping things out of the water provided it doesn't get to deep. Since my walkway is not attached to the ground if it rained to much it would float away. Of course I could use that as a selling point "Sidewalk also serves as a flotation device in high precipitation emergencies."

Vyger (author)Vyger2010-12-15

I forgot to mention that redwood is naturally resistant to rotting. It does eventually but it lasts a lot longer than most other woods. Its similar to cedar in that way. It does turn gray with exposure so the purpose of the sealer for me is mostly to try and retain some of the color longer and to make it a little more dirt resistant. If you were only concerned with longevity, pressure treated wood is probably the best. Its injected with a preservative under high pressure so it penetrates deep into the wood. Do they use creosote in the UK? That is an excellent preservative but its is believed to be a carcinogen so its restricted here now. They still treat power poles and railroad ties with it but home use is discouraged. In fact I don't know if you can even buy it anymore. It also smells really bad.

DavidMF (author)Vyger2010-12-16

I use a stone sealant called "511" for most of my wood projects as well. It has worked better on my projects than most others. It's pricey but it works great.

Shiftlock (author)Vyger2010-12-16

I remember seeing a commercial an epoxy-like wood treatment. From what I remember, It basically soaks into the wood, then hardens, making the wood impervious to water and rot. I believe it said the wood becomes almost like a very hard plastic. I don't know much about it, but it looked like it might be good for this type of thing. *shrug*

Beautiful sidewalk, BTW. Almost looks too nice to be an outdoor sidewalk.

Everything looked cleaner in 1987. I think you need to tie those bushes to a truck, yank them out, and plant new (smaller) ones.

Dream Dragon (author)Shiftlock2010-12-16

I think I know the treatment you are referring to, it's even useable on rotting and damaged wood (if we are talking about the same stuff) It's probably a bit pricey for treating a whole walkway, but it would keep the water out. Not sure how it works with the UV either, but certainly worth looking into if you are starting a project in warmer and generally wetter areas.

Vyger (author)Shiftlock2010-12-16

Things always look messier in the fall. I put off cleaning up so I could get the project done first. Now I have a garden cart full of frozen solid leaves buried in the snow. Winter came on fast this year. The really annoying thing about this area is this snow could be here until March.
The bushes are on the south side so they provide a lot of shade for the house in the summer time, so they do have some positive things going for them.

Shiftlock (author)Vyger2010-12-16

Ah, yeah, leaves, snow. I remember them well. Endlessly raking, carting, shoveling, plowing. I'm going on two years now in south Florida, and I'll be a happy guy if I never see another leaf pile or snowflake in my entire life.

Dream Dragon (author)Vyger2010-12-15

Gravel would certainly help, but for many woods the moisture laden air above such a drain would be enough to promote fungal infestation and rotting, hence my comment about ventilation.

It sounds like the Redwood is very similar to Oak in the aging process (I'm not really familiar with Ceder either). The silver grey oxidation layer inhibits the fungal growth and rotting. As long as you can keep it out of STANDING water there's no reason it shouldn't last for dozens and possibly HUNDREDS of years with no treatment what so ever. Pressure treated wood is definitely a good option.

I'm still not clear what you are referring to as "Sealer" but to effectively seal against the oxygen in the air and the UV that fades the colour you might require some kind of varnish. If you bought "sealer" here in the UK you'd end up with a watery substance that wouldn't really do anything useful in that direction. You're certainly right to want to preserve that lovely rich colour as far as possible. We have a "Diamond Hard - Floor Varnish" that I've used for things other than floors, but which might suit such a project if you were doing something similar here.

Vyger (author)Dream Dragon2010-12-16

As regards the sealer I used --- It looks like the company has quit making it but I did find a link to the sealer that I used, if you want specifics there is a link to a PDF data sheet at this web site.

TANZMEISTER (author)2010-12-13

Is your finished wood slippery when wet?

My experience on boats is that all finished wood is dangerously slippery with a bit of H2O. Ceder could be left unfinished for a nice nonslip surface.

Vyger (author)TANZMEISTER2010-12-13

What I have found with this particular sealer is that the surface is not slippery with water but instead feels sort of rubbery. What actually is slippery though is snow and ice. The snow doesn't stick to it and that make its slippery, it sweeps clean with a broom but if you have snow on the bottom of your shoes you have to walk carefully. I am hoping that after it weathers a bit it will get rougher and that problem will go away. If not I might have to do something else like gluing a light scattering of fine sand on it.

madpoetx (author)Vyger2010-12-16

put another coat on with sand mixed into the poly/varnish. or you could get expensive and buy traction compound, also known as walkway compound. When I was working on airplanes, we used to go through gallons of the stuff on top of the C-130's we worked on, and even through the heaviest New York winters, I didn't slip once up there (luckily)

Phil B (author)2010-12-13

Nicely done. A friend with many, many tools has an electronic device for finding nails and screws in his "used" wood before his planer finds them. Also, I once read an article that urged allowing only the tips of the sawblade to come through the wood. The author claimed this produced a smoother cut and if your fingers tangle with the sawblade, it is only a flesh wound, not severed bone. It seems like a good strategy in the absence of guards.

jokun (author)Phil B2010-12-14

I don't know if you're referring to the table saw or not, and I'm no professional by any means, but I read exactly the opposite when I was looking for a new table saw recently. The reason being that a saw blade set to cut higher than the height of the wood provides less backwards force for kickback. The majority of the teeth are engaged in upwards and downwards force, coming up through the wood and then back down. If the blade is set so only the tips of the blade come through the wood, you've got a lot more teeth putting backwards force directly on the wood.

jokun (author)jokun2010-12-14

but, like you said, a lower blade setting would have less chance of severe injury if there's no guard.

Phil B (author)jokun2010-12-14

I was referring to a table saw. What I read was an article from Popular Science in an issue from back in the late 1950's or early 1960's. I have had a radial arm saw for quite a long time. But, for a while I used the home built table saw described in this Instructable. I kept the blade low and never had any kickback problems, unless the wood contained too much sap or a piece had internal stresses that caused bowing and binding as it was cut. Even then I remember using a screwdriver in the kerf once or twice to function as a riving knife and prevent binding on the blade. Most of my safety precautions involved using pusher sticks as often as I could and always keeping my hands several inches away from the blade. I am only trying to share something I found helpful, not to sound like I have the only way to do it

Dream Dragon (author)Phil B2010-12-15

With all this talk of power tools, it's worth just pointing out something that I'm sure everyone here knows by heart but which might be useful for those who've found this article from elsewhere.

"Before we use any power tools, let's talk about shop safety. Be sure to read and understand the instructions and safety rules that come with your power tools. And remember, there is no greater rule than to wear these, safety glasses."

I don't think I even need to provide a credit, because everyone KNOWS who I'm quoting, and I certainly couldn't say it better. All the safety gadgets in the world are no match for a thorough understanding of the particular quirks and foibles of YOUR tool.

GeeDeeKay (author)Dream Dragon2010-12-16


Dream Dragon (author)GeeDeeKay2010-12-16


About This Instructable




Bio: The name comes from the First Star Trek movie, that pretty much says it all.
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