Introduction: Building a Simple Patio Using Paving Stones

About: I like to think of myself as a renaissance man. I'm interested in a lot of things, but most importantly I'm interested in learning, being capable, and doing things for myself. I've learned to knit, sew, and ma…

In order to add some usefulness to our outside space we decided to install a patio! A patio can provide a nice place outside to entertain and also help to break up a yard a bit and add points of interest, not to mention adding resale value to your property. We like the look of pavers over concrete slab so we decided to go that route. We're thrilled with the results and can't wait to enjoy this summer on it.

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

(I don't have any pictures of my wife and I planning the patio so I hope you enjoy these pictures of my son discovering a caterpillar while we were working)

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?

This was definitely the most labor intensive step for us. The spot we picked just so happened to be the spot where we had two trees cut down the year before. Even though they had ground the stumps down there was still stump left just below the surface as well as tons of roots. We started by measuring the outside area of the patio and digging a line around it. We dug a little larger than it needed to be which wasn't really on purpose but worked out in our favor since you have to account for the width of your border and it also helps account for any measurement errors you make. The process basically went dig, cut roots, dig, stop to hack and pry huge roots and pieces of stump out, dig, etc. As we got closer to the depth we needed we used a bow rake to help level the bottom. The rake helped skim off the tops of the higher areas and fill in the lower areas. Once it was deep enough and level enough* we tamped the area with a hand tamp. You can also rent a powered tamp if you're so inclined.

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

After consulting some friends in the know I decided to go with 2"x 6" pressure treated lumber for the border. It needs to be sturdy so 2" is really the thinnest you want to go. I also wanted it to be deep enough to contain the gravel and sand so I went with 6" wide.

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 the border was in place I had to make sure it was level. I also had to make sure that it would be at the right height for the pavers. I knew the 6" wide board was in fact only about 5 1/2" and that I would have 3" of gravel, 2" of sand, and 1 3/4" pavers so the gravel had to start below the boards for the top to be flush with the stones. I propped the border up on off-cuts of 2"x6" since they were almost the perfect thickness and went around checking to see that everything was level. Whenever it wasn't level I would add or subtract dirt from under the off-cuts the border was resting on. I didn't worry about the rest of the ground since only the part that it was resting on actually affected the levelness.

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'

After removing all of the pavers we could start dumping gravel into the area. I used a shovel and a bow rake to move it around once in the area. I used two lengths of 3" PVC to make sure the gravel was a consistent height. Basically I just put them down, verified that they were level with each other, filled the area with gravel, and slid a long board along them to skim any excess off the top. Once you're done a section move the pipes to the next section, carefully fill the void they leave, and repeat the process until your entire area is covered.

Step 7: This Step's a Beach

In this step I kind of wrapped a couple of things together that I've seen others do separately. I just didn't see any point in laying all of the sand, tamping, then leveling, and then laying paving stones when I could tie a couple of those steps together. So, for better or worse this is how I did it.

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

Once all of the pavers are done the last step is to fill all of the cracks with sand. They should be pretty well packed in there already but this step still helps get them really solid. Basically just shovel some sand onto your new patio and start sweeping it around. Make sure you sweep it over all of the cracks and once you're done sweep off the excess and spray it off with a hose. The water helps the sand work its way into the cracks. Keep some extra sand on hand and repeat this step after a couple days to fill in any voids that may have opened up from the patio settling.

Step 9: Decorate!

To finish off the patio we planted some Lamb's Ears and Foxgloves, put down paper bags down as a weed barrier (They worked very well in our front mulch beds and they're biodegradable), and filled in with mulch. We threw together a little "bar" using a couple pallets that the gravel and sand came on, some left over pavers and some paint. We got some patio furniture at Target, a clearance bird bath at Home Depot, and got a second hand fire pit from a friend at work to use in that corner area. For that corner area and the walkway to the back steps we put down a weed barrier and filled them with pea gravel. we also used extra pavers for stepping stones. We haven't put a border there yet but that will come soon.

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)!

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