If you thought brick walks were just for the rich and famous, it may be time to re-evaluate your status in life. A modest brick paving project is a great way to add character to your home—without breaking the bank or calling in a landscape professional. The work is not particularly complicated, and careful preparation will ensure a job that is beautiful and long lasting. In fact, brick walks have been known to last for more than a hundred years.
This project was originally published in the January 2001 issue of Popular Mechanics. You can find more great projects at Popular Mechanics DIY Central.
Step 1: Project Planning
First, make a scale drawing of your walkway to help calculate material quantities. Then, decide upon a brick pattern. The simplest choice is the running-bond pattern that we used. Other popular patterns are herringbone and basket weave (see drawings). The patterns can be aligned with the direction of your walk, or at an angle. Keep in mind, though, that a complicated pattern or angled alignment will result in more waste.
Bricks used for walks, patios and driveways are called pavers and they’re not the same as those used for wall or fireplace construction. Ordinary brick is much too porous and soft for paving applications, and would quickly crack and disintegrate if used for a walk. A standard paver measures 3 3⁄4 x 7 1⁄2 in., and is about 2 1⁄8 in. thick. Calculate the area of your walkway and allow five bricks per square foot. For a running bond, add 10 percent for cutting and defects. If your walk has a curved or angled shape, or if you choose a more involved pattern, allow extra bricks for cutting.
You may be able to find paving bricks at a home center or nursery supply house, but the selection will be better if you go to a dedicated brick supplier. And, most suppliers will deliver the material to your site.
In addition to bricks, you’ll need a gravel base at least 4 in. thick, a 1-in.-thick layer of sand and edging to keep the bricks in place.
Use 3⁄4-in. crushed stone for the gravel bed. You can buy it in bags at a home center, but for larger projects order it by the cubic yard from a quarry. A cubic yard covers 81 sq. ft. at a thickness of 4 in.
Sand is also available either in bags or by the yard. A cubic yard of sand will cover 324 sq. ft. at a depth of 1 in. Get extra sand to fill the spaces between the bricks after the walk is laid.
For edge restraint we used a product called Snap Edge, available from many brick suppliers (Snap Edge Corp., 3940 Swenson Ave., St. Charles, IL 60174; www.snapedgeusa.com). This plastic edging comes in 8-ft. lengths for about $13 per length. You’ll also need 12-in. landscaping spikes to hold the edging in place. Plan four spikes for each straight length. If there are curves or angles, additional spikes will be necessary.
As for tools, you’ll need a wheelbarrow, level, shovel, garden rake, hammer, broom, stakes and mason’s line. Some straight 2 x 4 lumber will come in handy and you’ll have to rent a plate compactor and brick saw. These machines are quite heavy, so have someone on hand to help move them. Expect to spend about $60 per day to rent each of these tools.
Step 2: Site Prep
Before beginning the walk, inspect the site and check the slope of the ground. Use a straight 2 x 4 and level to determine the slope (Fig. 1). Ideally, the walk should be at the same height as the surrounding ground. In some cases, adjusting the height and pitch of the walk may be necessary. It’s important that the walk have a slight slope to allow water to run off the surface. The pitch should run away from any adjacent building, and it’s acceptable for the walk to slope slightly to one side to drain water. The required slope is 1⁄4 in. per every 4 ft. of run, so you won’t notice it when using the walk.
Determine the outline of the walkway excavation. Your hole should be at least 6 in. wider than the finished walk on each edge. Lay long 2 x 4s on the grass to indicate the edges. If the walk is to be curved, you can use a garden hose or heavy rope to mark the outline. Spread a line of ground limestone just inside the border to mark the grass (Fig. 2). Then, remove the 2 x 4s, use a spade to cut the grass along your layout lines (Fig. 3) and remove the sod.
Now drive wooden stakes into the surrounding grass (Fig. 4). Keep the stakes about 12 in. away from the edge of the hole, and space them about 3 ft. apart along the length of the walk on both edges. Stretch mason’s line between pairs of stakes across the walkway area. The lines will serve as guides for gauging the depth of the hole and the stone base. Adjust the height of the string so it’s at a uniform distance above the adjacent ground surface (Fig. 5). The height of the string is arbitrary, but it should be high enough above the hole so it won’t interfere with your work.
Continue excavating the site of the walk. Use the shovel to cut the sides of the hole vertically (Fig. 6) so the gravel base will be at its full depth right to the edge of the hole. Check the depth of the hole by measuring up to the string guides (Fig. 7). The bottom of the hole should be approximately 7 1⁄2 in. below the surface of the ground. Try for a reasonably flat-bottomed hole. If you remove any large stones, simply fill the recesses with gravel.
Step 3: Walkway Bed
Use a wheelbarrow to bring the gravel to the excavation (Fig. 1). Spread the gravel to a minimum depth of 4 in. with a garden rake (Fig. 2). Check the height of the gravel against the guide strings. When the gravel is at the proper height, remove the strings to provide unobstructed access to the site. This is the time to set the slope of your walk. Adjust the pitch of the base by adding more gravel where required. Use a length of 2 x 4 and your level to check the slope.
Next, use the plate compactor to pack the gravel base (Fig. 3). Slowly move the machine over the surface several times. Proper compacting of the base will prevent the walk from settling later.
Temporarily place a row of bricks at each end of the walk to act as guides in positioning the edge restraints (Fig. 4). This technique minimizes the amount of cutting required. If you’re using the running-bond pattern, it’s especially important to avoid having partial bricks at the edges.
Place the edging against the bricks and drive the landscape spikes to lock it in place (Fig. 5). Space the spikes about 3 ft. apart along the edging. Where necessary, cut the edging to length with a hacksaw (Fig. 6). If your walk has a curved profile, simply cut the webbing on the outside of the edging so it can be bent to the required shape.
Spread a 1-in.-deep layer of sand over the gravel base (Fig. 7). Use a 2 x 4 to screed the sand to a smooth surface (Fig. 8). If you cut a 1 3⁄4-in.-deep notch at each end of the 2 x 4, you can rest the notches on the edge restraints while you pull the 2 x 4 across the sand.
Begin laying the bricks at one end of the walk (Fig. 1). For a running-bond pattern, stagger the bricks by half their length, leaving the spaces at the end to be filled later. Once you have about 2 ft. of the walkway laid out, you can kneel on the bricks to work. Take care to lay each brick so its edges tightly abut the adjacent bricks. Once all the full bricks are laid, use the saw to cut bricks to fill the spaces in the walk (Fig. 2). Fill the reservoir in the saw base with water. The water is circulated to cool the blade and keep dust to a minimum.
After all the bricks are in place, go over the walk several times with the plate compactor to settle the bricks into the sand base (Fig. 3). This procedure locks the bricks in place to help keep them from shifting when the walk is exposed to
severe weather or heavy use.
Use a broom to brush sand over the surface to fill the spaces between the bricks (Fig. 4). Go over the walk several times to ensure a thorough job. Sweep up the excess and lightly hose down the walk to remove any dust. After the walk has been in service for a couple of weeks, repeat the sand application.
Backfill the walk excavation with topsoil, covering the exposed webbing of the edge restraint. Tamp the soil down to compact it, then plant grass to fill in the lawn up to the edge of the walk. The roots of the grass will grow through the holes in the edge restraint to further lock it in place. You also can plant flowers, small shrubs or ground cover to border the walk.
Now enjoy your new brick walkway, and the beautiful look it gives your home for years to come.