When I bought my house, the backyard had a flagstone patio and a rotting wood deck, separated by about 15 feet with a paver and pea gravel path joining them. The original plan was to pull out the wood deck and path and landscape that area but, upon ripping out the deck, I discovered a concrete slab of just a bit smaller dimensions underneath. The slab was in pretty decent shape so I changed plans and decided to keep it as a second seating area. This turned my attention to the path, which had good pavers, but the pea gavel filling in between them was full of weeds and dirt; plus I didn't really like the placement of the path itself.
Thus my decision to move it. Pulling up the pavers was easy, but for the new placement I needed to accomplish two goals: First, pull up all the existing gravel and larger stones the pavers had rested on so I could plant grass, and Second separate out the small pea gravel and the larger broken rock for re-use in the new path. I like to use and re-use what I have before breaking down and buying new materials.
I'll note up front that I am not a landscape professional (this may become very obvious) and I basically made this up as I went along except for the rock sifter which was buzzing around in my head for a few months now. I like to do a little planning and a (very) little research and then just dive into a project and see what it teaches me. This one turned out pretty well.
Step 1: Building the Sifter
I built a pretty simple double-screen sifting aparatus from 1/2" and 1/4" fencing, my always-handy pile of random 2x4 lengths, and a pair of sawhorses. For the top level I used the 1/2" fencing for separating out the largest stones, and added hinges to ease pouring the rocks into a bucket as well as to get that level out of the way so I could work the lower screen.
The lower level was a double layer, consisting of the 1/4" fencing on top of a layer of 1/2". The 1/2" fencing was a higher gauge wire, so I put that down for overall strength; I didn't want the screen to rip out halfway through the process.
One admission: the first attempt for the lower level was the 1/2" fencing with an overlay of window screen material, rather than the 1/4" fencing. I thought I'd lose too much "good" gravel through the 1/4" fencing, so went with the very fine mesh (some of the pictures are from this version). Big mistake on several points. First, it was unnecessary. After I switched to 1/4", I got plenty of good stone. Second, some of the really small gravel the fine mesh caught was just too small; it filled in like dirt which was not the look I wanted. But the main reason I stopped the process and refit with the 1/4" was because trying to sift through the fine mesh was a time consuming nightmare. Each shovelful took ages. I experimented with using a leaf blower on my rock and dirt pile to blow off some of the finer dirt before shoveling it into the sifter, but that didn't work too well and made a heck of a dust cloud.
I learned my lesson quickly and switched it out. The gravel I got was just what I needed, not too much waste, and the sifting process was 10 times faster and easier. Never be afraid to stop and rework the solution if it isn't quite right.
Step 2: Rock and Dirt Collection
On the hinged end of the sifter, I forced a dip in the top screen to funnel the rock-flow, and placed a collection bucket under that.
Similar for the opposite end of the lower screen: a dip in the screen aided by a break in the 2x4 supports, plus another bucket.
Under the whole thing I put a pair of wide planters to catch the sifted dirt and very small rocks.
The final touch was a safety chain rigged to hold up the top screen for when I was working stuff through the lower. Thus, no one was concussed during operation.
The collection process was then a straightforward matter of roughly a million shovel-fulls (that's what it seemed like) of rock matrix into the sifter and a lot of manual manipulation to get it all through. Heavy leather gloves were important.
Step 3: Edging the Path
The original path was lined with sections of plastic edging. For aesthetic reasons and personal hangups, I prefer using metal edging. Having used EasyFlex Aluminum Landscape Edging on a prior project, I went with that. Easy to use, strong, and it looks good. This was the only material I had to buy for the project; everything else was laying around my shop.
I laid out one edge to define the overall shape of the path. For the other, I was careful to use a level to assure the correct relative elevation. The side closer to the house was intentionally about two inches higher than the other, to aid with drainage, but given the width of the path this difference is invisible to the eye. Easy cheat to accomplish this: I cut a shallow grove down the length of a 4" long piece of 2x4 scrap, balanced this on the first edging (farthest from the house) and then rested the level on that and the second edging (closer to the house). Adjusted the second edging to level, slid down a few feet, adjusted the elevation there, and continued that way to the end.
The old plastic edging material came in handy as spacers to maintain an even width for the run of the new path.
Step 4: Planning the Pavers
The pavers reclaimed from the old path were, lucky for me, in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. Like packing a shopping bag, you start with the big pieces and then fill in with the smaller. When doing this kind of thing, it's important to lay out the whole thing in advance, before final placement. This assures an even distribution and no surprises at the end when the the remaining pieces don't fill the way you want. During this process there were many times where I robbed a piece from an earlier section because I found a better use for it.
The original path had pretty wide gaps between the pavers, but I wanted something with thin gaps, partially to cut down on weed opportunity, and partially because pea gravel never really stays where you want it to, so I wanted to minimize its use.
I was again lucky, in that I was pretty successful in finding pieces that fit together fairly well.
The old and new path met up with the flagstone patio in the same spot, so about 2 feet of original path was maintained. Again, the gaps were a little wider than I liked, so I found some smaller wedges that I plan to insert into that section.
Some may note that I didn't use that black plastic "weed-block" sheet stuff under the rocks. Basically, I don't like it. It certainly doesn't guarantee that you won't get weeds (you will. nature finds a way. like in Jurassic Park), and it's just more plastic-product junk I'd rather not insert into the environment. Yes, sharp-eyed critics will find dozens of environmentally unfriendly items in my pictures, to which I say, "you need a better hobby".
Step 5: Paver Leveling and Gap Fill
Now I was ready for final placement. The pavers had widely varying depths, ranging from an inch up to more than three, some with a consistent thickness and others having bulges and arches. My goal, despite this, was for the tops of all the pavers to be evenly level with each other.
The edging helped a lot with this. I got a long bar (the white one in the pictures) and use that to assure I raised each paver to the right height. This was a repetitive process of eyeballing the gap below it, pouring in large rocks to bring it up close, laying the paver to test with the white bar, picking it back up to add or subtract rocks, and repeat. After a while, you get a feel for it.
One nice trick I found was to get the paver just a wee bit high, so the bar balanced on it and hovered over one or both of the edging on either side. Leave the bar resting on the paver and then, with a twisting pressing motion, grind the paver down into the base rocks. The bar jiggles back and forth with the motion of the paver until suddenly, it stops moving. Its ends have just touched down on the edging, and the paver is leveled perfectly. That worked really well.
I'd do about two feet of path, placing and leveling pavers, then go back and start filling in with the pea gravel to hold it all in place. Pouring in the gravel to level off the whole path was pretty satisfying.
Step 6: Wrap Up
And that's it. As of this writing I still need to go back an insert the wedges into the original section, and then landscape/mulch the area between the path and house, and finally bring in some topsoil for the other side to plant grass (I'll update with pictures as I go, if there is any interest).
The rock sifter will see service cleaning up some smaller pea gravel paths off the other side of the patio, and then I'll likely disassemble it to reuse its parts in some other project.
Hope you found it interesting and helpful. Thanks for reading and good luck on your projects.
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