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Home Building Projects: How (Not) To Build a Patio Walkway with Pavers

Updated on August 24, 2013

The Required "Before" Picture

This is what we had to start with
This is what we had to start with

Turn the corner

More of the Same
More of the Same

The guy with no 'guy gene' is building another project

I'm back... the guy without the 'guy gene.' 

It's been a long while since I've had a big project, but Monique finally pinned me down to a commitment.  The patio that I started last summer finally made it to the top of my to-do list.  To be completely honest, we only had the budget at the time to buy about half the pavers needed, so that was our big limiting factor.

Just a few of the supplies

Pavers and Sand
Pavers and Sand

Pavers on Sale... Writing is on the Wall

Since then, I've been dodging the bullet for a while, but a week or so back the pavers went on sale, and I knew the writing was on the wall.  We have a sort of agreement in the family.  Monique and her mom are constantly doing home improvement projects, but I'm the guy without the 'guy gene.'  After a lot of give and take, we finally all agreed that they will do anything requiring skill and practical tool use.  My part is any lifting, carrying, sawing, or other heavy work.  Unskilled physical labor, that's my job description.

In most cases, this has worked out pretty well.  I haven't broken any more fingers, knees, or other body parts since we've come to this arrangement.  The bad news, is that puts building a patio made with paving stones directly in my bailiwick.  Man, I hate projects…

Project Patio: The Beginning

First dig a flat, shallow hole over the entire area.
First dig a flat, shallow hole over the entire area.

Computer Nerd with Construction Tools

It's always an adventure when I build something. One of my favorite left-handed compliments was from Monique. She told me when I do a project, she rarely understands my thought process... but that it usually works out well.

Sometimes it's an advantage, not knowing what I'm doing. I see things differently. A computer nerd with construction tools can have unexpected results.  Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes it's not.

Measure the Patio Space

In this case, once we determined jurisdiction, it was time to plan the attack.  Measurements first.  Get the basic square footage.  Figure on the pavers being about 12" x 12".  Fudge it a little, to allow space between the pavers.  Multiply, divide, roll a couple of dice, and that gives me how many pavers to buy.  With the square footage in mind, this is also a good time to buy weed cloth to put under the entire project.  This slows down weeds coming up in my patio. 

Turn the Corner

And you see the rest of the shallow hole.
And you see the rest of the shallow hole.

Fill what you can, then figure out leftover space

I noticed that much of the area won't allow for complete pavers to fit in all the way across.  Seems like the best approach would be to fill in the full pavers as much as possible, and when it's all been put in, take a look and see what might fit in the remaining spaces.

Pour the Sand

Now smooth it out.
Now smooth it out.

Proof that the math works

Leveled out pretty good!
Leveled out pretty good!

My formula for sand volume

Once I knew how many pavers to buy, it was time to figure out the sand.  For those who don't incorporate sand as part of their patio, this is my plan:  Dig a flat, shallow hole everywhere a paver should go.  Make it deeper than the pavers, because I want them to be ground level.  Then add the weed cloth and cover with sand until the hole is roughly as deep as the paver is thick.  Use the sand as a leveling medium, and to fill in the cracks and spaces.

So I need to look at the area, figure how deep I'm going to dig, then buy enough sand to fill in the difference.  My technique for figuring out sand quantities involves staring at the area for a while.  Then I look at the Jeep, and try to figure out how much weight our old Jeep can hold without breaking anything important.

It's a complicated formula, goes something like this:

(Amount of Sand I think I'll need)


(How much sand the Jeep can carry)

Multiplied by

(cost of sand per bag).

Now this calculation is based on a flex paradigm.  If the final dollar amount comes out too high, I just make up a new formula.

I need more sand, please

Last time, I made a satisfyingly deep hole, and just kept adding sand until it looked right.  This time, Monique asked me to try to spend less on sand.  So I dug the hole a lot shallower than I probably should have.  Took away my leeway, but only cost about half the sand... you've heard of Sand Dollars, right?  

Now that the hard math is over, it's time to get back to work.  Lay the weed fabric in first.  Pour the sand in the hole over the cloth.  Spread it as level as I can.  I use a variety of professional tools for this, but my favorites are my hands for the fine details, and my feet for the larger areas.

Finally- Proof that I really did work!

Once I posed for the shot, the construction team got back to work.
Once I posed for the shot, the construction team got back to work.

Now it's time to lay the patio pavers

Once the sand is level, we're into the home stretch.  Also, the longest, most difficult aspect.  I bring a stack of pavers to my work area, and put them a couple feet behind me.  Then, one at a time, I put them on the sand, shuffle them a bit, level them somewhat, and try to keep them straight.  

Here's a useful tip - sit in the sand, ahead of your completed work.  It conforms to your contours, and is far more comfortable than sitting on the pavers and following the working edge.  Those pavers can really kill your knees.  The only drawback is the playground's worth of sand that gets into your shoes.  Really, adding sand to your shoes makes excellent exercise equipment.  Some people buy ankle weights, they're costly and clunky to wear.  Sand fits whatever space it's in.  Heck, when I get used to walking with sneakers full of sand, I can easily upgrade to larger sneakers for a heavier workout.

See that little mini-crowbar looking thing?

I think it was actually a bicycle tool.  Whatever it was, it's very useful for moving the pavers after I poured sand around them.
I think it was actually a bicycle tool. Whatever it was, it's very useful for moving the pavers after I poured sand around them.

Align the paver corners so you won't trip

When placing the pavers, I try to align them as much as possible, but the biggest concern is for the corners of all surrounding pavers to be level... mostly.  As long as they match fairly well, I won't stub my toes on them and trip.  Since another of my jobs is yard sale setup and teardown, at least two or three times a year I'm carrying tables, equipment, and everything yard sale out to the front, then back at the end of the day.  So not-tripping is a big plus for me.  Up until now, I've always had to wade blindly through the tall grass, trying to avoid gifts from our dogs, like deep holes and fragrant land mines.

Line them all up

Pour a little sand to keep them in place.
Pour a little sand to keep them in place.

Get creative- make a mosaic

There was a small gap around the water downspout.  Couldn't think of what else to do, so I found a stack of red normal-sized bricks.  Not entirely sure where they came from, but I think Mom might have bought them specifically for me to use. Regardless, with just a little bit of extra space, the bricks filled the gap perfectly.

Tried the same trick to compensate for some of the bigger gaps. When I got to the corner, the pavers were a few inches shy of aligning perfectly.  Had some of the normal bricks left, so slotted them right in the gap.  Now the corner aligns quite nicely.

Spacers to make the corner look better

Now it aligns with the right-angle turn.
Now it aligns with the right-angle turn.

$1.88? $0.54? Honesty comes with a steep price tag

When the entire job of 'whole' pavers was laid out, Monique and I walked the perimeter, and both came up with a count of 21 half-pavers to finish up.  Just so you know, they're not actually called half-pavers.  But I knew where Home Depot keeps them, I knew the measurements were 12x8x2 inches (because Mom had already bought some), and I knew they were $1.88 per half-paver.  When I tried to pay for them, it turns out all that knowledge is useless.  What they need is the proper name, and half-paver just didn't cut it.  The cashier, sweet lady, didn't know what they were called.  But she was willing to call them something else, and charge me .54 cents each.  

Do you ever have one of those moments when you try to do the right thing, then feel like you're punished for it?  Well, I told her she needed to charge me $1.88 each.  Nearly 30 minutes and two managers later, still nobody knew what to call them or how to sell them to me.  Finally we got someone who knew what they were, I paid for everything, and left.  And left part of my purchase on the counter.  When I got home and realized I'd left things at the store, I was just too tired and grumpy to go back.  Sometimes being the nice guy just isn't worth it.  Should've just let them charge me .54 cents.

Patio vs Shed: Exactly how was I to know they'd put a TREE there?

There was one other consideration I haven't mentioned so far. Mainly because most people will never have to deal with it. But just in case you're one of the few... the proud... the electrically challenged... here's the deal. Our shed is not wired for electricity. For years, we've just had an extension cord running from the house, to the shed. It was kind of buried, covered with bricks, and strung under the edge of the shed.

Now that it's in the way, I was going to remove it. Unfortunately, at some point in the 6 years it laid out there, a tree was planted over it. Rather than dig up the tree, I cut the cord. I don't really have any advice here. If you can think of a way to anticipate and plan for this, you're miles ahead of me.

Final Approach

Patio with Personality
Patio with Personality

Wrapping it up: Finished Back Yard Patio

Back to work now. The final half-pavers have been put in, I've used all the bricks I could find, and it's time to pour the final sand. On that last trip to the store, we decided to get 2 more bags of sand. I poured them over the top of the entire patio, got a broom, and swept it around.

Just like magic, the final gaps were filled, the remaining shallow areas leveled, and the job wrapped up.

If you want to build a patio, and you need real advice, and not just a tongue in cheek look at my lack of skills, check out the books shown to the right:

The Long View

A bit rough, but totally functional.
A bit rough, but totally functional.

Does it pass inspection?

Me and my girls think so!
Me and my girls think so!

My Patio looks like a Surrealist Painting

I told a friend my new patio is like the great plains of the American West. He said "Rolling?" I answered "Like a drunken sailor in a high sea!"

Still, while they lack a 'professional' touch, I'm pretty pleased with how they turned out. It's kind of like a signature style. People can look at my work, and immediately recognize that it's mine. Kind of like Picasso. Or maybe more like Salvador Dali...

Final thoughts? Don't tell Monique... it would ruin my macho 'whining complainer' image... but I'm kind of proud of it!

Where's Pixie?

She's always got to be in the middle of things!
She's always got to be in the middle of things!


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    • Crewman6 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks Prasetio, that's high praise coming from a master of inspiration such as yourself. It's always good to hear from you!

    • prasetio30 profile image


      7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very inspiring hub. Thanks for writing this and share with us. I learn much from you. Well done, my friend.You deserve to get my VOTE. Have a good day!


    • Crewman6 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      I'm glad you like it; in many ways, I write for your approval. With everything going on at the house right now, I needed some good words!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      That was so well written and I laughed at so many of the things you said because it is truly how you talk. Good Job

    • Crewman6 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks, Audrey. Bob sounds like my kind of guy! I'm always getting pulled into projects that are over my head, but I lack his courage to just say no.

      Glad I could get a laugh. High praise coming from you!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      7 years ago from Washington

      I admire your tenacity and even ATTEMPTING such a project...and I see that you even had 'professional' helpers!!!

      Good lord that was wonderfully done with all the pics and the laughs!

      I couldn't believe my Bob actually bailed 2 years ago when we needed a sidewalk put in with pavers. It was on a slope to boot and I figured he SURELY would want another 6 month project - like the patio from hell!

      But no....he, your brother without the guy gene, decided to take the high road...and call a professional. It was a good thing as even the professional swore a new language getting it right. I always think things look SO easy when we start out but who can foresee all the messes we are going to get into??

      I gotta love the Home Depot lady though - if it had been us, we would have gone the opposite way - 'oh Mr. Kirchner, that will be $3.05 per paver.'

      Thanks for the laugh - I definitely needed one today!

    • Crewman6 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks, Someway, I appreciate it. As a computer geek, I'm not always sure my sense of humor is mainstream enough, but you made me feel good about what I wrote. That means a lot!

    • SomewayOuttaHere profile image


      7 years ago from TheGreatGigInTheSky

      ...that was really good...thanks for the laugh...where's Pixie? ha ha ha...good on ya computer guy! ya did it!


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