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Lay an Appealing Brick Patio

You don't have to hire a skilled mason to get a flat, uniformly handsome brick patio that stays that way.

Photo by Smith/Bear

It's a common misconception that you have to hire a skilled mason to get a flat, uniformly handsome brick patio that stays that way. All you really need are a few hand tools, knee pads, the determination not to cut corners, and expert instruction (that's where we come in). In fact, it takes more skill to build a simple wood deck than to put down a handsome surface like the one shown here. Measuring about 5 X 10 feet, this backyard patio is made of bricklike concrete pavers laid in a basket-weave pattern. The 2 1/4-inch-thick by 3 3/4-inch-wide by 7 1/2-inch-long pavers are better suited for patios than traditional clay bricks because they're harder and less likely to crack. All pavers will spread over time if not held tightly by a solid border. For ultimate longevity, you could pour a concrete perimeter footing, but the pressure-treated 6x6 landscaping timbers used here are easier and provide a nice contrast to the pavers. They're held in place with rebar "pins" and connected to each other with special fasteners. Nearly 200 pavers (50 cents each) went into this patio along with three 12-foot-long pressure-treated ("For Ground Contact") 6x6s ($23 each). If the ground had been level, only two 6x6s would have been needed. But because it sloped down to the right about 12 inches, we used two courses of timbers at the right end and along the front to level off the patio. It took one weekend to prep the site and cut the timbers and a second weekend to set the timbers and lay the pavers. It would take about the same amount of time to build a slightly larger patio — up to about 8x12 feet — but for one bigger than that you'll need a series of weekends. When determining patio size, keep in mind that you can avoid cutting pavers by adjusting the inside dimension of the border to accept a run of only whole units. For example, to replicate the basket-weave pattern shown here, the length and width of the patio space inside the border must be divisible by 7 1/2 inches (the length in inches of one paver or the width of two). If you do have to cut pavers, use either a masonry blade in a circular saw or a brickset chisel and hammer. Patio options. There are basically two ways to build a brick patio. Flexible pavement is the quickest, easiest method; we used it for our project. Also known as the dry-laid method, it consists of laying pavers directly on a bed of compacted sand or crushed stone. The pavers are butted tightly together, then sand is swept between the joints. This method allows you to easily remove pavers if you ever need to change, repair or alter the patio. A mortared pavement provides a flatter, longer-lived surface, but it's harder to put down. Here, a crushed-stone base is topped with a 4-inch-thick concrete slab. Once the concrete cures, the pavers are pressed into a 1/2-inch-thick mortar bed troweled onto the slab. The 3/8-inch spaces between them are filled with mortar.

<p>DIG AN 8-in. DEEP TRENCH for the 6 X 6 timbers around the patio perimeter. Align the trench with the batterboard strings.</p>

DIG AN 8-in. DEEP TRENCH for the 6 X 6 timbers around the patio perimeter. Align the trench with the batterboard strings.

Site Preparation

Begin by staking out batterboards and stretching strings between them to establish the patio outline. Adjust the strings so they represent the outer edges of the 6x6 timbers. Check with a framing square to ensure that the strings form a perfect 90-degree angle with the house and where the strings meet at exterior corners. Use the strings as guides to dig a trench around the patio perimeter to a depth of about 8 inches (photo 1). If the ground slopes, begin excavating at the high end and keep the trench bottom level as you dig. Next, line the trench with 2 inches of crushed granite ($3 for a 50-lb. bag), sprinkle the surface with a little water and compact it with a hand tamper (photos 2 and 3). You could use sand, but crushed granite compacts tighter and forms a stronger, more stable base. Add another 2 inches of granite and tamp the surface again. (Rent a steel hand tamper, or make your own by screwing a 12-inch-long 2x6 block to the end of a 4-foot-long 4x4.) Check the trench bottom with a 4-foot level; if necessary, remove or add a little crushed granite until it's perfectly level. Next, cut the 6x6s to length with a handsaw or circular saw. A 7 1/4-inch circular saw only cuts about 2 7/16 inches deep, so you'll have to cut along all four sides and then cut through the final 1/8 inch or so with a handsaw. Use the same approach to cut half-lap joints in the 6x6 ends for corners where timbers join. Mark the 2 3/4- x 5 1/2-inch joint and cut along the lines with a circular saw (photo 4). Then use a handsaw to sever the remaining wood and free the waste piece (photo 5). Apply a generous coat of wood preservative to the fresh cut (photo 6).

<p>LINE the trench with crushed granite; it compacts tighter and forms a more solid base than sand or gravel.</p>

LINE the trench with crushed granite; it compacts tighter and forms a more solid base than sand or gravel.

Putting It Down

Set the first timber in the trench at the left end of the patio. Align the outer edge of the 6 X 6 with the batterboard string. Bore a 1/2-inch-diameter hole through the timber 6 inches from the end, treat it with wood preservative and drive in a 12-inch-long piece of 1/2-inch-diameter reinforcing bar (photo 7). Rebar, available at home centers, costs around $3 per 8-foot length. Next, install the 6 X 6 timber along the right end of the patio, pinning it to the ground with rebar. Then set the long timber that forms the front edge of the patio (photo 8). After checking that the half-lap corner joints fit tightly together, secure them with 4-inch-long TimberLok Fasteners (photo 9). They're stronger and easier to install than landscaping spikes. Cover the patio area with landscaping fabric; this prevents weeds from growing up between the pavers. Dump in 3 in. of crushed granite. Rake out the granite, sprinkle it with water and thoroughly compact the entire area. Make a grading tool, or screed, by face-nailing a 1x6 to a 2x4, keeping the top edges flush to create a 2-inch overhanging lip. Cut the 1x6 to fit inside the timbers but leave the 2x4 longer so it rides on top of the timber border. Lay the screed across the 6x6s and pull it forward to smooth out the granite layer 2 inches lower than the top of the timbers (photo 10). Compact the surface, add another inch or so of crushed granite and compact it again. Screed the area one final time. It's now ready for the pavers. Start setting pavers in a corner of the patio near the house. To create the basket-weave pattern, set the pavers in alternating right-angle pairs: Set two pavers parallel with the house followed by two pavers perpendicular to it. Use a rubber mallet to pound the pavers flush with the top of the border (photo 11). If a pavers chips, flip it over. If you crack one in half, replace it. Once all the pavers are set, cover them with a layer of fine-grain play sand ($2.50 for a 50-lb. bag). Then sweep with a broom back and forth across the surface to drive the sand down between the pavers (photo 12). Sometimes, cement or a cement/sand mixture is swept into the cracks and then wet down. But because the border here is solid, the base is well-tamped and the pavers are set firmly in the base and close together, fine sand works just as well. Finally, use a paint roller or garden sprayer to apply clear masonry sealer to the pavers. This will make them less porous, less likely to stain, and more resistant to weather.