Learning how to build a patio is a rewarding skill and project that can bring years of joy when done correctly.
While building a patio may seem like a big project beyond your skill set, it actually does not take specialized skills. With the correct preparation, tools, and supplies, you can get it done right in a weekend’s time.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of building your own patio. DIY projects can be challenging, but in the end, you’ll be so proud of yourself…and your new patio!
Preparation is Key
With any project, there are two keys to success: planning and preparation work. When it comes to planning and building your own patio, the process starts with planning and preparation.
Tools & Supplies
First, you’ll want to make sure you have all the necessary tools and supplies. You’ll need all of the following:
- 6 inches worth of gravel for your base
- 1 inch worth of sand for under the pavers
- Pavers and perimeter pavers the size of your patio
- A Shovel to dig your base
- A Rake to spread sand
- A Level to check the slope and how even your base is
- A wooden 2×4 for screening sand and helping check the level
- A Tape measure
- A Hand tamper for compacting the base
- Safety glasses which should be worn the entire time to keep your eyes safe
- Stakes to map out the patio
- Mason line to help keep the project level as you lay stones
- Furring strips for making your frame outline
- A Line level to check your mason line
- A Rubber mallet for tamping individual pavers down
- A Stone blade and saw to cut your pavers to size
- Jointing sand for locking your pavers in permanently
Some of these materials require measurements, such as your pavers and your gravel. So, you may want to wait to purchase these items until you have an idea of how big your patio will be.
You will want to purchase enough gravel to pack in 6 inches under the pavers and enough sand to pack in 1 inch.
A good rule of thumb is always to order at least 10% more material than you think you need to account for waste, mistakes, and unforeseen complications. This is key for building your patio because you do not want to get most of the way done and find you are short on supplies.
Choosing Your Location
After you’ve acquired the necessary tools and supplies for the job, the next step is to choose the location of your patio.
When choosing the location and measuring it out, check for excessive roots, rocks, or other hardened materials, which will make digging your base difficult, if not impossible.
Generally, digging away from large trees, which will have long root systems, or very rocky areas will help. Roots can lift up pavers as they grow, regardless of how well you plan and prepare the patio, and large rocks can make laying your base impossible.
Don’t forget to also call DigSafe to ensure that there are no water, gas, or power lines where you are digging. You won’t be digging past the frost line, so the chance that you hit these is minimal, but it’s always good to check anyway. It’s also worth mentioning that some towns will require a permit to build a patio.
Once you know the location where you are going to build your patio, you can use furring strips and garden stakes to lay out your design. Use a line level on your mason line in order to ensure you maintain grading. You can build the rough outline of your patio using batter boards, which are two stakes attached by furring boards with cross sections of mason line to create a grid. This helps keep a consistent level and grade throughout. It also allows you to adjust your design on the fly by simply sliding the string along the boards to adjust.
While planning the design of your patio, make sure to account for the slope. You want the patio to drain away from your home or structures, with a slight slope of roughly 1 inch per 4 feet. This is necessary to ensure water does not pool under the patio and shift the aggregate or pavers.
Once you have the outline done, you can take your tape measure and figure out the square footage.
Time to Start Building Your Patio
Dig Out Your Base
Once you have measured out your patio, you are ready for the next step. Using your shovel, dig down the depth of your pavers, plus 7 inches to account for the aggregate. As you dig, make sure you keep measuring so you don’t dig too deeply.
You also need to account for the slope, so some of the patio will be deeper than other sections. If you follow the 1-inch slope every 4 feet rule, this will be very gradual and hard to notice. You can make up for the slope with slightly less and aggregate as you go.
This will take some time and should be done with care. You will need a level base that accounts for the drainage, so measuring consistently while digging is important to ensure you get the foundation right.
For every few feet you dig down, you can use a 2×4 with a level on top of it to check that you are digging evenly. Check both length and width frequently to create an even base. You can also use the hand tamper as you go to ensure the ground is even. This will help in ensuring the correct level base. If there are large rocks or other obstructions that create uneven dips, use some of your dug-up soil to fill them in.
Spend time measuring and checking your base once you feel it is dug out enough to ensure it is level and sloped correctly in every direction. If the base is not done correctly, your entire project will suffer or not work out well. It is extremely important that you take care here and keep in mind the old saying, “measure twice, cut once.”
Once you have dug out the base, the next step in building your patio is to start laying down the base. The first part of the base is your gravel. In order to get it compacted well, you want to do a little bit at a time, not dump all the gravel in at once.
Put in enough gravel to compact 2-3 inches at a time. Put the gravel down, spread it, and use the hand tamper to compact it into the ground and itself. Continually repeat this process until you have 6 inches of gravel down. As with the base, you want to frequently check that this is level, which is, of course, difficult to do with rock. Put a 2×4 on the gravel base and put a level on top to try and get as flat a surface as possible to check slope and level.
The next step is putting your sand down. The sand helps keep the gravel in place in addition to keeping a flat surface. Pour a good amount of sand in and spread it around using a rake, compacting as you go. The sand will fall in between the gravel as you compact, filling gaps and openings.
When you are spreading the sand around, use a 2×4 to screen the sand in. This is the process of dragging the 2×4 across the top of the gravel base, which helps spread it and get it into every crack and crevice of your gravel foundation.
Once you have spread sand and you can’t get any more in-between the gravel, you will build up your sand base. The sand base is very important when building your patio, as this is what your pavers will sit in. Tamp the sand and make a hard base to place your pavers on.
Finally, it is time to lay down the pavers. This is probably the most fun part of building a patio, because you can make any design and get to finalize your area.
When building a patio, you want to work your pavers from the outside in, starting on one outside wall and moving across. It helps if you draw out your design, if you are using multiple types of pavers and sizes, or you can lay in a standard pattern. If you are going to start with a perimeter paver that differs from your main paver, make sure to account for this as you work outside.
Rarely will pavers fit perfectly into the patio design you have, so you may need to cut them to make them work in the design and space. Using a stone blade and saw can help you cut the pavers to the right size. This is key to building a patio that looks consistent and professional.
Your mason line can work as a level to ensure you keep it consistent across the entire design. If you cannot get the pavers to be even, use your rubber mallet to help beat it level. As with each step, you want to level as you go to ensure you are maintaining drainage as well as a nice even area.
It is also worth stopping periodically and checking your design to make sure it is correct and straight. Take a few steps back and look at it from different angles to make sure everything looks consistent and even. You will want to leave ¼ inch between the pavers for your jointing sand, so make sure to check your gaps frequently. You can use tile separators or shims to help you maintain even spacing.
Remember that this is the step in building your patio that is most visible, so take your time and ensure it is done correctly. Once you move to the next step, there is no turning back.
Add Jointing Sand
If you’ve made it this far, you are basically done learning how to build your patio. With the pavers down, the base even, and everything spaced correctly, the only thing left to do is add jointing sand. This acts as the final glue that will hold your pavers in place and ensure that your patio lasts a long time.
With joining sand, you need to make sure that the pavers are completely dry. If there has been recent rain or there is morning dew, you will need to wait until everything dries out. This is key for building a patio correctly.
Take your joining sand and sweep it over the pavers so that it falls into the ¼ gaps you left. As you sweep it in, use your hand tamper to lightly pack it down, ensuring you do not use too much force and cause everything to shift. It is better to go a little light and check it over multiple times than shift your pavers completely and have to stop in order to move them around.
Jointing sand has an added adhesive, which is why it is so key to have the area dry. Water activates this adhesive which keeps everything in place. Once it is fully compacted in, do one last level check and design check just to make sure nothing has shifted.
Sweep off all excess jointing sand, as you do not want it to stick to the top of your patio. Use a completely dry broom to ensure you remove it all and have a clean surface once you are ready to activate the adhesive.
Spray the pavers and jointing compound down. When building a patio, it is better to go too light with the water than too much, so really be careful not to use much – you can always add more. Once the jointing compound is damp, which you should be able to tell by it getting darker, let it sit for 24 hours. During this time, you do not want to touch it at all as it is prone to shifting.
After 24 hours, check over the pavers and jointing compound. Find an area to poke and ensure that it does not give at all. If it feels soft at all, spray it down again lightly, even lighter than the first time, and wait another 24 hours.
This process will need to be repeated until it is fully cured and does not give at all when touched. It is better to be too conservative than too forgiving in this step of building your patio.
If you use the patio without fully cured jointing sand, the patio will not last and make even come apart in your first large rain. This is also key for shifting ground, which occurs when the ground goes from hot to cold in the changing seasons.
Once cured, you have completed the building of your patio! This is a great project to take on, and you can be proud of the work you have done.
Sit Back and Enjoy
Building your own patio is a great project for almost any skill level and can totally transform your yard. The project is not difficult, but it does take careful planning, preparation, and execution to ensure it is done correctly.
Preparation is key, and time should be spent at each step to ensure that the ground is level, the slope is maintained, and the base is compacted. Any of these steps, done incorrectly, can ruin your project. Remember to measure twice and cut once, both literally with stones and figuratively with each step in the project. With the right tools and care, anyone can build a beautiful space!
We hope you found this guide helpful, and we hope you enjoy your brand-new patio!
For even more great backyard projects, check out our backyard living page!
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Aaron Leeper has spent years growing everything from his own apple trees to vegetables to flowers on his hobby farm. This time growing various crops has taught him the do’s and don’ts of raising and treating plants to ensure the best outcome. A graduate of Skidmore College, Aaron enjoys bringing his knowledge to others