How to Build a Sand-Based Patio

Building a patio is well within the skill level of the average homeowner. This patio is designed for pavers not mortared in place; the options on the last page offer alternative ways to finish the patio.


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The method described in this article is for a square patio, but the process can be used to make any rectilinear shape. Because the bricks are not mortared in place, a sand-based patio is very forgiving to the inexperienced builder. The materials listed below are needed to build the basic patio described on the pages that follow.

Materials List

  • String and stakes
  • Mattock and shovel
  • Landscape fabric
  • 2x6s
  • 8d galvanized nails
  • Expansion-joint material
  • Gravel
  • Screed
  • Sand
  • Pavers
  • Broom

Step 1: Lay out and prepare the bed

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Rough out the shape and size of the patio. If you plan to include right angles, check them carefully for accuracy.

As you determine the exact size, you will need to plan for the paver you intend to use, making sure that there will be room for all the pavers in the pattern you want, allowing for a tiny space in between pavers caused by the lack of uniformity from one paver to the next.

Once the patio has been laid out, use a mattock and shovel to dig out an area equal to the size of the patio and about 5-1/2 inches deep. If you are removing turf to make room for a patio, use excavated healthy turf to patch other areas of the lawn or to create a new area of lawn.

Step 2: Cut landscape fabric

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Measure and cut out a piece of landscape fabric large enough to cover the patio. This prevents weeds from working their way up through the gravel. This may require several pieces of fabric, depending on the size of your patio and the size of the roll of fabric.

Step 3: Establish first corner

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Lay out a 2x6 perpendicular to the house and cut the lumber so it ends where you want the edge of the patio to be.

Align the board with the string guides and drive a stake on the outside of it to hold it in place. Nail the stake to the board.

Step 4: Build rest of frame

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Continue to make the frame with the 2x6s, overlapping the corners as shown. Before you nail each board, use the triangulation method to make sure that everything is square. Otherwise, the pavers will not fit evenly. Once the frame is built, set stakes against the outside of the 2x6s every few feet to hold it firmly in place.

Step 5: Add gravel and level it

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First, place a piece of expansion-joint material between the house and patio area. Then pour in enough gravel to provide a depth of about 1 inch throughout. Make a screed with a short section of 1x4 or other scrap lumber. Starting at the house, scrape the gravel until it is level from side to side and gradually slopes toward the opposite end of the patio.

Step 6: Prepare a sand bed

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Add a layer of builder¿s sand on top of the gravel. To calculate the sand depth, subtract the thickness of your pavers from 4-1/2 inches. Make a second screed by notching a long 2x6 to the depth of the pavers, then level the sand. If the top of the frame was set at the appropriate slope, the sand will be at the right slope too.

Step 7: Add pavers

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Arrange them in the desired pattern, fitting them snugly together to ensure good stability. (This is not the time to change patterns, because if you do, the pavers may not fit.) Run string from one end of the patio to the other to form a guide line. This will help keep the pavers in a straight line. As you move around in the area, keep your knees on the sand, rather than on the newly laid pavers, because the pavers won¿t be stable until the area is completely filled. It¿s much easier to re-screed small areas of disturbed sand.

Step 8: Stabilize with more sand

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After all of the pavers are in place, toss handfuls of sand over the entire area. Then, working from one end, use a kitchen broom to gently sweep the sand down into the cracks between the pavers. Spray the entire patio with a mist to help settle the sand. Allow the sand to dry. Then add a second layer of sand, sweep it into place, and wet it down. Repeat this process a week later, as well as any time you feel a paver wobble.

You can use the same basic method described in this article for other patio styles.

Stone. Substitute stone for the pavers. There are several beautiful varieties available in many different shapes and thicknesses. You can work with the pieces exactly as they come from nature or have the stones cut to your specifications. You also can experiment with different edging materials.

Concrete. Fill the entire bed with concrete. Use stamps or stains to add texture or color. Divide the bed into quadrants, and use one material in the upper left and lower right sections, and a different material in the other two quadrants.

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