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Decks, Patios, & Porches

DIY Tips for How to Build a Brick-on-Sand Patio

By on Mar 31, 2014
DIY Tips for How to Build a Brick-on-Sand Patio

A brick patio or walkway in your yard is a perfect accent for your house, plus being highly practical. Such a project is easier than you might think-particularly because there is no mortar involved. It's all done with just sand and brick.

Planning

While it's natural to put a patio right behind your house, consider some other areas. Is there a large tree where grass refuses to grow or always looks scruffy? How about a corner of your garden that could become your special private retreat?

On graph paper, make a scale drawing of your yard, using ¼ inch for each foot. Put in the house, trees, walkways, garden-everything. Then think about how you want to use it: mostly for your family, for entertaining, or just sitting out there enjoying the view. If you have hot afternoon summer sun, plan for some shade. Even consider having two or three smaller patios linked by a wide, curving brick walkway.

Layout

The patio can be any outline you like. In fact, the more you avoid the ordinary square, the more visually intriguing your patio. Think round, octagon, hexagonal, curving or irregular. Draw the patio layout on your graph paper, fitting it into the overall design and layout of your yard.

The outline might reflect the shape of another building, such as surrounding an octagonal gazebo with a wide octagonal patio. Or if you have a simple shop or storage shed in the backyard, add an irregular patio to enhance it.

Walkways, which are constructed just like patios, can be laid out with two hoses. Just drag them around in curving patterns, at different widths, until you find what suits you. Walkways should be at least 3 feet wide, and 4 feet is better.

If you are putting the patio in a wet spot, or next to a downspout on the house, dig a ditch through the patio area first and install a flexible drain line in a gravel bed. Connect it directly to the downspout and carry it to a natural drainage area or make a French drain for it.

Estimating

To calculate your patio's size in square feet, multiply its length times width. If it is irregular, divide it into sections, calculate each one, and then total them. Or just count the number of squares on your graph paper plan. Here are some other formulas:

  • Circle patio: Find the area by squaring the radius and multiplying it by 3.1416 
  • Hexagonal patio: Find the area by squaring the short diameter and multiplying it by .866 
  • Octagonal patio: Find the area by squaring the short diameter and multiplying it by .828

(Forgetting your seventh grade math? Square a number by multiplying it by itself.)

Plan on five bricks per square foot. Multiply your square foot total by five to see how many bricks you will need.

Selecting Bricks and Sand

Local home improvement centers carry an assortment of bricks or paving blocks. The cheapest bricks, called paving bricks, are made from concrete. The most expensive are usually used bricks that still have some plaster or mortar on them to lend character. A nice alternative for patios is building bricks, which are rougher than the paving bricks and come in different shades of red and brown.

Bricks are heavy-about 500 to a ton. Since you will only be able to transport a few dozen at a time in the trunk of your car, ask the brick supplier to deliver.

Be sure to wear gloves while setting the bricks. They will quickly wear a blister on your fingers otherwise.

The other part of this patio equation is sand. You can buy packaged sand and haul it home, but for a project of any size, it takes a lot. Have it delivered from a sand and gravel yard, or go there and have them fill the back of a pickup.

How much sand will you need? It's difficult to provide close estimates as with bricks because commercial sand is always sold wet and weighs much more than dry sand. But you are going to need enough to cover the patio site 2 inches deep. A 12-foot square patio will need about a ton of sand.

Brick Patterns

There are a wonderful array of brick patterns to choose from. To experiment, buy a few dozen bricks of your choice and lay them out in different patterns for your patio or walkway. This allows you to adjust the width and length of the edging in advance so the bricks fit precisely. You also minimize cutting.

Some patterns will not require any cutting, others some. The diagonal herringbone requires the most cutting, but is particularly attractive.

Cutting Bricks

Experienced brick masons can cut a brick quite precisely with a single blow of their trowel, but we lesser mortals use a circular saw with an abrasive blade. This results in neat, clean cuts. Buy several blades because they wear quickly.

Without fail, wear safety glasses while cutting brick.

Patio Edging

An essential part of a brick-on-sand patio is the edging. That's what holds the bricks snugly in place. Without it, bricks work loose and sand dribbles away.

In planning your edging, decide if you want it flush with the ground so you can run a mower over it and any adjoining grass, or if you want it raised.

Here are some different edging types to consider:

  • Treated lumber: Because the edging will be in the ground, use treated lumber or naturally decay resistant wood such as redwood or cedar. Old railroad ties also make excellent edging. To stabilize raised wood edging such as railroad ties, drill a 1/2-inch hole about a foot from each end and then drive a 2-foot-long piece of 1/2-inch diameter reinforcing bar through it into the ground. 

  • Bender board: This material, usually about 6 inches wide and a 1/4-inch thick, is perfect for curved areas. Put four or five of them together to beef up the edging. They are also good forms for raised concrete edging. 

  • Bricks on end: Dig a trench, set the bricks on end, and tamp the dirt around them. 

  • Concrete: You can dig a ditch in the ground as wide as you want the edging to be and at least 6 inches deep, then fill it with concrete and trowel the top smooth. When you dig away the dirt inside the perimeter, the exposed concrete becomes the border. 

  • Aluminum: Some home supply centers sell lengths of preformed aluminum edging that is held in place with steel pegs.

Excavating

Once the edging is in place, excavate the interior of the patio or walkway to a depth of 5 inches. Use a flat-bottomed shovel to keep the base of the excavated area smooth and level.

Next, and importantly, put down a layer of special cloth available at most nurseries that allows water to seep through but prevents weeds from growing into your patio.

Lay down approximately 2 inches of sand over the entire area then walk on it and tamp it firmly. A length of 4-by-4 post makes an excellent tamper.

Leveling the Sand

The packed sand is then leveled with a screed. This is made from a straight 2-by-6 up to 8 feet long. If you have a narrow patio or sidewalk, the screed to fit just across that area. On each end, cut a notch about 3 inches long and 3 1/2-inches deep, or the depth of a brick.

Rest one end of the notched screed board on the edging and the other end on a temporary edging board. This temporary board must be parallel to the edging and the same height. Use a level on your screed board to check it.

Pull and work the screed board across the sand with the "ears" of the screed resting on the edging boards. As you drag, the screed will smooth and level the sand to a depth of 3 1/2-inches, about the thickness of a brick. If a low spot is left behind, add more sand and run the screed over it again.

When you have completed that section, you can start laying bricks even though you have not screeded the whole area.

Laying the Bricks

Fit the first brick snugly against the edging and then place each successive brick tightly against each other. Place each brick without sliding it or you will push a little ridge of sand between the bricks. You don't want any spaces between the bricks.

After you place each brick, push it down firmly or give it a rap with a rubber mallet or piece of wood to set it in the sand. Check that all the bricks are level as you proceed.

Continue laying your pattern over the screeded area. When you have to kneel on the recently placed bricks, use a scrap of plywood to distribute your weight more uniformly.

When the bricks reach the temporary screed board, move it over the same distance and screed the next section, with one end of the screed now resting on the newly placed bricks. Check again that everything is level.

Finishing the Patio

When all the bricks are down and even, sprinkle the surface with a generous layer of clean dry sand. The particles will fill the brick joints like little wedges and lock them in place. Here is a good place to use sacks of dry sand from the lumberyard. Or if you only have wet sand, spread it on the patio to dry for a day or two. Wet sand will not work its way between the bricks.

Once the sand is dry, sweep it back and forth. Sweep a lot! Let the sand remain on the bricks for a couple of days while you continue to walk on it and sweep. It takes awhile for the sand to fully settle into the joints.

Finally, sweep the bricks clean and admire your handiwork. Enjoy!

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