MSL copy chief/articles editor Myles McDonnell, a lifelong Manhattan apartment dweller transplanted to the suburbs, recently tackled a patio project in his backyard, with the assistance of paving stones and advice provided by Pavestone. This is the third installment of his great DIY landscaping adventure, which begins here.
After our trip to Home Depot to double our quotient of retaining-wall blocks, and the demoralizing task of putting some of the dirt we’d dug out of our hole back into it (our brilliant new plan meant the hole no longer should be so deep), we were ready, at long last, to move on to the next stage of our patio project.
So it was time to confront the two large piles in our driveway: one of gravel, one of sand. At least, that’s what they told us they were. Neither pile really fulfilled my expectations, to be honest. The gravel, at least, was the color I associate with the term (light gray), but it was a lot looser than any gravel I’d seen before: Not so much lots of small gray rocks as chunks of gray rock within a more powdery substance that I, uninformed as I am, might have called “gray sand.”
The sand, for its part, confused me in the opposite way: right consistency, more or less (granular), but wrong color. This was not the light tan evoked by the word sand in my head, but a dark brown—except that it was grainier, it pretty much looked like dirt.
The reason for my confusion was, sensibly enough, that these were construction-material versions of gravel and sand. The gravel was what’s known in the biz as “item 4”—actually a processed mix of gravel rock and powdered gravel dust—that’s laid down under patios and even highways precisely because of its textural variation, which lets it compact well. And the sand was in fact coarse concrete sand, which allows for better drainage than finer (and closer to the color I’d been expecting) playground-style sand.
Before adding any of it, though, we had to compact the dirt itself again, so out came that hand tamper again. Then we used a two-by-four to make sure our tamped-down dirt was as level to itself as possible—much easier now that we had reburied most of the tree roots!
And then we could finally start with our base materials. First was the gravel; we aimed to lay down about four inches of it, enough to completely bury the remaining roots and give us a good, solid but flexible base under our stones. Several full wheelbarrow loads later, our gravel pile was much smaller, and we had gravel of the proper depth covering the entire space. Then we tamped it all down again, as firmly as my sore muscles could manage at this point.
Next, the sand. This layer was thinner—only an inch or two deep, just enough to cover the rocky gravel with a smooth, even surface for the stones to rest on top of—so it didn’t take a lot of time, or as many wheelbarrow trips, to get what we needed laid down.
Then, more smoothing (or “screeding,” as I’ve since learned it’s called) with the two-by-four…
…and it was time for the moment of truth: At long last, the paving stones themselves.
Stop by tomorrow for the final post in this series, in which a man learns, not for the first time, that a spouse with strong spatial-equivalency skills is a wonderful thing.