Planning and preparation
For this project, you'll need bricks, compactable gravel for the base, washed sand, and plastic paver edging to hold the bricks in place. If you’re lucky enough to have a full-service landscape supplier in your area, you can order all your materials there. Otherwise, look for pavers and plastic paver edging at home centers, garden centers or brickyards, and gravel at a landscape supplier or at a sand and gravel quarry. Don't forget to ask about delivery charges.
Clay pavers have a rich, authentic look, but cement pavers are a little less expensive. Both types are durable and long lasting. Most pavers are 4 x 8 in. and about 2-1/4 in. thick, but other sizes are available. Measure the total linear feet of edging you plan to install and multiply by 3 to arrive at the number of 4-in.-wide paver bricks you'll need. The plastic paver edging is necessary to keep the bricks from drifting. Use the total linear feet of border to order edging. You'll also need enough 10-in.-long spikes to install one every 12 in.
To ensure that the bricks remain stable and won't tip
when you wheel a lawn mower over them, the new compacted base should be 6 in. wider than the brick and extend 6 in. below the bottom of the brick. This means you'll dig a 14 in. wide by 8-in. deep trench for typical paver bricks. To determine how much gravel you'll need for this size trench, grab your calculator and multiply the linear feet of trench by .02. The result is the number of cubic yards of gravel needed. Order gravel that ranges in size from 3/4 in. down to a powder (called 3/4-in.-minus). For our project, which was a total of 60 linear feet, we ordered 1-1/4 cu. yds. of 3/4-minus crushed limestone. Have the gravel dumped on the driveway where
it's easier to shovel up. You'll also need a 1-in. layer of sand under the bricks. It's usually cheaper and easier to simply order bags of sand rather than have a
small quantity delivered. Divide the linear feet of border by
5 to determine how many 50-lb. bags of sand you'l need.
We rented a sod cutter to slice a neat layer
of grass from along the edge of the sidewalk, but a flat shovel will also work. In addition to a shovel and rake, you'll need a wheelbarrow, tamper and some scraps of lumber and basic carpentry tools to construct
the screeds (Photos 2 and 4). If your sidewalk is straight
and you only have a few bricks to cut, you can use a diamond blade mounted in a circular saw to cut the
bricks. If your sidewalk is curved or you anticipate a lot of
cutting, rent a brick saw (Photo 7).
Dig the trench
Two days before you start digging, call your local one-call number and ask to have the buried utility lines alongside your sidewalk located and marked (call 811 to find your local one-call number). When you're sure it's safe to dig, start by removing a 14-in.-wide layer of grass along the sidewalk. If your grass is in good shape, slice it off carefully so you can use it to patch in along the new border. A sod cutter simplifies this job and leaves you with neat rolls of sod that are easy to reuse. If your grass isn't worth saving, just dig it out and plan to buy a few rolls of sod instead. Next, dig a 14-in.-wide by 8-in.-deep trench along the sidewalk to accommodate the gravel, sand and pavers (Photo 1). You're going to have a lot of dirt to get rid of. Ask around the neighborhood
to see if someone needs fill for a low spot, or consider
building a raised bed garden or decorative earth berm. As a last resort, you can rent a 10-cu.-yd. trash bin. When you're done digging, rake the bottom of the
trench smooth and compact it with the hand tamper.
Since the purpose of the gravel fill
is to provide a stable base, it's important
to compact it well. Start by spreading a 3-in.-deep layer of gravel in the trench. Pound every square
inch with the hand tamper until it's
tightly packed. Then add another 3
in. of fill and drag a screed across the
top to create a surface that's parallel
to the top of the sidewalk (Photo 2).
Construct a screed by screwing a
14-in.-wide scrap of plywood to a 32-in. length of 2x4. The plywood should extend below the 2x4 the
thickness of the paver brick plus 3/4
in. Tamp the fill again after leveling it
with the screed (Photo 3).
Next spread a layer of sand a little
deeper than 1 in. over the compacted
base. If the sand is dry, dampen it
with a mist from the garden hose.
This will help hold the sand in place
when you scrape away the excess to
install the paver edging (Photo 8).
Construct another screed and use it to
level the sand (Photo 4). Figure the
depth of the notch by subtracting 1/4
in. from the thickness of a brick. Set a
paver on the screeded sand to test the
depth. The paver should protrude
about 1/4 to 1/2-in. above the surface of the
sidewalk. You’ll make the pavers
flush later by tamping them down
into the sand bed (Photo 9).
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Set the pavers
Since there's a good chance you'll
have to cut the last brick to fit, start
with a full brick in the most visible
location and plan to finish in the least
conspicuous spot. If your edging
turns a right angle corner, start at the
corner and work out. Photo 5 shows
how to get started. You'll have to cut
the pavers to go around curves. To
figure out how much to cut from
each, arrange a half-dozen pavers
along the curve with the ends touching
and estimate the gap between them. If the curve is very gradual, you can simply cut every
third or fourth paver to fit. For steeper curves, mark the cuts
(Photo 6) and cut along the marks with a brick saw (Photo 7).
Cut and install several pavers, then repeat the process until
the curved section is complete.
Next, install plastic paver edging behind the bricks to
hold them in place. Start by scraping the extra sand out from behind the bricks so the edging will rest on the compacted
fill. The edging we used
required us to cut the outermost band with tin snips to allow
the edging to bend around the curve. Press the edging
against the bricks and drive 10-in. spikes every 12 in. to
hold the edging in place (Photo 8).
At this point, the bricks should protrude slightly above
the surface of the sidewalk. Photo 9 shows how to use a scrap
of lumber and hand maul to embed the bricks in the sand
and make them flush with the surface of the sidewalk.
Embed all the bricks. Then spread sand over them and work
it into the cracks with a broom. Be sure the sand is dry or it
won't settle into the cracks. Tamp the bricks again with the
2x6 board and hand maul. The vibration will cause the dry
sand to fill the cracks and lock the bricks tightly together.
Complete the project by filling the trench behind the
bricks with some of the soil you removed earlier. Leave the
soil slightly below the surface of the lawn to allow room for
the sod. You may have to experiment a little to get the level
just right. Set the sod in place and trim it to fit with a utility
Photo 10 shows how we ran the bricks alongside the step.
This technique works whether you have one or several
steps. In some cases, you may have to remove an additional
strip of sod alongside the steps and regrade the soil slightly
so the lawn lines up with the edge of the bricks, but it's a
neat-looking solution that’s worth the extra effort.