Building brick paths and stone walls creates a magical landscape. It's also hard work. These tips will help you work smarter and faster and they'll help ensure that your paths and walls look as good in 20 years as they do the day you finish.
You can stretch a string between stakes to create a layout line for setting bricks, but
simply snapping a chalk line in the sand is quicker, plus you don't have a string in
the way. With layout lines snapped on the sand, laying bricks is faster and easier. The
chalk won't stick to dry sand, so you may have to mist the sand with water before
snapping lines. Then snap layout lines directly on the sand using a standard carpenter's
chalk line reel.
Heavy-duty two-wheel dollies ($40
and up) work great for moving flat
stones and piles of brick. Special
dollies called ball carts have
a curved back to fit the root
ball of a tree. These are available
at some rental centers (about $24
per day) and are perfect for moving boulders.
Move really heavy stones by rolling them over lengths of
PVC pipe. A lot like the ancient Egyptians did.
Bricks and stone really tear up grass. If
you're not careful, you'll have to lay new
sod. Plywood keeps shards and soil from
mingling with grass and makes it easy to
clean up with a shovel. You can also prevent
wheelbarrow ruts by covering the
route with strips of plywood.
Dry sand tends to get washed away or swept out of
paver brick and stone patio joints. One solution is
to use special polymeric
sand that binds together when wetted. You
can buy the polymeric additive and mix it with dry
sand yourself, or you can buy premixed bags of sand.
Premixed sand is the most convenient solution. A
bag ($24) covers about 120 sq. ft. on paver bricks.
Check with landscape suppliers and home centers.
Make sure there is no sand
on the surface of the brick or stone before you wet it.
Spray water on the diamond blade when you're cutting concrete, bricks or
blocks. The small, controllable stream from a garden sprayer works best. The
water also cools the blade and speeds the cutting process. Make sure the saw
is double insulated or has a grounded plug and is plugged into a working
GFCI outlet or GFCI-protected cord.
Handling brick or
stone all day can scrape the skin off your
fingertips, even to the point of bleeding.
Gloves are OK, but they limit dexterity
and wear out quickly. Here's a tip from
our favorite landscape consultant. When
you're laying bricks, pick up a roll of
1-1/2-in.-wide athletic tape at the drugstore
and put a few wraps of it around
each of your fingers. You can still get a
good grip on the bricks and your fingers
won't be raw at the end of the day.
Mortar is traditionally used to secure the top courses of stone on a wall. But
polyurethane adhesive does the same thing without the hard work and mess
of mixing mortar or the skill needed to trowel it on. Also, polyurethane stays
flexible, so it doesn't crack and fall out like mortar does. Combine stone chips
with the adhesive to shim stones to keep them steady until the adhesive cures.
Polyurethane adhesive is available at home centers and is at least as strong as
dedicated landscape adhesives.
Depending on the type of soil, most paths,
patios and walls require an 8- to 12-in.-
deep compacted base of gravel. But if you
just dump 8 in. of gravel into a trench and
run a plate compactor over it, only the top
few inches will be fully compacted. The
uncompacted gravel will settle later, creating
waves in the wall or path. For a fully
compacted base that won't settle, add the
gravel in 2- or 3-in.-deep layers, and run
the plate compactor over each layer before
adding the next one.
Water-soaked soil is the worst enemy of retaining walls because it exerts enormous
pressure behind the wall. Adding good drainage behind block or stone walls is crucial
for long-lasting, bulge-free
walls. Start by laying perforated
tubing along the base
of the wall slightly
above ground level
so it can drain to
daylight. Slope the
tubing about 1/4 in. per
Then add outlets at
about 16-ft. intervals. Cover the tubing with
crushed stone. Then continue filling
behind the wall with crushed stone
as you build it.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.
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