Lay a Patio in a Weekend

Laying a patio is one of the easiest and fastest DIY jobs around, and it can be done with tools you probably already have. If you have two to three days and the interest, read on for detailed instructions on how to lay a patio.

Cool Contemporary Patio with Green Plantings

Elegant Contemporary Patio

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potted shrubs, brushed steel, and simple limestone pavers make this patio contemporary and elegant.

Pavers, a practical, hardwearing surface for paths and patios, are available in a wide range of shapes, sizes and materials, including concrete and natural or reconstituted stone. Laying large pavers, while heavy work, is quick and easy; preparing the foundations is the hardest part of this job. All told, laying a patio should take you 2-3 days.

Materials Needed:

  • pegs and string
  • combo square
  • spade
  • hand tamper or plate compactor
  • level
  • graded base, masonry sand
  • rake
  • pavers
  • bricklayer's trowel
  • ready-mix mortar
  • club hammer
  • wood spacers
  • stiff brush
  • pointing tool
  • masking tape

Marking Out the Patio

For a rectangular or square patio, mark out the paved area with pegs set at the height of the finished surface and joined with taut string (image 1). Use a combo square to make sure that the corner angles are 90 degrees.

Skim off turf (for large areas rent a turf cutter); reuse elsewhere in the garden or stack rootside up for a year to make compost. Dig out the soil to a depth of 6 inches plus the thickness of the paving (image 2).

Use a hand tamper or plate compactor to tamp down the area. Set pegs at the height of the finished surface, allowing for the patio to have a slight slope so rain drains away. Check with a level (image 3).

Spread a 4 inch deep layer of graded base over the area, rake level (ensuring you retain the slight slope), then tamp firm with a hand tamper or a plate compactor (image 4).

Laying the Paving Slabs

Top the graded base with a levelled and compacted 2 inch layer of sand. Lay the first line of pavers following the line of the perimeter string, bedding each one on five spaced trowelfuls of ready-mixed mortar (image 1).

Tamp down each paver with the handle of a club hammer (image 2). Maintain even spacing by inserting wood spacers in the joints. Check and keep checking that the pavers are sitting level.

Add the Finishing Touches

Wait about two days before removing the wood spacers. Then, either brush dry ready-mix mortar (or one part cement to three parts masonry sand) into the joints (image 1), or, for a neater, more durable finish, you could use a wet mortar mix.

In dry weather, pre-wet the joints to improve adhesion of the mortar (image 2). For wet mortar, add water to the ready-mix mortar and push it into the cracks between the pavers using a bricklayer's trowel.

Smooth the mortar in place with a pointing tool (image 3). Wet mortar may stain some pavers, but masking tape along the joints will protect them when smoothing. Brush off excess mortar before it sets.

Tip: Always place saucers under flower pots that you place on your patio. Otherwise, water and mud from them may stain pavers. Where this occurs, clean the patio with a pressure washer.

Cutting a Curve Into a Slab

Although pavers are available in a wide range of shapes, you may have to cut them to size, or to accommodate a curve in your design. Pavers, which are usually made from stone or concrete, are surprisingly brittle; to prevent them cracking when they are being cut, lay them flat on a fairly deep, level bed of sand.

Protect yourself with goggles, ear protection, anti-vibration gloves and a dust mask. Mark the curve on the paver with chalk, then, using an angle grinder fitted with a stone-cutting disk, slowly cut part-way through the paver, going over the line several times (image 1).

Mark out parallel lines on the area you don't plan to use, using chalk. Cut along the lines part-way through the paver (image 2), again going over each one slowly several times. Make sure you don’t cross or damage your neatly cut curved line.

Starting on one side of the paver and working across to the other, tap firmly along the length of each cut strip with a rubber-headed mallet (image 3). Make sure that the paver is well supported.

Grip each strip firmly and snap it sharply along the cut (image 4). Remove all the strips in this way. Trim off any roughness along the curved edge with the angle grinder.

A few shapely curves can completely transform a rectangular patio. Here, the corners have been opened up to form a planting pocket and to give a gentle sweeping curve to the adjacent area of lawn (image 5).

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