Installation of a stone paver sidewalk

About two years ago I thought that I was ready to go out and pay someone to put in my sidewalks for my home. The ground that was replaced from the home excavation had settled for about two years and now it was time.

So I found a couple of contractors and asked for some price estimates to see what it would cost. Well to my dismay, the cost was so high that I decided to tackle this project myself, and boy am I glad that I did. Believe it or not, I saved myself about five thousand dollars but it wasn’t without a lot a back breaking, exhausting work. Also, I remember that the back sidewalks were installed during a period of time when a Pennsylvania heat wave hit some record 100°F+ temperatures. Boy, am I glad that is done!

Here are a few pictures that I took while installing my new sidewalks. With the last one being the exception the pictures are from my back sidewalk. Click on the thumbnail images to see the larger version.

Mow Grass Short

Mow Grass ShortWith any project, establishing a sold base is one of the most important things that you can do. The base directly sets the quality of the final project. I needed to get as close to undisturbed soil for a solid base. I did this by setting my mower deck to the lowest setting possible. I cut all the grass in the approximate area of the paver sidewalk and removed all the grass cuttings and debris.

Layout Lines

Layout LinesThe next step, “laying out” where the sidewalk would go and what the curves were going to look like, is the step that helps to make the whole project go smoothly! Without marking out the rough location you will run into problems during the actual installation. I used string attached to stakes in order to mark my curves and pulled string from curve to curve for my strait lines. The paint that I used was a special marking paint that gives you the ability to paint while holding the can up-side-down. You may have seen similar paint used by the road crews that mark up the road when they are ready to be fixed.

Establish Sidewalk Height

Establish Sidewalk HeightI place small piles of stone and put a single paver on top of these piles. I then used a 4 foot level to check the level to the surrounding items that I was interested in leveling too. My piles, with paver, did not include the sand base so I knew that the paver, that sat on the pile, would be 1″ lower than the surrounding areas. The critical areas on my sidewalk included a door to the garage, bilco basement door, driveway and deck. After I established the height of the pavers at these critical points I used a transit to measure the height of the highest paver compared to the height of the lowest paver. I placed stone piles and pavers right down the center of my sidewalk area so my level would reach from one pile to the next. I used the difference in height between the highest and lowest paver and divided by the number spaces between pavers in order to find out how much slope was required between each pile.

Quick Example of calculation:
Height of highest paver on transit = 6′-0″
Height of lowest paver on transit = 5′-6″
Difference between pavers = 0′-6″
Number of spaces between lowest paver and highest paver = 6
Find height change between paver piles = 6″ / 6 = 1″
Slope in sidewalk = 1″ per 4′

So to summarize the calculation above, there is a 6″ difference between the highest paver and lowest paver in my sidewalk example. I need to change the height from one pile to the next by 1″ in order to have a smooth transition from the highest part of the sidewalk to the lowest. I do this, and then put grade stakes in the ground that are pounded in 1″ higher than the level of the paver. The stake now represents the height of my finished sidewalk and should be level with my critical areas that I mentioned above.

2B Stone Base

2B Stone BasePutting down the base material is the next step that I took. Like the foundation of a house you first put stone down in order to make a good and solid base. I used 2b stone which is a good and standard size, to use. The reason that you use stone material is that once you put stone down it doesn’t really settle. If you use a stone / soil mix the material will have a tendency to compact. The compacting of the stone /soil mix will most likely create an uneven sidewalk. I used the grade stakes to measure down to where the stone height should be. I measure down the thickness of paver plus the thickness of the sand to establish the height of the 2B stone base.

Sand and Stone

Sand and StoneNow that the base material is down I cut strips of pressure treated plywood to use as form to hold the sand, and the pavers. I am expecting that these will only be there for a couple of years because they will eventually rot away. The height of these were 3/4” shorter than the height of the stone plus the sand. I am expecting some settling and don’t want the strips to end up higher than the pavers. I then use these forms as a screed guide for putting down the sand evenly. The sand goes in over the 2B stone base and is in a 1″ layer. I put the sand in first, then used a hand tamper to try and compact that sand as much as I could. I then put another layer of sand in and screeded it a final time prior to placing the pavers. I didn’t work too far ahead of myself because it was pretty windy and the sand would get blown around a lot. The final step is to place the pavers in the pattern of your choice.

Add Cut Pieces Last

Add Cut Pieces LastAfter all the full paver were put down I then went back and filled in the pieces. This was a very dirty and tedious part of the job. I used a diamond tipped circular saw blade in a regular wood circular saw. This worked very well, and my father in law helped by soaking the blocks in water prior to cutting. This cut down on the dust a little, but you should expect a lot of dust. Some people that I have talked to used a tile / brick saw to make their cuts. These saws have a continuous stream of water that will help to eliminate the dust.

Final Sand Step

Final Sand StepThe final step that I took was to fill all the gaps in the stone with sand. You do this by shoveling a little sand on top of the pavers and use a push broom to move the sand around allowing the sand to fall, and compact, into the cracks. This helps to really lock everything together and make for a solid installation. I would recommend a gas powered tamper at this step, although I didn’t use one. I just didn’t have the extra money go out and rent one. I think the hand tamping of the sand during the sand installation really helped to not require the final gas tamping but only time will tell.