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Begin laying out your patio by measuring out the width and length of your surface area. Before starting to dig, call your local utility company and request a "one-call service" to mark the buried gas, water and electrical lines. Utility companies usually provide this service at no charge, and the marked indicators will make it easy to know where not to dig.
If digging by hand, drive stakes in the ground at the corners and connect string between each stake (Image 1), giving you the general layout. Use landscaper's spray paint to mark the area directly on the ground (Image 2).
Determine the finished patio height. It should be slightly above the surrounding ground so that rainwater won't stand on the surface. Take into consideration the thickness of your paving stone and make sure to leave an extra 6" for your sand and gravel foundation. The secret to a long-lasting patio lies in a good base for the pavers. The thickness of your base depends upon the soil: low-lying, wet soils need a thicker base than well-drained soils.
Now that you've taken in all the base considerations, it’s time to excavate the area (Image 1) and firmly tamp the dirt surface to the desired height, making sure it’s level (Image 2).
To keep the patio from being invaded by weeds, use commercial-grade landscape fabric (Image 1). The addition of this material is vital for three reasons: to keep weeds from growing up through the pavers, to prevent the pavers from sagging and becoming uneven and to reinforce the area beneath the pavers with its built-in layer of sand and gravel while still allowing water to flow through the pavers and into the soil. Roll the fabric out and secure it along the edges with 8" landscape spikes (Image 2). To avoid running short on fabric, roll it about 6" past the dig line. After laying in the edging and stones, you can trim it off.
Fill the entire area with a 4" layer of crushed gravel. Again, level it off, making sure your patio slope is consistent.
After measuring and marking off the patio area, lay in a bed of sand. For small areas, a hand tamper (Image 1) will be sufficient to smooth out the surface; larger areas will be better served with a power tamper (Image 2). The tamper will create its own forward momentum by vibration. Steer it as you would a lawnmower, going up and down the area in rows, covering the entire gravel base. Next add a 2" layer of sand. This will hold the paving stones in place while providing an even, settled surface on which to work.
After screeding the sand layer and before laying any paving stones, frame your area with landscape edging. Aluminum edging is recommended because it’s lightweight, flexible, and easy to use and doesn’t warp. Also, if you happen to be mowing the yard and get too close, aluminum edging won’t tear up, whereas plastic edging will shred in a second.
Lay out the edging along the perimeter and cut to length with metal shears. The corners tend to be sharp, so heavy-duty work gloves are a must for safety. Secure the edging by driving 8" nails through the pre-drilled holes with a small sledgehammer. Remember, you’re going through sand, gravel, fabric and soil, so make sure they’re all the way in.
Before starting to lay the pavers in place, snap chalk lines along the edges of the patio to ensure the paver rows stay straight. To give the patio a nice framed feel, place the outer row perpendicular to the inner rows. After you get the hang of the first few, the rest of your patio will take shape in no time.
As you lay the pavers in place, tap them down firmly with a rubber mallet.
For pavers that need to be split to fit corners or other small spaces, simply determine the point where the paver should be broken, then position a chisel on the designated point. Strike the top of the chisel with a hammer to split the paver. If you have numerous pavers that need breaking, you might consider using a wet saw to speed up the process; the saw will cut through the pavers quickly and easily.