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How to Build Great Brick Patios and Sidewalks

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There’s something soothing about brick patios and sidewalks, which I learned while putting in a patio for my dear late mother-in-law. It was 50 years ago, before my marriage, when my future mother-in-law let me build a private patio in her garden using dark red brick pavers.

This patio was nestled in the shade of two giant maple trees, which stood on a lawn backed by a small brick retaining wall her husband had built 15 years earlier. The patio was the perfect size, measuring 10 feet by 16 feet. A 30-inch-wide walkway made of the same brick connected the patio to the driveway deck.

The problem was that her husband, a GP, was far too busy going back to medical school at 55. Medical practice was compartmentalized in the early 1970s, and he knew he needed to be certified in anesthesia to follow his passion. . Thinking that I could help increase the chances of winning their daughter’s hand in marriage, I volunteered to build the patio and sidewalk. My future mother-in-law immediately accepted the offer.

She had seen a picture in a magazine of the kind of terrace she wanted. In the article that accompanied the photo, all it said was to install the brick on a bed of compacted sand with Portland cement in it. This was the extent of my plans and specifications.

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My future mother-in-law went to a local brick supplier who had both new and recycled bricks. She selected a special recycled paving brick intended to be placed horizontally in the ground. Not all bricks can withstand this wear and tear. The problem was that there was still mortar on the brick, and I had to chisel it all out by hand. The proportion of the bricks was perfect, so you could create a herringbone pattern. In other words, the brick was exactly four inches wide by eight inches long. They were 2¾ inches thick.

I dug up all the dirt, got help from my future father-in-law one afternoon to put up some string to make sure the edge of the driveway and patio would be in a straight line, and two weeks more late, the patio was finished. My future mother-in-law was beaming with happiness. My plan worked and my wish was granted to marry my girlfriend from high school.

This patio was still in exceptional condition 45 years later. It would still be usable today if an investor who purchased the home hadn’t ripped out the patio to install a dark gray stamped concrete patio in its place.

My second attempt at brick paving ended in disaster. I was busy setting up my construction business. We bought a gorgeous five-bedroom old house, and my darling wife wanted a curved brick sidewalk from the porch to the driveway.

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I could only work there evenings and weekends, so I decided to take a shortcut. I simply dug a path about six inches deep, put in some sand, compacted it, then laid a 1½ inch thick paving brick on top of the sand. He looked superb.

But I noticed that if you stepped on the edge bricks, they would tilt and drift through the grass. Then the sugar ants took over. Every day, I noticed small mounds of sand that the ants brought to the surface while building their underground nests. It was a nightmare and a complete and utter failure. My wife told me to rip it out and do it right.

I then did some research and found that you could build a brick patio or sidewalk that would not only last for decades, but also stay perfectly smooth. My mother-in-law hadn’t wanted the slick look. She wanted her patio to have very slight undulations in the brickwork to make the patio and walkway look like it had been in place for 200 years. My new wife wanted a smooth look.

Luckily, a year earlier, I had a conversation with a retired master mason who told me how to get cement stucco to bond permanently to new concrete. He had built hundreds of exterior stucco staircases during his career. He told me his method was also the best way to bond brick to horizontal concrete.

To make sure my new front sidewalk wouldn’t fail, I removed all the brick pavers and salvaged them. I then dug up the sand and saved it too. I had to sift it and clean it to use it on my second attempt.

I then dug the trail deeper so I could install a poured concrete trail with half inch steel bars. The steel rods ensured that the concrete would not crack and separate. I then mixed cement mortar with hydrated lime added to the mix. The old mason told me to use cement paint as an extra adhesive to make sure the mortar wouldn’t separate from the concrete slab.

It worked so well that I built a beautiful patio in the back of this house with angled decking steps to access it. I then did the same thing in my last new house, building two huge patios. All that workmanship looks as good today as the day I installed it, and it’s decades old.

I have prepared detailed instructions with illustrations showing how to do the two tried and true brick laying methods. You’ll find all the recipes for mortar, cement paint and lots of tips for creating great brick sidewalks and patios. You can find them at GO.askthebuilder.com/1450.

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