﻿ Laying Patios and Garden Paths - Principles and Techniques | The Self-Sufficiency DIY Info Zone

## Principles and Techniques

You will need only rudimentary skills to build straightforward steps or to lay an ordinary path or patio, but it is vital to have a thorough understanding of the principles which support good building practice. You will also have to master certain basic techniques if you plan to undertake the work yourself.

### The basics

The one essential DIY rule is to keep everything you construct square, level and plumb. This means that bricks and blocks must be laid in straight lines or at right angles to one another, and their upper surface should be flat, while paving must be smooth and even. If you ignore the rules, walls, however low, may fall over and water will accumulate in uneven paving and on the treads of steps.

Square structures and paved areas have right-angled corners, so unless a patio is irregular in form, you will need to ensure that each corner measures exactly 90°. Although paths frequently curve, most steps are also ‘square’, that is, the treads and risers have right-angled corners and the steps are parallel to each other.

When setting out a square design, the simplest way to check that all corners are at right angles is to use the 3:4:5 method (unless you use a builder’s square or make a square with timber. Mark out the patio and then measure 3m from the corner along one side, and 4m from the same corner along the adjacent side. Then measure the distance between the two points. If it is exactly 5m, your patio is square; if not, adjust the layout until the sides of the structure measure 3m, 4m and 5m. If your patio is smaller than 4m long, or if you are checking for square in a confined space, simply use smaller measurements which are multiples of three, four and five (900 mm, 1.2m and 1.5m or 600 mm, 800 mm and 1m, for instance).

Circular areas are not difficult to lay out — you will simply need to make yourself a large compass with pegs and a length of string. Knock one peg in at a central point, attach the string to it, then pull the string taut. Mark on the string the radius you wish the circle to be, then use it to find several points on the circumference, and mark them with pegs. Join up the points with a chalk or flour line.

Level and plumb are terms every builder is familiar with. The tools used to ensure that these principles are followed are detailed on Basic Tools for Construction, but the one you will use most often is a spirit level. This is used to check all horizontal surfaces (brick paving, slabs and the treads of steps) as well as vertical surfaces. Although all your upright surfaces, including patio walls and the risers of steps, must be exactly vertical, paved areas and the treads of steps will usually slope very slightly to aid drainage (see below). If you are considering laying a ramp instead of steps, bear in mind that the gradient should not exceed 1:5 for a normal ramp or 1:12 for wheelchair access.