Written by Kevin Sullivan, landscape designer
As designers, we constantly imagine, detail, and observe the creation of outdoor spaces. For me personally, my time is weighted toward the first two stages. Though I spend a great amount of effort understanding how designs will work through extensive 3D modeling and drawing, nothing beats building something yourself for a true education in design. I recently took on a project at my house that allowed me to gain some perspective on what it takes to build something. The project was a brick patio.
My wife and I came across a large stack of bricks from a coworker. The bricks were salvaged from a driveway and are probably 50-60 years old. They are D’hanis bricks from San Antonio who has been producing quality brick since 1905. They were a score for us to find so we jumped at the opportunity. The first lesson we learned…bricks are difficult to move! There is no fast way to move ~2000 bricks when you can only pick up and carry a few at a time.
Once we moved the bricks to our house, the next step was coming up with the design. As a pair of designers, my wife and I had more than a few options that we came up with. In the end we settled on a seemingly simple design, a rectangle.
Once we had the design, we needed to demo the existing concrete pad. I first attempted jackhammering but quickly realized I needed more help. We hired a crew of helpers and demoed the concrete. Once the slab was removed, we still had the issue of a 3.5 foot diameter Sycamore stump that needed to be removed. We rented a stump grinder, and a short 16 hours later we had no stump and lots of wood chips
The first construction step for us was building a steel frame to contain the bricks and gravel fill we would be adding. This step revealed another obvious, but still mind-blowing reality about the material we were using. Steel is heavy. We decided to use ⅜” thick steel because we wanted the sides to be very rigid and robust, and well frankly it looks awesome. Wrangling such large and heavy pieces of steel while trying to keep decent precision for welding was difficult, but in the end we were able to get it together. I will note at this point that I started to realize tolerances I would be able to achieve as for a novice…expectations were lowered. Although, few of my welds were pretty; stack-o-dimes! (I didn’t take pictures of the bad ones).
Following the steel, the next step was preparing the ground for the bricks. This required grading, compacting, dumping road base by hand(6 yards), and compacting again. Thanks to guilt-induced volunteering from friends, this step was a lot less painful than it could have been (65 wheelbarrow loads later).
The final and most rewarding step was laying the bricks. One component of this step that we did not foresee was the need to clean each of the salvaged bricks to remove mud and mortar to allow for some uniformity in the laying process. The backyard brick cleaning station resembled an archeological dig.
We are happy with how it turned out, and looking back will fondly remember the effort it took. On to next project!