I was having lunch with my friend Becky and the subject of her new patio came up. She was undecided about what material to use. Although she is very capable and could build whatever she wanted, a big concern was cost. I recommend crusher fines.

Crusher fines are crushed gravel. In size, it ranges from ¼” to dust. This variation in size allows it to pack well. It’s cheap and comes in various colors. Consider that you may need to buy a rain drip guard attached to the roof line over the patio to keep the run off from washing out the crusher fines.

The difficult part is the border and the steps. Homeowners sometimes use unmortared brick, cinder blocks or wood as a border or steps, but those can be a trip hazard and may be unattractive. If you want it to look really nice, you can use brick or pavers that are mortared in place. Allow for a very slight slope for drainage. Dig a shallow trench about 3” deep and a little wider than the brick or pavers. To add strength to the concrete, lay in a piece of re-bar along the length of each side and use a small piece of brick under it to hold it off the ground approximately 1”. Using a trowel, fill the trench in 3’-4’ sections so the re-bar is encased and smooth the top. While the concrete is still wet, carefully lay the brick on the surface leaving about a ½” space between the bricks. Tap the bricks with the trowel to help them adhere to the wet concrete. Use mortar mix to fill the ends spaces and use your finger to smooth it. Let it set until it’s a little firm and use a wet paint brush to smooth and clean the joints.

For an easier way to make a border, Google “paver edge restraints” to see heavy duty plastic borders like “Snap Edger” sold at Ewing Irrigation and some home centers. These borders are designed to border pavers but work well on this kind of project. They work well if you have grass or gravel around the patio. Don’t buy the edge restraints that come in a roll — they are not heavy enough to keep a straight line.

Now Google “preformed steps” or “precast concrete products” in your area to find steps. Please use these “set in place” steps because of safety concerns. You could use railroad ties for the border. To get the grade right you may need to excavate and set the ties lower. As an added bonus if you like the look of ties they could be used as steps provided that you drill and stake them to the ground with re-bar for safety.

Now is the easy part. Remove grass and debris, and shovel in the colored crusher fines. Rake it smooth and water it thoroughly. Let the surface dry ¼” deep. Either rent a compactor or use a hand tamper to compact the patio. Compact it to a point that it is very difficult to hammer a nail in! Keep in mind that all of these approaches require that you figure the grade wanted and slightly slope for drainage.

If you’re concerned about crusher fines being tracked into the house, you can use polymeric sand, sold at home improvement centers, to spray on the surface to help with that issue.

 Mike Dooley is the designer and owner of Dooley Landscape Designs. Visit his website dooleylandscapedesigns.com.

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