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For my birthday this year, I was gifted one of the most thoughtful presents I’ve ever gotten: the gift of making. I live in a cabin in the woods of Northern California and I have a patch of dirt to one side of my front door that becomes a big mud pit in the winter when our rainy season starts. In the summer, it’s the shady side of the house, so my pup Sugar had dug a hole to lay in and stay cool. Not cool. I’m all in favor of rustic living, but this was a bit much.

My dear friend Karen gifted me a brick walkway for my birthday. More specifically, her gift was getting all the materials, bringing them to my house, and teaching me how to lay a walkway. Karen made her first walkway 10 years ago and was offering to share that knowledge with me. Pictured above is how far we got on the weekend we started the project, so it’s not quite done yet, but it’s a great start.

Here’s what the area looked like before bricks. Karen told me to prep the area by getting it as level and chunky-rock-free as possible:

Here’s the hole that Sugar had dug. I needed to fill it in to get everything level:

Karen offering to get the materials was not only a generous gift monetarily, but getting 500 bricks to my house wasn’t easy either. She had to stop loading them at 400 when the wheel wells on the Volvo started to get dangerously low. Thank goodness for my sweet neighbors Billy and Gregory who lent a hand bringing the bricks down to our construction location.

Next, Karen showed me the many patterns we could make with the bricks and I picked one I liked (the one on the left):

She taught me how to spread out the sand and then start laying the bricks, giving me pointers on how close to lay them and to make sure none are wobbly:

This is how far we got. Next up is finishing the tail end and then brushing bags of sand over the top to fill in the cracks evenly (and gravel to fill in the bigger side spaces — yes, I found out my house and planter are not exactly straight).

Karen’s present was so brilliant because she not only gifted me with something I needed that will last for years, but she took the time to show me how to do it, so now I have knowledge that will last forever. I’m excited to finish this project and start bricking another area of my little forest.

Sugar, naturally, has now taken to sleeping in the planters:

Goli Mohammadi

Goli Mohammadi

I’m a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at [email protected] or via @snowgoli.

  • tim dolan

    Very Cool. Nice to see you setting a wonderful example. Thanks for sharing.

    • Goli Mohammadi

      Thanks Tim! I really appreciate that! I had thought about waiting to do the post when the walkway was completely finished and polished, but I think it’s also important to share our processes of making.

      • tim dolan

        I agree that showing the entire process is a good idea particularly since you are trying to motivate the rest of us. Perhaps another short post when you finish? Again Thanks for sharing your project.

        • Goli Mohammadi

          Will do, Tim — thanks for your support! That’s what I love about the maker community :)

  • gdkonstantine

    Very cool indeed! I’ve put down some pavers (in the alternate world that sees me as a partner in a landscaping firm) so my first first comment (or wish) is that your lower back is not sore. It’s great that you have a friend to help and guide you. You may also want to consider using polymeric sand for filling in the gaps. It helps deter weeds from growing in between the bricks. And, happy birthday!

    • Goli Mohammadi

      Thank you kindly Gus! I wonder what the difference is between polymeric sand and “play sand,” which is what I bought.

      • gdkonstantine

        Regular sand is fine. There is a binder in the polymeric sand that makes it better, but it is is 2 to 3 times more expensive.

  • zjokka

    I am very very sorry. I’ve been planning to do the same work in my backyard and the only reason I haven’t started it is because I don’t want it to end up like yours: it’s not level and the bricks are not locked into place. I fear water may wash away the whole pavement over the course of a wet season.

    • thejaydub

      I too have been thinking about doing something similar, but this project looks like it sadly lacks planning and proper actual implementation. It’s not even level in most areas, and the base was not laid as it would need to be. There are tons of guides out there on how to do this properly.

      Fortunately the homeowner liking it is all that matters.

    • Goli Mohammadi

      Thanks for your concern Zjokka and thejaydub, but as I noted in the post, what you see above is just the beginning. I hadn’t put in the sand fill yet (which fills in the cracks between the bricks and stabilizes the whole thing). I’ll post an update with those pics when I take them. And as for the thing not being totally level, it may not be apparent in the shots above, but when I say I live in the forest, I don’t mean just a suburb with lots of trees. My house is basically on the site of a coastal mountain. No matter how level you make anything, it’s pretty much a lost cause after the rainy season. The good thing is that it’s so easy to pull up a brick here and there and level as needed. What you see is about as level as I could get it with the tools I have (I’m also on a rock bed). It works for me and I’m really proud of it!

      • Darrick

        Don’t worry about them. I lived in the Santa Cruz mountains for a few years and the last thing you want is for that to be level. It needs to slope down to drain. City folks in a dry valley can worry about level. I like it and will watch for the update. :)

        • Goli Mohammadi

          Thanks for the vote of confidence, Darrick, my fellow mountain dweller! :)

  • The Belmont Rooster

    Nice bricks plus a great friend!

    • Goli Mohammadi

      Thanks Belmont Rooster — agreed — she’s a gem of a friend!

  • Heather C Woodward (@Coralwood59)

    A lovely walkway! it will look brilliant when it is finished and no more muddy mess, and every time you walk over it remember the kindness and be proud of your efforts.

    • Goli Mohammadi

      Thanks Heather! I was thinking the same thing when we were working on it. Here’s to awesome friends who share knowledge!

  • Ty Tower

    For variety try a herringbone pattern or lay at an angle , 45 looks good but you have to cut triangular fill pieces

    • Goli Mohammadi

      I love the herringbone pattern! I really wanted to try something more complicated like that but was thinking for this first bricking project, simple would probably be more successful :) I’m really inspired by the intricate brickwork in Iran (my country of origin). Check out this shot I took of a building in Yazd: (that whole set has lots of bricky goodness).

  • Drew Straws

    The quicker and cheaper way is instead of using sand underneath the pavers use two layers of OSB board that is staggered with the last board cut down the middle to accommodate the staggered pieces on either end.

    Any skeptics out there will say that the OSB board will become warped and weathered, but just remember OSB board is basically just wood-chips and glue. That is why it is used so frequently in building the floors and walls of houses. The fact that OSB board is about $7 a sheet makes it especially well-suited for this project.

    Using this technique the walkway can be 4 feet wide if you’re staggering the OSB board on the long edge or the patio can be 8 feet wide if you’re staggering the OSB board on the wide edge.

    Instead of buying the expensive plastic molding for the edges, instead leave a 2 inch lip around the OSB board is not covered with pavers and use grabber screws that are not screwed all the way into the OSB board to hold the pavers in place. This also serves to secure the OSB board on the top layer to the OSB board on the bottom later.

    Push dirt or place grass or sod oner the OSB lip and grabber screws and you are done in a few hours

    • Goli Mohammadi

      Thanks for sharing that, Drew! I had never heard of using OSB in that manner. I’m a little confused how it works (in your first paragraph). Is there a picture somewhere you can point me to? I’m really intrigued and want to see if I can use it for a future project.

  • gdkonstantine

    Another thing I like about this project is that it shows that even as a beginner, you can enjoy what you have created. Yes, a professional would have done a better job. But that isn’t the only consideration in doing a project.

    For me, there are a number of ways to look at any work. You have to consider the purpose of the project and the constraints of the situation. For a path between a house and planter, with a defined slope and that is replacing some dirt, the work is more than fine. With time, it will blend even more. My suggestion would have been to use a different kind of paving stone, something typically described as “cobblestone” that would give the space a more “rustic” look, but that is me. Again, nice job.

    By the way, one contractor I’ve worked with would have dug 12″ down and added that much crushed gravel before putting the bricks on top of that. (I think that is a little overkill in this situation.) He would’ve also charged $20/sq.ft. and only guaranteed his work for 3 years. Others would have charged less ($5 to $10/sq.ft.), used less material and only given warrantees for 6 months to a year.

    • Goli Mohammadi

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Gus! Much appreciated!