I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but with so much to write about, where do I start? Laying a patio looks easy right? I mean it’s essentially just laying slabs as level as possible right? But there really is so much more to it…But that’s not to say that you can’t do it!

Being a landscape gardener, I started this website to give advice and instructions to help my readers create their dream garden, hoping that they can put full confidence in a professional gardener. Within this post, I will also include pictures where possible to help you along the way when laying your new patio.

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This patio measured 50 squared meters and took 2 of us 5 days to complete. I would recommend allowing 10 working days to complete if you are new to paving and are looking to give it a go yourselves for the first time. Let’s begin with the full guide to laying your very own patio!

What tools will I need to lay my patio?

The tools that you need will include;

  • Cement mixer (unless it’s a small area being paved, then a mixing board may do the job)
  • Spade
  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Hand brush
  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Rake
  • Rubber mallet
  • Tape measure
  • Spirit level(s)
  • Lawn edging tool
  • Builder’s string
  • 9″ angle grinder with diamond cutting blade (if you will be cutting any patio slabs)
  • Wacker plate (these can be rented)
  • Breaker (also know as a kango) (if you will be removing old concrete or paving slabs)

What materials will I need to lay my patio?

The materials needed will include;

  • Paving slabs
  • MOT Type 1 (hardcore)
  • Sharp sand
  • Cement

Don’t forget your safety equipment…

  • Gloves for carrying the patio slabs
  • Dust mask for cutting the paving slabs
  • Safety Goggles for cutting the paving slabs
  • Ear defenders for using the wacker plate, angle grinder and breaker
  • Knee pads for when you lay the paving slabs
  • Don’t forget to wear your safety boots too

Now that we have our tools, materials and safety equipment out of the way, lets start…First lets work out how many squared meters of paving slabs you will need for laying your new patio

  1. Measure the length of the area you intend to lay your new patio in meters. In this example, lets say that it’s 7.2 meters.
  2. Measure the width of the area in meters. In this example, lets say that it’s 5 meters.
  3. Multiply the 2 numbers together, in this case we get 36. This means that you have 36 squared meters of patio needed.
  4. Add a minimum of 5% and round up to the nearest meter to allow for off cuts etc.. This means that we will need to order a minimum of 38 squared meters of paving slabs.

How to lay a base for your new patio

The absolute first thing that you need to do is mark the area that you will be laying your new paving slabs using a builders string and pegs, always going over slightly. When doing this, it is important to find out in which direction your new patio will fall from your house. Baring in mind that most properties have land that falls away from the house, this is to keep rain water running away and preventing flooding and damping. This will be an ever so slight fall and shouldn’t be too noticeable – I have always laid the patio in 2 directions to allow for better water flow. If you have no choice but to have the patio run towards your property, then a drain will be needed.

Next, using a lawn edging tool, dig along the string line to make a nice straight edge and measure the diameter again using a tape measure to check that you are happy with the area being covered.

It’s now time to start digging! If you are laying a patio that will only be walked on, then dig to a depth of 4-5 inches. If you are planning to use it for a drive, then it is best to dig to a depth of 8 inches since more materials will be needed to hold the weight of a vehicle. In this example, we will be working to a 4-5 inch depth.

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Now it’s time to start laying your type 1 MOT. Using a wheelbarrow, spread the type 1 evenly across the area being covered at approximately 100mm deep and using a landscaping rake to keep it nice and even. The reason that we use type 1 MOT is because when compacted, it creates a solid base for the paving. This stops it from sinking and/or moving over a long period of time. Once you are happy with the evenly spread type 1 MOT, it’s time to use the wacker plate.

If you are laying a patio for the first time, then it is likely that you don’t have a wacker plate to hand and not only this, but they can be very expensive to purchase. However, please note that they are inexpensive to rent from a plant hire company, along with a cement mixer (needed later). They can be heavy, so always make sure you have help when lifting a wacker plate in and out of a vehicle. When in use, they are fairly easy to handle moving themselves forward, all you need to do is steer the compactor in the right direction! When finished, you should end up with a nice solid base!

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Mixing the sand and cement ready for the first paving slab to be laid

It is recommended to use a 4 to 1 mix of sharp sand and cement, however I know many landscape gardeners that use a 5 to 1 mix and have never had an issue. Although I would always recommend using a cement mixer as you will save so much time, you can always use a mixing tray for smaller areas. Using a shovel, put 4 equal shovels of sharp sand into the cement mixer or mixing tray, followed by 1 equal shovel of cement. You can repeat this process for larger mixes – I usually use a ratio of 12 to 3 when using a cement mixer. This allows me to keep paving for longer without having to keep making more mixes!

Using a wheelbarrow, pour the sand and cement mix (also known as muck in the gardening trade!) into the corner where you will be laying your first patio slab and use a trail or lawn rake to evenly spread the mix and place your first slab on top. You can always take a small scoop from the center of where the first patio slab is going to be laid as this will make it easier for the mix to move when tapping it into position. Never just put a blob of mix in each corner, although this will make light work, the paving slabs will remain hollow and won’t last long at all! Remember this if you hire a company to lay the paving slabs on your behalf!

Now it’s time to put the first paving slab into position. Remembering that there will be a slight fall on the patio to run the rain water off and stop any puddles from forming, using a rubber mallet and spirit level, start to tap the first paving slab into position. If you have nothing but a club hammer to use, then make sure that you use a piece of wood between the patio slab and hammer to avoid cracking or marking the slab.

When you are happy with the first slab, repeat the process for the next slab and remember to try and get the edges perfectly flush together and leaving the required gap for your pointing. If natural paving slabs are being used, don’t worry if they don’t line up perfectly since only concrete slabs are cut exactly the same. I’ll be honest, natural slabs can be a bit of a nightmare, but if some sides have higher edges compared to other sides, meaning that you can’t always get them to match up at the exact height, remember that the pointing/jointing will hide this upon completion of the work. If concrete slabs are being used, then you can use spacers to keep them equally apart.

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How to cut patio slabs

You will need a 9″ angle grinder for this job, usually available from around the £50.00 mark although a stone cutting blade will be required. I use a diamond cutting blade for all of my work.

Simply measure the area that needs to be cut, and using a carpenters pencil and the edge of the spirit level, mark where the patio slab will need to be cut. Always run back and forth along the marked line(s) without too much pressure. If you push too hard, not only will you shorten the life of the cutting disc, but the slab can easy crack! For the sake of saving 30 seconds, it’s just not worth it!

How to fill in the gaps between your new patio slabs (also known as pointing or jointing)

This very much depends on the gap between your slabs. For example, in lots of cases where concrete patio slabs are being laid, they can be close together, just like block paving. If this is the case, and the gaps are just 5mm wide or less, then just sweep in kiln-dried sand (also known as block paving sand) and that’s it!

If however you have joints larger than 5mm then it’s best to use sand and cement on a 3 to 1 mix this time. This means 3 shovels of sand for every 1 shovel of cement. This mix will need to be dampened, remembering not to make it too wet as it will stain your new patio! The way that I do it is to make it just wet enough that when you squeeze it in your hand, it ever so slightly stains it.

Simply sweep in the mix using a hand brush. You can then use a pointing trail, hose pipe or even your finger (remembering to use gloves) when using the mix to fill in the edges of the paving slabs. If the mix is too wet that it starts to stain the paving, using a damp sponge, gently dampen the edges of each slab until the marks go away.

You can use kiln-dried sand, builders sand or plasterers sand when mixing with cement ready for your jointing, but if gaps are wider than 10mm then you can use sharp sand. If natural paving is being used then you will likely have gaps over 10mm.

One important note to make is that as you are using a 3 to 1 mix, your pointing will look grey. You can use white cement (also known as snowcrete) to lighten the mix, or even use cement dye and have any colour you want!

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If you think I’ve missed anything, or have any questions of your own, then please do comment below! I think that the great thing about these websites is that we can all share our knowledge and help each other out! I will be very much involved in the comment section and will be the first to respond!