Welcoming walks – brick walkways – includes related material
Richard T. Kreh, Sr.
Brick paths, made without mortar or concrete, enhance the beauty of a garden.
Among the many ways to get from here to there in a garden, few are as attractive, inviting, and easy to traverse as a brick walkway. And you can choose from a wide range of colors, textures, shapes, and bricklaying patterns to design a walk that is a unique garden feature.
You don’t need special skills to build a brick walk if you lay it dry. I know–I’ve been a mason all my life. In a dry-laid walk, the bricks rest on layers of stone and sand (the stone dust allows water to drain through, and the sand provides a cushion for minor adjustments). There’s no concrete to pour, no mortar to hold the bricks in place. Better yet, a dry-laid walk is more durable than a mortared one. When the ground freezes and thaws (a common phenomenon in all but the mildest-winter climates), it causes the soil to heave or lift upwards. A mortared walk moves with the ground. If the walk settles unevenly, just lift a few bricks, level the ground beneath them, and set the bricks back in place.
A Walk As You Like It
Consider appearance and placement when you plan a brick walk. If your garden is formal, then a straight, square walk makes the most sense. In a garden where curving lines dominate or where the look is more natural, an irregular or curving walk that flows with the layout of the garden is probably more appropriate. The most direct path often is not the most appealing–a sinuous walk or one that jogs left or right on the way to its destination adds a distinctive element to a landscape.
Give some thought to the width of the walk. I consider 3 feet a minimum width for a brick path–it allows two people to walk abreast or to pass each other comfortably. A front walk should be about 4 feet wide, which allows for more traffic and is more inviting.
The pattern in which you lay the bricks affects the walkway’s appearance. Because bricks are uniform in shape, they can be laid in a variety of patterns or bonds. There are three basic patterns-running bond, basket weave, and herringbone. (See drawings below.) Most of the other patterns are variations of these three. Running bond is the simplest and the most familiar pattern–the bricks in neighboring rows are staggered. It’s easy to install–you have to cut bricks only at the beginning and end of the walk.
The basket-weave pattern, which looks like its namesake, is formed by laying two bricks side by side, turning the next two 90 degrees, and repeating the process. The change in direction is very pleasing to the eye. The basket weave requires a little more skill to install than the running bond because bricks vary slightly in size; keeping the pattern straight requires minor shifting of bricks here and there.
Of the three basic brick-laying patterns, the herringbone pattern is by far the most intricate and difficult to install, but it locks together and resists movement better than the others. The herringbone pattern is a variation on running bond. Instead of being laid in straight rows, the bricks run at a 45-degree angle to the edge and meet end-to-side (rather than end-to-end). Because all the bricks along the edge of the walk must be cut at 45-degree angles, you’ll have to develop brick-cutting skills.
At the planning stage, you also need to decide whether you want a border for your walkway. A border can be composed of bricks set in a position different from the pattern of the walk (end up, for example), or it can be made of a variety of other materials, such as landscaping timbers, railroad ties, or stone. Many masons insist on installing a border to prevent the bricks from shifting, but I don’t think one is necessary in most cases. Still, many people think a border gives a walkway a more finished appearance.
Before you choose the location for your walkway, think about what lies below ground. You don’t want to slice through underground wiring or plumbing as you excavate the bed. Even if the underground utilities are well below excavation depth, the day may come when they will require service and your walk will have to be torn up. The plot plan of your house may show where wires and pipes run. You also should ask your local utility companies to come out and mark the location of the lines; there’s usually no charge for this service.
To save yourself time and trouble, I recommend that you put your ideas on paper. Draw different patterns, borders, and walk shapes to see which you prefer. I use 1/4-inch graph paper. Because the standard brick is twice as long as it is wide (8 inch x 4 inch), I let every two blocks represent one full brick. Keep in mind that your design won’t work out exactly when you actually lay the bricks–bricks aren’t perfect and neither are you.
Bricks That Last
I recommend you buy only bricks made specifically for paving. Bricks in walks are subjected to traffic and moisture, and in most of the United States they also must endure repeated freezing and thawing. Bricks made for house walls can quickly deteriorate under such conditions. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), an industry association that sets specifications for building materials, has described the manufacturing requirements for paving bricks in its “Standard Specification for Pedestrian and Light Traffic Paving Brick” (ASTM C 902). Ask your supplier if the bricks you want to buy conform to this specification.
Avoid used or salvaged bricks. Their rustic or historic look may make them appealing, but in my experience, most aren’t durable over the long haul. If you want the look of old bricks, select new reproductions.
The best place to buy bricks is at a local masonry-supply company listed in the yellow pages of the phone book under “Brick.” Specialty companies have the best prices and the widest selection. Many also have a showroom of samples.
To order bricks, you’ll need to calculate the square footage (length times width) of your walk. I estimate four and a half bricks per square foot, regardless of paving pattern. If you want a brick border around the walk, you have to add some extra bricks. You also need to allow for misshapen and broken bricks. I generally add five percent as a cushion. If you end up with extra bricks, keep them on hand for small repair jobs.
For a dry-laid walkway, you’ll also need sand and finely crushed gravel (also called stone dust or stone screenings). You can buy them in bulk from a sand and gravel dealer. If you can’t get stone dust, buy fine gravel. (Ask for 5/8-inch chips or common pea gravel.) For most climates, one inch of sand and 3 inches of stone dust (or gravel) is sufficient for the bed. The sand and gravel dealer can calculate the quantities you’ll need from the square footage of your walk.
A Level Foundation
You’ll have to excavate to get the level of your finished walk at or slightly above the soil level. First, make a digging guide. Lay out a short section of walk, placing the bricks on top of the ground in the pattern you intend to use. Then measure about 6 inches from either side of the bricks to determine the width of the excavation. (The extra space allows room for work space and 2 x 4s, which serve as temporary brick-laying forms.) Pound small stakes into the ground at these two points. For straight walks, I do the same at the other end and stretch a nylon line between the stakes at each end.
If your walk is curved, determine the outlines of the excavation with garden hoses. Move the hoses around until you get the curve you want. Then mark their position by filling a small funnel with powdered, hydrated lime (available from buildingsupply stores) and let the lime sift out next to the hose, using your finger as a release control.
To figure how deep to dig, add together the thickness of a brick and 4 inches for the sand and stone dust. Dig out the base of the walk with standard hand tools–pick, mattock, shovel, and rake. If you don’t already have one, consider investing in a square-point shovel, which has a flat blade. It’s ideal for removing soil and for slicing thin layers of the bottom of the excavation. Stop occasionally to check the depth. I lay a plank across the excavation and measure down with a tape or a ruler.
Forms Ease the Work
To hold the bricks (or the border) in place as you lay them, it’s a good idea to put in temporary forms. Drive sharpened stakes at 4-foot or 5-foot intervals along the excavation. The tops of the stakes should be at the level of the finished walk, and the sides should be just far enough from the edges of the walk to leave room for a 2 x 4 or a piece of plywood. For straight walks, nail 2 x 4s even with the top of the stakes to create a frame. If your walk is curved, bend strips of 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch plywood and nail them to the stakes. Then, shovel soil against the outside of the forms to prevent the stone dust from spilling out under the 2 x 4s or the plywood.
If your walkway is on level ground, pitch it to eliminate standing water. A drop of 1/4 inch per one foot of width is enough to encourage runoff. For example, a 3-foot wide walk should have one side 3/4 inch higher than the other. Check the pitch with a level and adjust the height of the forms accordingly.
A Bed for the Bricks
Inside the forms, put down a 3-inch layer of stone dust followed by a one-of sand. To disinch layer tribute stone dust and sand evenly, you’ll need to make two screeds (leveling boards). I cut lengths of 2 x 4s about 8 inches wider than the walk and notch each end so that the 2x4s hang inside the forms down to the top level of the stone dust or sand. I push the screed along the forms, which serve as rails, spreading and smoothing the stone dust or sand. To reduce settling, I compact the stone dust with a hand tamper (available at rental centers) before adding the sand. I don’t compact the sand–bricklaying settles it into place.
Laying the Bricks
This step is easy. To establish the pattern, I start at one corner of the walk and work across to the opposite edge. Then I set each brick firm into the sand by tapping it down lightly with my hammer handle. Sometimes I crack a brick as I tap it. Because the crack will only get larger, I discard the brick without hesitation. I stop occasionally to make sure that the bricks are even with the top of the forms by laying a 2 x 4 across the walk. If I have trouble getting a brick to settle into position, I slide it back and forth in the sand. I raise low bricks by removing them and adding sand.
No matter which pattern you choose, sooner or later you’ll have to cut a brick. Use a tool called a brickset chisel, which has a 4-inch wide blade. Mark the brick where you want to cut by drawing a line on it with a small square and a pencil. Lay the brick on a piece of 2 x 4 or on the ground to cushion it. Set the brick-set chisel on the line and strike it with a hammer. Wear safety glasses; flying chips can injure unprotected eyes.
When you’ve finished laying the bricks, remove the forms and fill in along the edges with earth removed during excavation. If you ran your walk across a lawn, reset strips of the sod you pulled up along the edge of the walk. The last step is to throw a couple of shovelfuls of sand on the walk and sweep it into the spaces between the bricks with a stiff broom.
Your walk can be used immediately. You can put in a walk one day and entertain guests that night.
Richard T. Kreh Sr. is a masonry consultant in Frederick, Maryland.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Saturday Evening Post Society
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