Patio, part 1: The big dig

Our house isn’t big, so outdoor living spaces are key. Plus, why did we move to Portland in the first place if not to enjoy the outdoors? So after some painting and cosmetic stuff inside, a patio in the backyard was job one. I actually promised my wife and daughter our first hot tub ever as part of our big move West, and the patio is the base for the tub.

We already had a nice big space marked out, 14 by 21, right off the small deck in back. That’s a lot of materials, but stone suppliers all deliver. I actually went with some affordable tumbled concrete pavers from Home Depot, called RumbleStone. A 14×21 space is also a lot of digging, and our tiny fence gates wouldn’t let in a big digging machine.

Luckily, I really only needed to level the area and then build up the base from there, so I went with a shovel and muscle power. Two days later, I was almost done. Good lord. The key is careful layout with stakes and strings, which ensure that you are keeping everything flat, yet tilting the patio a bit away from the house to send water that way.

I’ll be compacting the whole area with a rented tool, called a plate compactor, but to do a bit of tamping and get everything close to level, I made my own tamper, which works awesome!

As you can see, I had my work cut out for me. I actually had to remove a fair bit of soil to keep the overall level below my crawlspace vents. The dog is looking for a new toilet I think.
Stakes and strings are the key to creating a level surface. I also staked in a long board (at right) to hold back some of the soil at the edge. At the back edge of the area there was already a big beam, which I’m keeping right there.
While I was digging the Home Depot delivery guys showed up with all the stone and sand. If you are already paying for delivery, have them throw everything you can think of on the truck.
I not only dug up the whole area to loosen and level the soil, but I also had to dig a walkway to the side gate! I was so beat.
To make my tamper, I started by attaching a small square of plywood to the bottom of a 4×4, using long lag bolts. With pilot holes, these things really grab.
Then I screwed that first plate onto a bigger one. I also drilled into the 4×4 from both sides at the top, for the dowel handle.
The tamper is a good workout! It is pretty key because it showed me how level I was basically, getting everything pretty close before I go to rent the plate compactor and really pack everything down.




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