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How to lay a slab patio
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Paving slabs are readily available in a wide range of styles and different price brackets. Some of the reconstituted stone (concrete) products look like real old stone paving slabs, the number of different moulds used give them convincingly distressed looks. Make a drawing of your patio to work out what quantities of materials you will need, and what laying pattern you want to use. Try to keep cutting to a minimum - you can get pre-cut radius slabs, which save a lot of effort, for circular details and curved edges. Paving materials can be mixed, for example edging ordinary slabs with a relatively expensive dark engineering brick, for customised finishes. If you are working to a tight budget, laying you own patio helps keep costs down, and is not that hard. Mind how you lift the slabs! You might find these other Workshops helpful: How to add an edge to a patio; How to set out a garden from scratch; How to make a simple wall; How to make steps.
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you will need
a cleared site for your new patio; line and pegs or paint to mark out; fine hardcore - enough for a layer of 75 mm throughout the area; coarse sand; cement; slabs of your choice; wheelbarrow; 2 timber pegs and a 2 m length of tiling batten; mallet or lump hammer; a spirit level; a rake; piece of timber for firming hardcore; a mallet. Optional: angle grinder for cutting slabs to fit; a roller; pointing trowel; club hammer.
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step1
Clear the site of all vegetation or other debris. To shed rainwater, patios must have a built in slope away from the house which is imperceptible to the eye. Hammer a peg into the ground near the house at the edge of your patio. Take the 2 m length of batten. Rest one end on the peg, and hammer a second peg in 2 m away from the first. To make a slope, this peg has to be lower than the first, so hammer it further into the ground. Rest the batten on top of the two pegs and measure the difference in height using the spirit level. The bubble in your spirit level should just touch the outer line in its window. Adjust the height of the second peg if you need to. This makes the slope about right - the ideal gradient is about 1 in 60 - a fall of 1 mm for every 60 mm of distance. Water won't drain away from a smaller slope. Leave pegs in the ground to work to as you excavate.
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step2
Paving can be laid directly onto a 50 mm layer of sharp sand on top of well tamped or firmed soil. For greater stability, lay paved patios on a bed of firm foundations throughout the area. Your finished patio level will consist of the thickness of the slabs, plus 75 mm of dry foundation mix to bed them in, and a minimum 75 mm layer of hardcore, depending on conditions in your garden. Allow at least 150 mm below the level of your damp proof course and dig down another 150 mm plus slab thickness for the foundations. Remove the topsoil if it is a new patio, or clear the area. Spread an even layer of hardcore 75 mm deep over the area finishing it to your levelling pegs. Firm with a piece of timber or roller it down.
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step3
Cover the area with a semi-dry foundation mix of 6 parts sandy ballast : 1 part cement. Firm this with a piece of timber and check that you have allowed enough depth for your paving slabs to finish 150 mm below the damp proof course. Lay a small test area of slabs to make sure you are happy with the laying pattern and to check on the finished area. Make joints about 10 mm wide for pointing - this will vary according to the type of slabs and your laying pattern. Follow manufacturer’s laying instructions.
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step4
Start at the back of the house, if your patio adjoins it. Lay the first corner slab on a bed of mortar - mix 3-4 parts building sand: 1 part cement. Use a wooden or rubber mallet, or the handle of a lump hammer to tap the stone into place. Check that the level is right with a spirit level. Repeat the process, easing slabs into position. Ensure that the joints are evenly spaced - use small timber spacers if necessary.
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step5
When you have finished laying the slabs, point the joints, using a semi dry mortar mix of 3 parts building sand : 1 part cement. The mix should be neither too wet or too dry. Give joints a neat, concave finish, and scrape excess mortar off before it dries. You may prefer to sweep a dry mortar mix into joints, or to fill joints with gravel and the seeds of low growing plants.
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Mark out the area for your patio and make sure you have the right quantity of slabs
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Cover the area with a hard foundation layer and then a ballast layer
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Lay the slabs from one edge, regularly check the levels and make sure the spaces are even

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