What’s a backyard without a patio? A paver patio can provide an outdoor space for grilling, entertaining, or simply relaxing with a glass of wine after a long day. And they’re not that hard to build, either.

You don’t need to be a DIY expert in order to put in a nice-looking, durable paver patio. It’s mostly an investment of sweat equity. Follow these step-by-step instructions to install the paver patio of your dreams.

Choose Your Pavers and Pattern

Before you start building your paver patio, you’ll need to choose what kind of pavers you want to install and grab the tools and materials you’ll need to put them in. Before you pick out pavers, give some thought to the layout pattern you want to use. Some patterns are more difficult to master than others — for example, a herringbone pattern might be more finicky, but a running bond or jack-on-jack pattern might be more manageable.

With so many types of pavers on the market, you’ll need to consider what weather patterns they’ll be subject to and how much weight you plan to put on them. Choose a material that can withstand the weather extremes in your area. If you’re going to put something heavy on your patio, like a large grilling station or a spa, put down thick pavers that can support it.

Grab Your Tools and Materials

In addition to your pavers, you’ll need:

  • Landscaping sand
  • Gravel
  • Landscaping cloth
  • Jointing sand
  • String
  • Furring strips
  • Patio edge restraints and stakes
  • Landscaping paint

As far as tools go, you’ll need the following:

  • Shovel
  • Leaf blower
  • Carpenter’s square
  • Power compactor
  • Hand tamper
  • Measuring tape
  • Mallet
  • Four-foot level
  • Broom
  • Two-by-four plank
  • At least two lengths of one-inch PVC pipe

Decide How Big to Make Your Patio

How big do you want your patio? It’ll need to be big enough for all your patio furniture, plus room to move around. You definitely want room for all your patio stuff — a table and chairs or a picnic table, a grilling station with a large Traeger grill, maybe a fire pit with some seating around it. You might want room for a hammock or an outdoor sofa or two.

Take measurements for the outdoor furniture you’re planning to buy. Then you can measure out some areas in your backyard and get an idea of how much will fit. Try drawing patio layout plans to scale to help you visualize your arrangement of the space. And if you’re not sure how much room you’ll need, it’s better to err on the side of caution and make your patio bigger. Too much patio is better than too little patio.

Stake Out the Space

Use the furring strips and string to stake out your patio space. If you’re staking out a square or rectangular space, measure the two diagonals to make sure they’re the same length. This ensures that you have a true square and not a weird rhombus. A carpenter’s square can help you get the corners right.

If you’re making a curved or round space, you can mark the edge with a long garden hose. Use the landscaping paint to mark your boundaries. Put the paint line about six inches outside of your string or hose boundary, because you’ll need to dig out room for the edge restraints.

Dig It Out

Remove the sod and soil from your patio area, digging deep enough that you can putdown a six-inch layer of gravel and a one-inch layer of sand, and still have the tops of your pavers at about ground level. You may be able to reuse the sod you take up, if you want, but keep it wet until you do.

Maintain the Slope

The important thing when digging is to maintain a proper slope, so that your new patio has good drainage. Here’s where the four-foot level comes in. Your patio should slope away from your house at a rate of about one inch per four feet of distance. Tape a one-inch-thick block of wood to one end of your level to help you measure this. Maintain the slope when digging, and remember to keep checking it as you lay the foundation and the pavers.

Tamp Down the Soil

Once you have the area dug out, tamp down the dirt. You can use a hand tamper for this, but a power compactor is easier. You can rent one from your local hardware store. After tamping, cover the dirt with landscaping cloth to block weed growth.

Lay Gravel and Sand

The first layer of your patio’s foundation should be gravel. Lay six inches of gravel about two inches at a time, wetting each two-inch layer and tamping it down with the power compactor as you go. Make sure to keep checking your slope. Once you have all six inches of gravel tamped down, lay the one-inch PVC pipes across your patio area, using them as a guide to pour the one-inch layer of landscaping sand. Use the two-by-four to level the sand layer.

Put Down the Pavers

Now you’re ready to lay the pavers. Place another string low to the ground around your space, to help you keep the edges of the patio plumb. Start laying pavers around the edges of the space and work towards the middle, leaving a ¼-inch gap between the pavers. After the first few rows, install your edge restraints, placing the spikes about a foot apart.

As you work, use your level to make sure you’re maintaining your slope, and that the tops of your pavers are even with each other. Hammer down pavers that stick up with your mallet, and add more sand under pavers that are too low. Use the straight edge of the level to check that your rows are straight.

Finish It Off

Once you’ve laid all the pavers, you can cover the patio area with jointing sand and use the broom to sweep it into the cracks between the pavers. Don’t do this unless your pavers are completely dry, because water activates the jointing sand.

Tamp the pavers with the hand tamper to settle the sand into the cracks, and keep adding more sand and tamping until the cracks are full. Once they are, use the leaf blower to clear sand out of the crevices on the tops of the pavers. Fill in the margin around the edges of your patio with jointing sand, too. Lightly wet the patio surface with a hose, then let the jointing sand cure for 24 hours.

Congratulations — your new patio is ready to enjoy!