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DIY block paver driveway apron

The trickiest part of our driveway project was the block paver apron which separates the gravel drive from the footpath. It would have been easier to just gravel all the way up to the footpath, but because we wanted to widen the entrance that wasn’t really an option as it would look rubbish. It took some time and patience, but we got there in the end.


The dig

The photo below shows the front of our house when we moved in. The wee garden to the right looked nice but having such a narrow drive wasn’t ideal. Plus, the broken concrete look wasn’t great. To widen the entrance, we knocked down part of the wall and dug out some of the grass verge that sat in front of it.

We then dug out a generously deep channel where the pavers were going to sit. The width of the opening is around 4.5 metres and the total paver area is 3 square metres.

I used concrete edging as an edge restraint all around the paved area to keep the pavers in place. I dug out to 30cm where these edgings would sit, allowing 10cm for MOT type 1 (sub-base), 5cm for a mortar bed and 15cm for the concrete edging.

For the area below the pavers, I dug out to 25cm, allowing for a generous 15cm sub-base, 5cm mortar bed plus the 5cm thick pavers. With those levels dug to, I laid some permeable membrane down and whackered the sub-base until it sat 20cm below the finished paver level.

The below picture gives a better idea of the fairly awkward shape and levels of the apron area.

Edge restraint

For the mortar bed that the edging sits on, I mixed 1 part cement to 4 parts sharp sand (or what should have been sharp sand, I got sent building sand…) I kept it as a fairly dry mix so that it would just about stay in a ball when squeezed.

I used the bottom of a sledgehammer to compact the bed down before positioning the edging and then added a 45 degree haunch to the front and back to keep the edging in position.

Where possible, I butted the edging up against the footpath as a guide. A rubber mallet is the perfect tool to help bed the edging down to into the mortar to the right level.

Hopefully if you’re doing something similar you’ll have a fairly simple shape and no differing slopes to contend with – this made the job a lot slower for me. I’ve never used a spirit level so many times.

For the rectangular area, I cut a couple of sections of wood to 482mm to use as spacers to make sure that the front and back of the edge restraints sat parallel and wide enough to accommodate 3 courses of pavers. The pavers we went for are Drivesett Tegula in charcoal which are 160mm wide. So 3 courses of 160mm plus an extra mm allowance around the edge equals 482mm. That was a little tight, I should a have allowed closer to 485mm.

As I didn’t add a drainage channel, I included a 1 in 60 fall to allow water to drain off the pavers and into the gravel.

To make the cuts I used an angle grinder. I started by using a stone cutting disc but it was taking forever. I switched it out for a diamond cutting disc which was about 792 times faster.

Eventually, the moat was complete. God knows what the postman thought when he arrived to this scene.

Laying the pavers

With the edging in place, I brought the MOT up to its final level, whackering every now and then. I cut out this wee jig to make it very easy to see when the MOT was 9cm from the top of the edging. This assumed that the 5cm sand and cement bed for the pavers would compact by around 1cm.

Block pavers are usually laid directly on a bed of sand. I decided that due to the beating that the apron was going to get and its fairly modest size that I should add some cement to this mix to really set them in place.

Before laying the mortar bed and the pavers, I did a test run to see how much the pavers would compact after running the whacker plate over them. This is a really important step because otherwise you’d be totally guessing how high to lay the pavers above the edging. I found that the pavers compact by around 1cm, so this meant that the bed would need to be 4cm from the top of the edging. Here’s what the test area looked like after I whackered it.

I started laying the mortar bed, using a piece of timber to screed it to 4cm below the edging.

Then the exciting bit – paver laying. I used 3 different sized pavers that were 24, 16 and 12cm wide. I used a ratio of around 4:4:1 which sounds odd, but based on looking at pics of pavers online this seemed to be a fairly standard sort of ratio. To be honest, the whole point is that they look randomly selected so I guess any ratio would work fine!

It was at this point that I got a bit nervous about the whacker plate compacting the pavers to the right level, which I shouldn’t have as I’d done a test. Instead of waiting for the whacker stage, I started tapping the pavers down into place with a rubber mallet. This did nothing more than give me a bit of confidence that I was laying the mortar bed at the right height so absolutely is not a necessary step.

The rectangular area of the apron was quick and easy – things got more challenging when I got into the triangular bit. This was mainly because of how the footpath that leads down to our drive is quite steep and so effectively there are two gradients meeting. The other difficulty was that I couldn’t use the screeding jig to get the bed to the right levels because of the triangular shape. People usually set poles into the sand to screed along but this wasn’t an option due to the varying levels. So my solution was just to go slow and keep checking levels relentlessly, using a trowel to spread the mortar and already laid pavers for reference. I was very dubious that this would work but fortunately it did.

After a good while, there was no longer space for full blocks and so the cutting began.

First, I positioned a full paver over the area that it needed to fill. I then used chalk and a spirit level to mark where I needed to make the cut.

There are lots of options for how to cut pavers, but I found that using the same diamond cutting disc as I used for the edging was really quick and easy. So much so that I now use the phrase ‘like a diamond cutting disc through a block paver’ instead of ‘like a hot knife through butter’.

I’d managed to avoid having to cut tiny pieces until the very last paver which needed to be hilariously small (see below pic). However, it was incredibly satisfying to tap that baby down into the bed to complete the puzzle.

The cutting didn’t actually take as long as expected.

Kiln dried sand

Like most DIY jobs, the last step is the most satisfying, and this could not be more true than it is with block pavers. The final stage was to spread kiln dried sand in between the gaps and watch it trickle down to fill every nook and cranny. Also called silica sand, this stuff is incredibly fine and by filling up every void it effectively sets the pavers in their final position, giving them zero room to shift around.

Very hard to explain how great this job is without sounding like an oddball, but trust me, it’s bloody great. Haz and I were fighting over who got to do it.

Once the sand had stopped dissipating down the cracks, the whacker plate came out again to help work the sand into the gaps and jiggle the pavers into their final position. Most normal people would use a neoprene mat attached to the whacker to protect the pavers, but we didn’t have this and so used some old underlay.


With the final whacking completed, we were done. This definitely has to be one of the most rewarding DIY jobs I’ve done so far. Sure, there’s a few bits of gear required, but there really aren’t any complicated tasks. If you’re driveway is in need of a revamp, this could be a good place to start.

All in, it cost just shy of £300 for 3 square metres. £200 of that was the pavers plus concrete edging. On top of this, the whacker plate cost £80 to hire to 10 days but I used this for the whole driveway and patio too.

Materials

  • MOT type 1
  • Sharp sand
  • Cement
  • Length of 4×1
  • Concrete edging
  • Block pavers
  • Kiln dried sand

Equipment

  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Hired whacker plate (from Brandon hire)
  • Spirit level of varying length
  • Jigsaw
  • Sledgehammer
  • Rubber mallet
  • Trowel
  • Angle grinder and diamond cutting disc
  • Chalk
  • Soft bristle brush
Categories
Uncategorized

DIY driveway gate

Within about 12 minutes of bringing Basil home (our cocker spaniel pup), it became clear that a wooden plank across the drive wasn’t going to stop him running onto the road. I spent the next couple of nights watching every DIY wood gate build on YouTube and took the best bits of each one to build ours. She still needs a lick of paint (we’re thinking dark grey) but here’s how I put it together.


Planning

I bloody love cracking out a pad to plan things like this. The gap between the side of our house and hedge after accounting for gate posts is around 2.3 metres. I decided to go for one smaller gate for everyday use (90cm) and another larger one in case we needed to get anything chunky through (1.4metres). As for the height, we wanted a bit of privacy without it looking like a prison so 1.75 metres seemed sensible as it would only allow tall men to see over.

After deciding on gate dimensions I worked out what post sizes I’d need, the framework design, what cladding to finish the gate in and the hardware (including hinges) that would suit the gate best. So there was actually a fair amount of planning involved given the gate itself was a relatively quick build.

Gate posts

Good old Google told me that I would need a 75mm x 75mm post for the smaller gate and that 125mm x 125mm would be a safe bet for the big boy. The smaller one would be fixed to the house so I just went for a 1.8metre post but the hedge side would need to be concreted into the ground. I bought a 2.4metre long post so that around 60cm could be concreted into the ground to make sure it was sturdy.

Before securing the posts I had to make sure that they would be positioned so the gate would be perpendicular to the wall. I went old school to work this out and used the 3, 4, 5 method. I cut 3 lengths of scrap wood to 1.5m, 2m and 2.5m (the 3, 4 and 5) and then laid the 1.5m length against the house. The point at which the other two lengths meet gives a perfectly perpendicular line to the wall. Good old GCSE maths.

To secure the wee post to the house I leveled it up and fixed it in place using four 12cm frame fixings. Turns out that our exterior wall is miles off straight up (mildly concerning) so I had to pack out the bottom. At some point I’ll get round to hiding the gap.

The larger post was in a bit of a state so I gave it a good sand and used a chamfer bit on my router to give it a clean edge.

Digging for the big post would have taken hours if it wasn’t for the post auger I borrowed from my Dad. It looks far too silly to be any good but actually it tore up the ground with ease.

Once the hole was ready I plonked in the gate post which I’d soaked the bottom of in creocote to make it last longer. I sat the post on a layer of gravel to aid drainage.

Two or three bags of postmix would have done the job but I had leftover ballast and cement from the garage concrete pad build. So out came my trusty £100 cement mixer and after a couple of mixes the concrete was in.

Whilst the concrete was still wet I attached a couple of stakes and levelled the post up.

I tapered off the concrete at the top to make sure water runs away from the post.

The posts were level across the top and so it was onto making the actual gate.

Framework

I went for a belt and braces approach to the framework to reduce the chance of sagging. It’s made from 45mm x 95mm pressure treated wood and is glued & screwed using a half lap technique so it’s ultra strong and as square as possible.

To create the half lap joints, I used a mitre saw set to cut to the depth of exactly 22.5mm so that when two half laps are combined, they sit flush with the rest of the frame. First, I made several ‘kerf’ cuts spaced 5-10mm apart.

Then I hammered out the remaining wood which left a rough finish.

The final step was to run the wood through the mitre saw again to give a smooth finish.

To allow the mitre saw to cut these half laps to a consistent depth, a piece of sacrificial wood needs to be used as per the below image.

After really carefully measuring, marking and cutting all the half lap joints, the framework slotted together perfectly which was a joyous moment.

If you’ve measured up properly then the added benefit of half lap joints is that the frame should be perfectly square. The last thing you want is a gate frame that’s not square so this needs to be checked and adjusted if required.

After checking for square, I glued and screwed the frame together through the half lap joints. As the front of the gate will be hidden with cladding, I screwed through the front.

After glueing & screwing the outer frame and middle support I moved onto the diagonal braces. Rather than fannying around with measuring these, I placed a length of timber below the frame and marked on where to cut.

Then it was simply a case of cutting, tapping the diagonals into place, lining them up and screwing in place. Ideally I’d have used pocket holes but I ain’t got a pocket hole jig (yet) so just screwed in from an angle.

After doing this process for both gates, I propped up both gate frames in place to check that I’d allowed enough space for them (ideally 1cm to either side and the middle) and all good. Framework done, onto cladding.

Cladding

I should point out that I got a little excited after making the framework and went straight ahead with adding the hinges and other hardware before cladding. This worked out fine but if I did it again I would have clad the gate first, mainly because the added weight of the feather edge can make the gates hang differently. I’ve written the below based on the better method of cladding the gate before adding hardware, but some images will show hardware without cladding.

There are few cladding options including tongue & groove which is very popular. I went for feather edge as I love the look and it’s cheap compared to other cladding options. Plus I’ve clad our garage in feather edge and plan to make a bin store out of leftover feather edge.

I used 125mm wide boards and overlapped them by 25mm so each board covered 100mm. I cut the feather edge lengths to size and did a dry lay on the frame. This is a really important step as otherwise you may end up accidentally getting a repeated pattern of knots on the gate which would look naff.

The drawback of feather edge is that it’s typically made from fairly crap quality timber. Nothing that a quick sand won’t sort, though.

Before fixing the cladding in place, it’s worth doing 2 things to make alignment of the feather edge as accurate and consistent as possible. The first is to screw a piece of scrap wood against the top of the gate to butt the feather edge up to. This ensures perfect vertical alignment.

To get the horizontal alignment spot on you’ll need a spacer so that the overlap is consistently 25mm. I made a spacer by putting 3 screws into a scrap piece of the 95mm x 45mm framework. The screws protruded by 5mm, giving the 100mm that each board would be on show for. The beauty of making a spacer with screws like this is that when I got about 2/3 of the way to end of the gate cladding, I could measure the remaining space and adjust the screws slightly to make sure the feather edge boards ended exactly where I wanted them to.

Onto fixing the boards in place. I opted for 40mm galvanised ring shank nails as screws just don’t look right in feather board. It’s really important to give the nails a tap with a hammer to blunt the end before hammering on you’ll probably split the feather edge boards.

The position of the nails is key as you want them to only go through one board and effectively clamp down the previous board. Some people suggest that each nail should go through 2 boards but most advice online suggests that this can split the wood when it contracts/expands with the weather. I positioned the nails 30mm in from the thick edge, allowing a 5mm space between the thin edge of the board below. These photos makes what I’m on about much more clear.

Before cladding to the end of the large gate I fixed in place a length of wood for the small gate to close against and to hide the gap between the middle of the gates. I gave it a quick chamfer with my router to make it look pretty.

I then added the final boards and voila, cladding done.

Hardware

There are a fair few options when it comes to hardware but the hinges are what you really need to get right. Nobody likes a saggy gate. I opted for hook and pin hinges that span about 1/3 of the gate. Fixing the hook part in place was just a case of marking out the position on the top and bottom parts of the frame and screwing them.

The next step is to get your gates positioned between the posts so you can align and fix your pins to the gate posts. You’ll definitely need a helper for this step as getting the gates level is takes a lot of adjustment. Something that made this adjusting way easier was to use wedges to support the gate. The height that the gate is lifted off the ground can easily be adjusted by moving the wedges closer together or further apart until the alignment and levels is spot on.

With the gates propped in place, I fixes the pin part of the hinges onto the gate posts and hung the gates. This was an exciting moment. The last step was to fix in place the coach bolts that go all the way through the gates frame and cladding. I used a spade bit to create this opening and was careful to drill through both sides to prevent causing a mess.

With the hinges on, I decided to fit the opening/closing mechanism next. I went for a Suffolk thumb latch cos I think they look great and are easier to use than the ring latches that are on most gates. First, I fixed a block in place to mount the inside element of the latch.

Then I stitch drilled an opening for the lever that lifts the bar over the catch (struggling for correct terminology here) and did a little routing to make sure the thumb side of the latch could mount flush to the frame.

Finally, I screwed the thumb latch in place. When it came to cladding this section I used a jigsaw to cut out around the thumb latch and routed the cut edge with a chamfered bit.

The final bits of hardware I added were a monkey tail bolt to anchor the larger gate to the ground and a Brenton bolt so that we can padlock the gates shut. These were simply screwed onto the gate with the opening for the monkey tail bolt fixed into the concrete ground.

Finishing touches

To prevent rain from getting into the cut ends of the feather edge and rotting the wood, I fixed a top cap in place.

The final touch was to screw in some post caps to, again, protect the end grain. I cut these using my mitre saw and finished off the edges with my trusty chamfered router bit.


We’re really chuffed with how the gate turned out. Main thing is that Basilly lad can’t now (easily) escape! Altogether it cost £220 which is a hell of a lot cheaper than getting it made and fitted, and a lot more rewarding. If you fancy giving something similar a go I’ve put the equipment and materials at the bottom of the post.

If you fancy checking out some of the other DIY we’ve got up to, here’s how we built my workshop, how we made our scaffold board dining table, and how we laid our porcelain patio.

Equipment

  • Mitre saw
  • Router
  • Spirit level
  • Post auger
  • Cement mixer
  • Tape measure
  • Combination square
  • Hammer
  • Combi drill
  • Impact driver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Pencil
  • Clamps
  • Power sander

Materials

  • Gate posts
  • Scrap wood for stakes
  • Frame fixings
  • Galvanised ring shank nails
  • Decking screws
  • Feather edge cladding
  • 95mm x 45mm C16 timber for framework
  • 2 sets of hook and pin hinges
  • Suffolk thumb latch
  • Brenton gate bolt
  • Ballast
  • Cement
  • Gravel
  • Exterior wood glue