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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