There’s something soothing about brick patios and sidewalks. I learned this while installing a private backyard patio out of deep-red paving brick for my mother-in-law. Nestled under two giant maple trees, the patio sits atop a lawn supported by a brick retaining wall. The patio is an ideal size, measuring 10 by 16 feet. A walkway made from matching brick connects the patio and driveway.

When I installed that patio, the only plan I had to work from was a magazine photo and an accompanying article instructing readers to install their choice of brick over a bed of compacted sand with some Portland cement mixed into it.

I worked with a recycled brick designed for horizontal placement in the ground. Because the brick was recycled, some mortar still remained on its surface and I had to hand chisel it off. Once that was done, however, the bricks’ proportion was perfect for a herringbone pattern. I dug out the soil and installed a string to keep the walkway and patio edges in a straight line, laid the brick, and two weeks later the patio was done. It remained in great shape for decades.

My second attempt at a brick paving job, however, ended in disaster. At my home, my wife wanted a curved brick sidewalk built between the front porch and driveway. I could only work on it in my spare time, so I chose to take a shortcut: I dug a pathway 6 inches deep, put sand down, compacted it, and then laid 1.5-inch-thick paving bricks atop the sand.

But over time I noticed that if you stepped on bricks along the edge of the walkway they’d tilt and drift into the grass. Then sugar ants invaded, digging out small mounds of sand and depositing them on the sidewalk’s surface as they built their underground nests. Between the wobbly bricks and sugar ants, the sidewalk was an utter failure. My wife suggested I rip it out and do it right.

I did some homework and discovered that you can build a brick patio or sidewalk that is long-lasting and remains perfectly smooth — which is what my wife wanted at our home.


To ensure my new front sidewalk would not fail, I removed all the brick pavers and salvaged them. I then dug out the sand and saved it too. Once again, I had to clean the bricks. I then dug the pathway, only this time I dug it deeper so I could install a poured concrete pathway with half-inch steel bars in it. The steel rods ensured the concrete would not crack or separate. I then mixed cement mortar and added hydrated lime to the mix. A mason I admire had told me to use cement paint as an extra adhesive connecting the mortar and concrete slab, so I applied that as well.

This method worked so well on our sidewalk that I kept going, eventually building a stunning patio with sloping terraced steps. At my next home, I doubled down and built two huge patios. All of this work looks as good now as it did the day I installed it, and it’s decades old.

Tim Carter has worked as a home improvement professional for more than 30 years. To submit a question or to learn more, visit