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A patio is one of the most valuable and satisfying home improvements you can make, but building it is a big -- and expensive -- job. For a simple solution to both problems, here's a sensible alternative: a concrete patio you can pour yourself section by section. Here's what you'll need.

Tools: measuring rule, stakes, sledgehammer, shovel, wheelbarrow, rake, hammer, power saw or handsaw, carpenters' square, level, garden hose, portable cement mixer (3-cubic-foot capacity), 6-foot 2 × 4 for striking off, wood float, steel trowel, push broom, weights.

Materials: string, gravel; 2 × 4 and 1 × 3 pressure-treated ground-contact lumber, or 2 × 4 and 1 × 3 cedar or redwood stock; 2-inch-wide masking tape; 8-penny galvanized common nails; premixed gravel-mix concrete mix, or Portland cement, sand, and coarse aggregate; plastic sheet film.

Time: varies with size; at least 2 days for a 9-foot-square area.

The first step in building your patio is to carefully choose its location. Find out what type of location is best -- and learn other preparation tips -- on the next page.

For information on accessories for your patio, try the following links: