If a brick wall is too monumental a task for you, perhaps you won't be so intimidated by laying your own brick path (or patio). Paths don't require mortar, which is challenging to work with. Consider laying a path 3 to 4 feet wide (0.9 to 1.2 meters) -- large enough for two people to walk side-by-side. Brick choice is important, too: Get pavers graded as "severe weather" so they'll withstand the elements and years of foot traffic. To keep everything in place while you work, use stakes to hammer plastic guide rails along the edges.
To avoid damage in the long term, place the path a good distance away from trees with big roots. Also, plan water runoff with a slight slope (about an eighth of an inch per foot) [source: Stimpson]. It's not just to avoid puddles: In cold climates, the water will settle, freeze and unfreeze, causing bricks to pop up and make the path uneven.
The most difficult part of laying a brick path is arguably setting the foundation, which consists of digging into the topsoil, and then laying a base of gravel and sand. Exact recommendations vary, but according to professional Dustin Carrier, you'll need to dig a 10- to 12-inch (25.4- to 30.5-centimeter) trench into the ground where the path will lie. Dig and cut out any tree roots you come across. Using a compactor machine (which you can rent), pack the soil down flat.
Next, lay landscape fabric down over the soil, which allows water to fall through but keeps soil separate from base. Pour a 3- to 4-inch (7.6- to 10.2-centimeter) layer of gravel base onto the fabric, compact it, and repeat the process for a solid base. Finish the base with a 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) layer of sand. Smooth the sand out with a 2 x 4 board cut to the proper length. Drag the board along guide rails for a level surface. You might consider hiring a professional to do the grunt work of the foundation for you, and you can choose to lay the bricks yourself afterward.
Working from the sides, lay the bricks in your desired pattern. Use the compactor again to level the bricks into the sand underneath for a smooth surface. Finally, pour sand over the walkway and use a push broom to fill it into the cracks. Wet the path to settle the sand, and repeat with more sand until the joints are tightly filled.
For lots more information on DIY projects, see the links below.
- Carrier, Dustin. "How to Lay a Paver Walkway." Video. The Farmers Almanac. YouTube. Uploaded July 24, 2011. (May 31, 2012) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzqGh18EpCE
- Hessayon, D.G. "The Garden Expert." Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 1990. (May 31, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=sFpQHYIi9zAC
- LearntoLayBrick. "The Art of Laying Brick." Video. LearntoLayBrick.com. YouTube. Uploaded Dec. 3, 2009. (May 31, 2011) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lORIZ1shRIM
- Stimpson, Jennifer. "How to Lay a Brick Path." This Old House Magazine. (May 31, 2012) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/how-to/overview/0,,20200448,00.html