Monday, May 28, 2007

Laying Pavers

I've been stealing a little time here and there - 4 hours at a time - to place pavers in my landscaping project that has been going on for... ages. I've been working with dry fit masonry for over 5 years now, strictly as time permits. Mostly, dry fit (my term I think - and as opposed to what I would guess is wet fit which would involve mortar) is easy stuff. You stack blocks to make little retaining walls and there you go.

Well, my project features a 4 ft high serpentine retaining wall, a 3/4 circle planter and 5 steps. It has taken a lot of time and effort to get it to where it is today and finally I have started getting serious about the pavers. Since I don't have a lot of time I can plan to dedicate to it, renting a wet saw is somewhat out of the question. So instead, I've been honing my skills with a masonry hammer and chisels. Each time I get deep into the work, I find a new technique or trick that makes working with the chosen materials easier. I thought I'd share some of those here today.

Landscape blocks are usually rated by PSI. Some have a relatively low PSI, akin to cinder blocks (the kind they use for basements and foundations.) Others have a higher PSI and hold up to the stress of freeze and thaw better. I have found that the harder the material (greater PSI) the more sincere you need to be, both in adopting the material (more PSI = more physical work to cut by hand) and when applying cutting force.

Some of the pavers I have are, if memory servers, in the 10,000 PSI range and take a lot of force. In fact, babying them seems to often cause them to break in the wrong spot as they are a little on the brittle side. The blocks I use, however, are closer to 4000 PSI and too much force causes them to break unpredictably. They like to be broken a little at a time.

In both cases, using a fulcrum for them to break over usually provides a straighter cut. I use a 3 " chisel for most cuts and drive it with a 3 lb. hammer. I usually clean up the cuts with a masonry hammer, using the chisel end for breaking down bumps and the flat end for smoothing rough areas. Also, using the 3 lb. hammer in combination with the mason hammer makes for a very finely controlled 1 " chisel. Just hold it in place by the handle and hit the flat end with the 3 lb. This is great for shaving rough cuts down just a hair with several quick taps. Often when I have two bricks to fit together tightly one needs just a shave to change the angle of the face just a few degrees and this gets the job done.

Also, when working with small stones, I usually work on top of a larger block and often step on the block I am cutting to secure it without mashing my fingers (good sturdy boots are indispensable in any regard). Today, for example, I had a small piece to fit in that was 1" x 2" x 2" and I had cut it down from a piece of scrap. Getting the edges straight on the last few cuts required liberal use of my boot and the mason hammer as a chisel technique.

The other thing that is great about high PSI pavers is that you can use them as a grind stone of sorts. I had a slender piece to stick between two other pavers and needed to smooth the cut side without destroying it. Hammering was out of the question. So, I placed it rough side down on another paver and used a rubbing motion till it was as smooth as the other paver. It fit in the tight gap perfectly.

I hope to have more time this summer, maybe even enough to finish the project, and more photos and tips to share. I hope you are enjoying your projects as much as I am mine!

No comments: