Tree roots had badly damaged a large section of clinker brick in my courtyard. As such, my 2014 summer project was to lift the brick, remove the roots and relay the brick. Here are the individual steps we used when relaying my courtyard, not necessarily always in this sequence.
- Remove bricks and stack as unobtrusively as possible. (Gee, I wish we had done that – the unobtrusive part.)
- Remove mortar from approximately 20% of the bricks (My bricks had been set with sand or else the mortar was so badly deteriorated it was easily removed.)
- Expose and remove any and all tree roots under the bricks. (Hard work but we impressed ourselves!)
- Grade and level area. (This was ongoing, as we kept finding more and more roots! I’m pretty sure some of them grew overnight.)
- Lay and level the courtyard’s existing border. (Much easier said than done.)
- Lay and “level” bricks using all-purpose sand. (We worked on one row at a time, working simultaneously from both the border and the undisturbed brick and meeting in the middle.)
- Lock the edge of today’s project with a board.
- Ensure gaps between newly laid bricks are consistent with the gaps between existing brick, both vertically and horizontally.
- Tweak bricks as necessary to ensure straight lines.
- Pour play sand between the bricks.
- Sweep sand over newly laid bricks to ensure it is spread evenly throughout. Tamp sand.
- Stand back and stretch your aching back while admiring your results! High-five your helper(s) and scream “Whoo-Hoo” as loudly as possible. Take bubble bath!
And along the way, we used some tips and tricks.
Tree Root Removal Ain’t For Sissies
Lifting weights at the gym works! I was really excited to see the correlation between pumping iron and wielding heavy axes, pickaxes, and sledge hammers as well as shoveling vast amounts of heavy clay soil. My reciprocating saw with a 12″ tree pruning blade was a godsend here, as were a newly sharpened ax and hatchet.
If we lost motivation, we would sometimes draw the face of someone we deplored on a tree root with a marker, and then vehemently chop them into little itty bitty pieces with an ax. Two problems solved: The world was rid of someone despicable, and another big tree root was removed.
Our character depictions will forever remain confidential. Suffice it to say that the world is a safer, better place.
Boards as Levels
A board, spanning several rows of bricks, allowed us to determine if the newly laid bricks were consistent with undisturbed bricks. A long level would have worked too, but would probably have been discouraging, given the combination of my yard’s slope and the nature of clinker bricks.
Stand Up to Straight Lines!
I invented this trick (or at least I’ll give myself credit for doing so). After the bricks were level, it was sometimes necessary to nudge them ever so slightly in one direction or another in order to achieve a straight line between the rows.
To make sure we did not disrupt the now-level bricks, I would stand on three bricks surrounding one that needed adjustment. I would then insert the tip of a long-handled flat head screwdriver between the errant brick and those being held in place and slowly twist the screwdriver. By twisting, I was pushing the misplaced brick into its rightful place. And voilà — straight lines without disturbing any other bricks.
Acorns as Inadvertent Spacers
You know those plastic X’s you use between floor tiles to ensure they are perfectly spaced? Well, we ended up with “natural” spacers in the form of acorns this fall. The acorn crop was more abundant than usual this year, as was my squirrel population. I kept inviting my friends to bring their squirrels over for a party to help remove the acorns, because it was like walking on marbles in my front yard.
But the acorns actually served a good positive purpose as well — look how they fit perfectly between the bricks to serve as natural spacers! (We didn’t intentionally use the maddening acorns as spacers, but found them frequently lodged between bricks.)
Plastic Sheeting to the Rescue!
But we were smarter than my oak trees! We eventually used plastic to cover our work space to eliminate the need to pick those annoying acorns from between the bricks of our in-process project.
Never, Ever, EVER Assume!!
Man, I know this! In fact, I’m usually the smart alack who gets on other people if I ever see them making assumptions. You know us. We parrot the adage “Never assume. It makes an [ass] out of [u] and [me]“, usually in an annoying nasal tone.
And then, what did I do? I assumed that just because my garage door fully cleared the border of a section of abutting courtyard, that surely it would then clear all the other bricks that were so carefully laid at the same height. Seemed logical to me. That’s why it was only necessary to verify that my garage door successfully cleared the border.
How utterly embarrassed I was when I couldn’t open my garage door over our new brick work the next morning! It was being stopped by bricks that were indeed level with the border, but angled a titch uphill to accommodate my sloping yard. Duh! (To learn about the challenges of laying clinker brick in a sloping yard, click here.)
That’s when I marched myself into my kitchen to stare at the well-worn poster of Babe Ruth’s batting statistics hanging on my fridge. That poster has been reviewed after every single failure or disappointment in this household within the past 20 years. It didn’t matter if it was my daughter who needed encouragement or me. We just always found that our disappointment lessened when reminded that The Great Bambino himself struck out nearly twice as many times as he homered (1,330/714).
And do you know what? Babe Ruth put things into perspective once again. We laid 2,000 bricks. There were five that were problematic. I’m over it. Thanks, Babe.
We would use a board to secure the last row of bricks at the end of each work session. This ensured that our last row had a perfectly straight edge, plus provided a barrier for the sand on our last row of the day.
Release Your Inner Child
It’s so fun to see how quickly all your hard labor turns into a finished product by the time you get to setting the bricks in sand.
Just drizzle sand between the bricks and don’t worry if you make a mess. Then make a sand pile in the middle and play with it by sweeping it into all the cracks and crevices!
For each five-hour brick laying session, we would allocate the last hour to verifying that the bricks were level, straightening the lines, and then sweeping in the sand.
The last hour was always the best.
Look What We Did!
Well, that was a LOT more work than I ever thought it was going to be and it took a LOT longer than I ever would have guessed, but I absolutely, totally LOVE the final result! I especially love that I’m no longer likely to trip and fall and break a leg while walking in my yard!
Hit me up with questions. I’m a clinker brick courtyard expert now.