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How to Build a Concrete Garden Path

This concrete path is not the most attractive, but it is relatively cheap, long lasting and the surface is not slippery which is a boon in wet or icy weather.

Start by planning exactly where the path is to go. I’d suggest seeing how you walk from A to B as this will be the natural place for the path. There’s no point in laying a path and then stepping off to take a short cut!

You can get away with just 60cm wide but then there’s always the problem of negotiating with a wide load on the wheelbarrow so I’d go for 90cm (three feet in old money).

Mark out your path with stake and string and then strip off any turf, digging down around 100mm to 150mm. Fill this with hardcore or aggregate and tamp down well. For a long path it may pay to lay the base and then hire a vibrating plate machine for a day. If you’re buying that in, you’ll need between 0.25 and 0.3 cubic metres for every 3 metres of path.

Making a form for the concrete path

Then use some cheap timber boards, possibly from a reclamation yard, to make a form to hold the concrete. You only need 50mm finished height for a path that will be just walked on but 75mm will be more robust. If your boards are too tall, rip them down to the correct depth with a circular saw.

Use 30cm stakes on the outside of the boards to hold them firmly in place whilst you’re tamping down the concrete. Concrete expands and contracts which can cause cracking in long lengths so every 3 metres you need to install an expansion joint.

Concrete Expansion Joint

Place a piece of 10mm thick softwood across the path and then a piece of the formwork board on the outside, staked as for the side. When the concrete is tamped down, remove the formwork board from across the path leaving the thin softwood in position and fill the next section with the concrete.

If the path is on level ground or just a slight slope, make one side of the path 10 mm lower than the other. This will allow rainwater to drain to the side. On a sloping site you needn’t bother.

Concrete Mix for Path

The concrete mix for the path is 1 part concrete to 4 parts all in aggregate (10mm max) or 1 part concrete, 2 parts sand, 3 parts coarse aggregate (10mm max).

The amount you’ll need is easy enough to work out. First calculate the total amount of concrete required. Length of path x width x depth. This gives a result in cubic metres (assuming you’re working on new money)

So a 20 metre (65 feet) path, 90cm (3 feet) wide and 75mm depth would give:
20 x 0.9 x 0.075 = 1.35 cubic metres.

How Much Concrete for the Path

Now for a cubic metre of concrete you will need 13 25Kg bags of cement and about 0.75 m3 of all in aggregate.

So for the above 1.35 m3 you’d want about 18 bags of cement and a cubic metre of aggregate. Most decent builders merchants will advise you and usually deliver free or for a nominal charge. If you’re doing a long path then it is probably worth hiring a cement mixer for the weekend.

A Few Tips!

There’s a few tricks builders have told me with concrete worth passing on. Mix thoroughly and then mix again if you’re doing it by hand. Biggest problem with concrete is poor mixing. When mixing concrete, avoid making it too wet. You want it workable but not liquid.

Sometimes concrete sticks to the formwork boards. If you lightly paint the boards with engine oil then they’ll come away easily and cleanly when the concrete is set.

Tamping Down to Remove Air for Strong Concrete

Once mixed, tip into the path spreading with a spade and rake until it’s about 20mm proud of the edges. Use a heavy board slightly wider than the path with handles on each side to tamp down the concrete.

Tamping is important, it drives out any air, filling all the space and binding to the hardcore below. It’s hard work and a two person job. Don’t just level it, bang it down!

Once a section is finished leave the surface rough with slight ridges by moving the tamper up and down. This is what makes it non-slip.

Protect against harsh weather

If frost threatens or the weather is hot cover the concrete for a week to allow it to set and cure slowly. It should be OK to walk on after a week but allow a two weeks before putting too much strain on things.

See also the step by step photo guide to making a concrete path.

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