Category: Lawn & Garden


Weekend Projects: 5 Delectable DIY Picnic Tables

Whatever your aesthetic, whatever your needs, there's a DIY picnic table for you. Don't miss these five creative takes on a backyard classic. One is bound to suit your summer style—and your budget.

There’s nothing nicer than enjoying the company of friends and family over food and drink in the summertime. But do you have room to seat everyone on your deck, porch, or patio? If not, consider adding a picnic table to your suite of outdoor furniture. Though it has a relatively compact footprint, a picnic table provides plenty of seating, possibly even enough for every member of your crew. Plus, it doesn’t have to cost much. If you’ve got the time and a little lumber, you can make a DIY picnic table for hundreds less than you’d pay for a brand-new setup. Scroll down now to see five favorite DIY picnic table designs!

 

1. GET BENCHED

DIY Picnic Table - Benches

Photo: instructables.com

Compared with a stand-alone picnic table, a design with detached benches offers more versatility. Because the pieces need not travel together, the table and benches can be put into service in different places, for different purposes. Visit Instructables for a guide to making the model pictured above, complete with sleek profile and mitered corners.

 

2. REPURPOSE PALLETS

DIY Picnic Table - Pallets

Photo: diycozyhome.com

These days, people are using plywood shipping pallets to make all sorts of nifty furniture. Here, a handful of pallets have been combined—with only slight modifications—to create a DIY picnic table. The simple, utilitarian design can be enlivened with the addition of paint in your favorite bold, summery hues.

 

3. PACK A SUITCASE

DIY Picnic Table - Suitcase

Photo: momentarilyyoursevents.blogspot.com

Equip yourself for impromptu picnics with the ultimate in upcycling—a vintage suitcase that can not only carry snacks and beverages, but also convert into a table at a moment’s notice. Oh, and did we forget to mention the speakers? Yup—expect conversations with strangers wherever you take this ingenious creation.

 

4. PIPE DOWN

DIY Picnic Table - Plumbing Pipes

Photo: 4men1lady.com

Easier to build than it looks—and a minimalist complement to any outdoor living area that sports a modern vibe—this industrial-chic DIY picnic table involves two very different materials that, when united, manage to look elegant and perfectly paired. For convenience, add casters to make the piece effortless to move.

 

5. FOR THE KIDS

DIY Picnic Table - Kids

Photo: kidfriendlyhome.com

Prime your patio for pint-sized play by building this DIY picnic table, a scaled-down version of the classic design found in so many parks and yards, today as well as in years past. For kids ages 3 to 10, this bright-painted construction is destined to be home base for everything from meals to arts and crafts.


How To: Sharpen a Chain Saw

A chain saw with a dull, poorly maintained chain won't cut cleanly or effectively—and it's a safety hazard to boot. Follow these guidelines to sharpen a chain saw sharp and keep your trusty tool in good working order.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw

Photo: shutterstock.com

Like any other tool in your arsenal, a chain saw must be properly and consistently maintained in order to perform effectively. Of course, you can hire a professional to sharpen your chain saw, but most do-it-yourselfers can handle the job on their own, saving some money in the process. So if you’ve noticed that your chain saw no longer cuts as easily and cleanly as it once did, read on to learn how to sharpen your chain saw and keep the tool in good working order.

Chain saw maintenance requires a basic understanding of the tool’s component parts. The models owned by average homeowners typically include the following:
- Engine
- Drive mechanism
- Guide bar
- Chain

Lubricate
Different chain saws operate slightly differently and have different maintenance requirements. Study the manual that came with your chain saw to understand the needs of your specific model. That said, it’s almost invariably true that every part of a chain saw either must have or would benefit from lubrication. Besides occasionally inspecting the motor and chain, confirm on a regular basis that there’s a sufficient quantity of oil in the tool’s reservoir. Also check the guide bar, which holds the chain in place. It can become twisted or bent during use. Avoid problems by ensuring the integrity of the guide bar before you start up your chain saw, each and every time. Even while you’re working, it’s wise to occasionally spot-check this crucial part of what is, after all, a powerful and potentially dangerous tool.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw - Detail Blade

Photo: shutterstock.com

Sharpen the Chain Saw
There are two approaches to sharpening a chain saw. You can handle the task by means of an electric sharpener—and if you fell trees frequently, electric sharpeners are an indispensable convenience—or you can accomplish the same result manually, using a combination of muscle, sweat, and sharpening files. Electric sharpeners are used mainly by tradesmen, so these tips focus on the manual method, which is more accessible to DIYers.

The chain comprises a series of teeth. You are going to need a file that precisely matches up with the size of an individual tooth in the chain. For reference, the most common sizes are 3/16″, 5/32″, and 7/32″.

Once you’ve obtained a file of the correct size, begin work by thoroughly cleaning the chain, removing all oil, dirt, and debris. (Depending on the condition of the chain, mineral spirits may be either essential or excessive.) Look closely at the chain as you’re cleaning it. If any of the teeth are damaged, the chain may be unsafe to use, in which case you should repair it (if possible) or swap in a new chain.

For best results, you need to firmly stabilize the chain saw before attempting to file the chain. Some choose to place the chain saw in a vise, with the clamps holding the guide bar in such a way that the chain can rotate freely. Alternatively, you can enlist a helper to keep the tool steady while you work.

Locate the shortest cutter blade on the chain (the cutters are the ones with flat tops). This is where you should begin sharpening. If all the cutters are the same height, then you can start with any tooth on the chain, but remember to mark—with a pencil, marker, or even nail polish—the first one that you sharpen.

Set the file into the notched section at the head of the cutter. Holding the file at an angle—the same angle at which the notch was initially ground or most recently filed—slide the file across, twisting it somewhat so as to create friction. From that initial cutter, proceed to file every second cutter around the chain. Now reverse the saw and proceed to file each of the teeth that you left alone in the course of your first pass. When you’ve finished, the flat tops of all the cutters should be more or less precisely the same length.

Finally, inspect the depth gauges (these are the curved links between the cutters). Each depth gauge, or raker, should be shorter than the adjacent cutter. If you find a depth gauge whose height exceeds that of the closest cutter, file down the raker so that it sits about 1/10″ below the height of its cutter counterpart.

Now that you know how to sharpen a chain saw, bear in mind that the more frequently you use the tool, the more often it’s going to need maintenance. In fact, if you are using the chain saw for hours on end over the course of a day, you may need to pause at some point in order to restore the chain’s sharpness. Also, be aware that chain saws are likely to show wear in some areas more than others. Pay special attention to the area near the tip of the saw, particularly if you often use it for cutting tree limbs.


Bob Vila Radio: Small Yards

With smart planning, even a small yard can be beautiful and functional. Find out how to make the most of your compact outdoor space.

A well-designed outdoor space is like having an extra room in the house. Even a small yard is a great treasure, but it takes smart landscaping to make it functional and beautiful. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your small yard.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON SMALL SPACE YARDS or read the text below:

Small Yards

Photo: shutterstock.com

First, keep the space open and uncluttered. Avoid privacy fencing, opting instead for soft boundary-setters like plantings and hedges. This will keep your yard from feeling hemmed in.

By the same token, choose small-scale, unobtrusive furnishings and forgo large structures like pergolas. Make use of all the square footage; even a neglected side yard can become a quiet dining area or a cozy reading nook.

To create a unified design and keep clutter to a minimum, establish a single focal point—a fountain, tree, or sculpture. Meanwhile, select furnishings that do double duty. For example, choose benches that provide both seating and storage and if possible, incorporate seating into hardscaping like retaining walls.

Container gardening and vertical plantings are particularly suited to small spaces. Flowers, vegetables, and even small trees can thrive in containers and create a beautiful mix of textures, colors, and heights. Even better, they can be moved around to create smaller “rooms” in your yard. Hanging baskets, trellises with trailing greenery, and planters mounted on walls all draw the eye up and bring interest and depth to small spaces.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Rain Gardens

If you're concerned about storm water runoff, consider the practical—and yes, aesthetic—benefits of a rain garden.

In a heavy downpour, all of that water pouring through your downspouts can overwhelm your local sewer system, leading to flooding. Even worse, storm runoff can carry pollutants, fertilizers, and other chemicals into local lakes and rivers. A rain garden is a clever—and beautiful—way of diverting this water before it enters the system.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON RAIN GARDENS or read the text below:

Rain Gardens

Photo: betterground.org

A rain garden is a plot that is sited, sized, constructed and planted with the express goal of capturing a house’s rainwater runoff. Through planning, thoughtful selection of plants, and the right mix of soils, a rain garden acts like a water runoff sponge. In fact, compared with a typical lawn, a rain garden absorbs about 30 percent more water.

To be effective, a rain garden needs to be properly sited and sized. It must be at least 10 feet from the house to keep the water from seeping into the foundation, and it cannot be placed over a septic system. Its size and depth are determined by many factors, including the type of soil, the amount of runoff it needs to absorb, and the garden’s distance from the downspout. You’ll find plenty of calculators online, as well as suggestions for appropriate native plants and soil amendments.

Be forewarned: Establishing a rain garden takes some serious digging. Before you start, call to find out where your cable, electric, gas and other utility lines are.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


How To: Hang a Hammock

Who doesn't dream of whiling away the afternoon cradled comfortably in a hammock? Make it your summer reality by following these easy tips on how to hang a hammock in your backyard.

How to Hang a Hammock

Photo: shutterstock.com

Laying in a hammock is the epitome of summertime relaxation. Getting the hammock set up, on the other hand, can be a frustrating endeavor. Consult the tips below to make quick and easy work of the process so that soon, you will have gone from hanging the hammock to hanging out in its comfy, swaying embrace.

Location
Choosing a location for your hammock is perhaps the most difficult part. While you probably don’t have the perfect pair (and ideally spaced) palm trees on your property, you might very well have two healthy oak, maple, or beech trees that are strong enough to support your weight. Ideally, those hardwoods would be as far apart as the total length of your hammock, fully stretched out.

If the trees are too close together, the underside of the hammock is going to scrape along the ground. If the trees are too far apart, you’ll need to extend the reach of the hammock by means of an added-on rope or chain. While there’s a simple remedy for the latter problem, there’s unfortunately no fix for the former (other than to buy another, smaller hammock). Note, however, that it can be a mistake to extend a hammock any more than 18 inches at each end. Doing so leaves it vulnerable to ripping. So if you fully anticipate having to add extensions, only consider buying a hammock outfitted with a spreader bar to inhibit rips.

How to Hang a Hammock - Detail Suspension

Photo: shutterstock.com

Suspension
For obvious reasons, it’s important to establish a secure connection at each end of the hammock. One option is to use tree-fastening straps (which may or may not be included with your purchase). These straps feature a loop on one end and a metal ring on the other. Simply wrap the strap around the tree, pass the loop through the metal ring, then attach the hammock to the ring with S-hook hardware. One virtue of tree-fastening straps is that while effective, they cause no harm to the trees involved.

Though there are countless hammocks on the market, most fall into one or two design categories. First, you have traditional hammocks, and then you have hammocks with spreader bars (like the one pictured at right). Traditional hammocks are meant to hang loosely between two trees, with the center dipping down. Since they get attached to points that are six to eight feet high up on nearby trees, you can, in a pinch, consider using tree branches, not tree trunks—so long as the branches offer sufficient heft.

The other type of hammock involves spreader bars, which force the hammock to remain open, so the occupant never becomes wrapped up in a hammock burrito. Unlike the traditional design, hammocks with spreaders hang only four or five feet from the ground. Also, whereas a traditional hammock hangs loosely, these hammocks hang taut; when unoccupied, they are virtually parallel with the ground.

Remember that the wonderful thing about hanging a hammock is that once you’ve finished the job, your reward is right there in front you. Collapse into your new favorite spot—hey, you’ve earned a break!


Planning Guide: Above-Ground Swimming Pools

An above-ground swimming pool is a great addition to any backyard, but don’t overlook these essentials before taking the plunge!

Above Ground Swimming Pool

manydesign.net

Nothing epitomizes leisure more than a swimming pool. For some it is a symbol of affluence, but for others a pool is simply a fun way to get exercise, relax, cool off, and gather with friends and family. Whatever your motive, putting in an above-ground pool has the appeal of being less expensive and less permanent than installing one of its in-ground counterparts. That doesn’t mean, however, that an above-ground pool requires any less consideration and planning for its location, size, and operation, or its ongoing care and maintenance. If you’re thinking of putting in an above-ground pool, use this guide to help you plan the essentials.

Siting Your Pool
It is vitally important to choose the right location for your pool. The first thing you should do is check your local building codes and see if the pool needs to be a certain distance from property lines, septic tanks, and roads. You will also want to avoid underground cables, pipes, and roots, as well as overhead power lines, trees, and eaves. When choosing a site, consider how much privacy you want, how easy it will be to supervise children, how you will secure the pool from wandering toddlers and pets, and how the pool will look in your preferred location. Also consider nearby trees. Trees provide welcome shade, but they may also keep your pool water cooler than desirable throughout the summer. Because trees drop leaves, blossoms, and other organic material, they can also—depending on how far into the fall you use your pool—be a nuisance that dirties the water and affects its chemical balance.

Above-ground pools come in many different sizes, but the size of your pool will be restricted by the size of your site. Once you determine where the pool will go, then you can think specifically about sizes from a simple 12-foot circle on up to a 41′ x 21′ oval.

Site Prep for Above Ground Pool

Photo: deltapoolsspa.ca

Prepping the Site
The pool needs to be installed on level ground, so if your site is sloped, you will need to dig out the area to make it level. This may take just a shovel, or you may need to get a Bobcat to adequately prepare the site. Whatever the case, the pool should be installed on soil that hasn’t been treated with any petroleum-based chemicals, and it shouldn’t be built directly on grass, concrete, asphalt, tar paper, peat moss, gravel, mulch, or wood. If it helps with leveling, you can sink part of the pool 12 to 18 inches into the soil.

Because you are dealing with lots of moisture, it is also a good idea to treat the area where the pool is going with a non-petroleum-based fungicide. Spending a little extra time prepping the site could save you some major headaches down the road.

Pumps and Filters
To keep the water clean and circulated, you will need a pump and filter for your pool. The size and capacity of these units vary and will need to match the volume of your pool. When in doubt, consider going with a slightly bigger pump than you think you need. It will not only perform better, but also more efficiently.

Hayward Above Ground Diatamaceious Pool Filter

Hayward's EC-50 Diatomaceous Pool Filter. Photo: aboveground-swimming-pools.com

There are three different types of filtration systems available: sand, cartridge, and diatomaceous earth (DE). What’s the best choice? That depends on who you ask and what’s most important to you. A high-end cartridge filter is very efficient and easy to maintain, requiring little more than a periodic hosing to keep clean. Some swear by DE filters because they produce the cleanest water possible. They can be messy to clean, however, and do require periodic backwashing (running the pump in reverse) to operate efficiently. Sand filters are simple and effective, but these also require backwashing and occasional replacement of sand. They are the least efficient of the three. Do your research and talk to fellow pool owners in your area to help you in your decision making.

Water Type
In addition to cleaning the water with a physical filter, it is necessary to treat the water with either chlorine or salt. Chlorine pools are the most common types and require using either disk-like chlorine cakes, or liquid or powdered chlorine to keep the pool clean.

Saltwater systems have been gaining popularity, but they do have drawbacks. Salt is very corrosive, so if your pool has any metal components, you’ll most likely need to replace them after a few years. If you do go with salt, you will need an all-resin pool, which means that it will be made from a very high-quality plastic that will not corrode. It is also necessary to add a salt cell, which creates chlorine from the salt through a process of electrolysis. (That’s right, a saltwater pool still uses chlorine to sanitize and disinfect the water. The chlorine is present in much lower concentrations, however, and is not detectable by smell or taste.)

A salt-filtration system is definitely much better for your skin and hair, because the water is softened and it won’t fade your swimsuit. These systems cost a little more up front but tend to save money down the road because you don’t have to add salt as frequently as you would chlorine. All in all, there’s not a huge difference in cost or maintenance, so don’t let these factors alone sway you. There’s lots of debate about the relative merits of salt systems, so do your research and know what you’re getting into before going this route.

Maintenance
Whether you go with a chlorine- or salt-based system, there will be plenty of maintenance to attend to. You will need to test and adjust the pH and chlorine (or salt) levels a few times a week, and make sure the water level is at its optimal height. Using test strips or a liquid testing system, you’ll want to ensure that the alkalinity falls between 80 and 150 parts per million (ppm), the pH is between 7.4 and 7.8, and the calcium hardness is between 200 and 400 ppm. For chlorine pools, you’ll also need to check its presence in the water and keep it between 1 and 3 ppm. If the chlorine falls below this level, you will need to “shock” the pool, which requires adding a high concentration of chlorine in powdered or liquid form and makes the pool inaccessible for swimming for several hours. Most likely, you will also need to add an algaecide to get rid of the green stuff that wants to grow. And of course, you will need to remove debris with a skimming net, vacuum the pool, and clean the skimmer and pump baskets regularly. Automatic cleaners are available—these patrol the bottom of your pool on their own—but don’t be fooled into thinking that they will eliminate all maintenance.

You’ll also need to close your pool at the end of the season to extend its life and keep your water as clean as possible.

Now that you know what is involved in planning for your above-ground pool, don’t lose sight of the rewards. Take a moment to envision yourself lounging poolside, sipping on an ice-cold beverage, and taking in the sights and sounds of your friends and family enjoying the summer to its fullest. That will surely make all your efforts worthwhile!


How To: Start a Lawn Mower (and Troubleshoot Common Problems)

Starting up a lawn mower should be easy, right? But occasionally, particularly after a long, dormant winter, a mower can be tough to start. To get your mower humming along, follow these simple steps—and if it balks, try our tips for troubleshooting.

How to Start a Lawn Mower

Photo: shutterstock.com

Regular mowing is not only beneficial to the look of your lawn, but also to its health. Whether you’ve recently purchased a new grass guzzler or have finally dragged out your old machine for the new season, it’s not uncommon to be frustrated when trying to start up the lawn mower. Of course, different mowers operate slightly differently, but the following guidelines can help you start a lawn mower of the most common type—that is, gas. If you’ve followed the steps outlined here and still cannot start your lawn mower, be sure to consult the troubleshooting tips offered at the bottom of this post.

STEP 1
Safeguard the mower blades against damage by taking the time to remove all objects from the parts of your property given over to grass. Clearing the way entails not only picking up children’s toys and moving lawn furniture, but also addressing any tree branches that have fallen or rocks that have been unearthed.

STEP 2
Next comes a step that may seem glaringly obvious, but which, on account of its simplicity, some homeowners forget: Confirm the presence of oil and gas in the mower. Are you readying a new gas-powered mower for its first go on your grass? Consult the manual to learn the fuel and oil recommendations for the specific model you now own.

STEP 3
With the mower all set to go, press the primer button three to five times in order to channel gas into the engine. If, however, you’ve used the mower recently, you should be able to skip this step. Priming the engine is necessary only after a prolonged period during which the lawn mower has not been used (over the winter, for instance).

STEP 4
Notice how there are two handles on the lawn mower, each running horizontally only inches apart from the other. Press and hold these handles together, keeping them together as you pull the starting rope. Do so quickly and with considerable force. That action should cause the mower engine to turn over. Sometimes, as you have likely experienced in the past, it can take several attempts before pulling the starting rope achieves the intended result: a purring motor.

How to Start a Lawn Mower - Detail Mower

Photo: shutterstock.com

Troubleshooting Tips
You’ve checked and rechecked the mower for oil and gas. You’ve pulled the starting rope so many times that your arm is sore. You’ve flipped through the owner’s manual, muttering curse words all the while. At times, lawn mower maintenance can be truly exasperating. When all else fails, consider these possibilities:

• If you know that there’s oil and gas in the mower, but the engine still refuses to start, it’s possible that either the carburetor has flooded or the cylinder has become soaked with gas. (The smell of unburned gas is a telltale symptom.) Leave your mower on level ground for at least 15 minutes, which should allow enough time for the gas to evaporate from within the mechanism.

• If you are returning to your lawn mower after having left it to spend the off-season in your garage, any gas that was left in the machine may have gone bad. If you think that could be your issue, observe the mower the next time you try to get it going. Does it appear to start up, then quickly stall out? The fix is simple: Siphon out the old gas, replacing it with fresh fuel.


Bob Vila Radio: Front Yard Landscaping

The best front yard landscaping draws the line of sight to the front door and features eye-catching color and textural combinations along the way. Here are a few simple but effective tips for boosting curb appeal with trees and bushes, your driveway and walkways, and more.

Every garden needs a focal point; for the front yard, that’s usually the home’s entryway. When the front door is the focal point of your front yard landscaping, your home looks more inviting than ever. Here are a few tips for using plants to draw the eye toward the door.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON FRONT YARD LANDSCAPING or read the text below:

Front Yard Landscaping

Photo: shutterstock.com

First and foremost, don’t hide your door behind large shrubs and trees. You want your landscaping to sweep the eye up to the door, not block the view completely. Position larger plants and trees off to the sides and keep them trimmed back to allow a full view of the door.

Second, don’t skimp on foundation plantings. A typical two-story home should have a bed about eight feet deep around the front to soften the view. Use plants of varying heights, different shades of green, and different textures to create an interesting mix. Use containers on the front steps and walkway to add variety and color, but not so many as to make things look chaotic. Keep it simple and elegant.

Finally, don’t forget your hardscaping—that is, the walkway, driveway, and other hard surfaces. Little things like changing a straight walkway to one with a little curve or flair, or allowing plants to drape over a wall, can have outsized effects on your entry.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Weekend Projects: 5 Quirky Ways to Build a Bird Feeder

A DIY bird feeder will attract feathered friends to your yard and charm two-legged visitors of the wingless variety.

Whether you’re washing dishes at the sink or sitting at the desk in your home office, it’s pleasant to look out the window and see birds atwitter in the yard. You can invite feathered friends to your property—and help them survive difficult winters—with a bird feeder of your own devising. With only a modest investment of time and a minimal number of basic tools and materials, you can easily create a DIY bird feeder that will provide an enduring enhancement to your landscape.

 

1. TWEAK A TEACUP

DIY Bird Feeder - Tea Cup

Photo: elizabethkartchner.com

Here’s an offbeat yet undeniably charming DIY bird feeder design: Using strong adhesive and a cut-to-length wooden dowel, you can transform a teacup-and-saucer combination into a pretty pit stop for peckish winged creatures. Include a spoon too—it makes the perfect perch for incoming and departing birds.

 

2. HANG A CAN

DIY Bird Feeder - Paint Can

Photo: goodhousekeeping.com

Got any empty paint cans sitting around your basement or garage? Choose a small one, and coat its exterior in a bright color. Next, reach for the hot glue gun, using the tool to affix a 3/16-inch dowel to the lip of the can. Wrap and secure a strand of ribbon around the middle of the can, and use the ends to suspend it from a tree limb.

 

3. BOTTLE-FEED A HUMMINGBIRD

Wine Bottle

Photo: sierranevadacreations.com

Almost any bottle can become a DIY bird feeder specially suited for summer hummingbirds. Decorate the bottle in whatever fashion you please, fill it with nectar, and insert a hummingbird feeder tube into the neck of the bottle. Hang the feeder from a tree via chain, wire, or twine so that it points downward.

 

4. GET IN SHAPE

DIY Bird Feeder - Cookie Cutters

Photo: prudentbaby.com

Your kids would love to join you in the kitchen to help make this waste-free DIY bird feeder. Mix birdseed with plain gelatin and then put the mixture into a series of cookie cutters. Once you’ve filled the molds halfway, insert a loop of twine before finishing. Let them dry overnight, then place your creations at strategic positions around your backyard.

 

5. BORROW A BOWL

DIY Bird Feeder - Repurposed Bowl

Photo: ninered.blogspot.com

You must own at least one bowl that you hardly ever use. Why not take it outside and repurpose the dish into a DIY bird feeder? Decorate the bowl—or don’t—then drill a small hole in its underside for drainage. Finally, drill holes on three sides of the vessel, outfitting each one with an eye hook to facilitate hanging.


How To: Create a Gravel Driveway

A gravel driveway can be a classic, low-maintenance, and inexpensive addition to a home. It complements a range of house styles and—even better—is a reasonable undertaking for a determined DIYer. Here are the basics.

How to Make a Gravel Driveway

Photo: shutterstock.com

A gravel driveway can be very attractive in a characteristically unpretentious way, introducing casual curb appeal to the first and last element of your home that a visitor sees. Throughout the United States, gravel remains a perennially popular driveway material, not only for its aesthetics, but also for its relatively low cost in comparison with the alternatives. Furthermore, whereas poured concrete or patterned brick typically require professional installation, even a somewhat novice DIYer can install a gravel driveway successfully on his own, without having to pay for either design consultation or skilled labor.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Landscape stakes
- String (or twine)
- Gloves
- Wheelbarrow
- Shovel
- Rake
- Hoe
- Weed barrier (optional)
- Gravel

Though it’s possible to cut corners, a well-made gravel driveway usually consists of three layers. In this striated approach, the bottom layer features six-inch-diameter crushed rock, while smaller, two- or three-inch stones form the middle layer. Only the third layer, the surface, comprises what most of us would recognize as true gravel. Here, eschew smooth stones in favor of rough, angular ones, because these can be depended upon to provide a firmer, more stable driveway surface.

STEP 1
Using landscape stakes in combination with string or twine, define the path you wish the driveway to take from the curb all the way to its end point. Next comes a labor-intensive proposition: To prepare the way for the gravel, you must remove any grass or topsoil from the marked-off area. If you’d rather not do this manually, consider bringing in a bulldozer—and someone to operate it—to make quicker work of this unglamorous but essential stage of the project.

STEP 2
Having cleared a path for the driveway, now you need to calculate the volume of stones you’ll need. To do so, you’ll need to determine the number of cubic yards each layer will occupy. Start by measuring the length and width (in feet) of the driveway you’ve laid out, then multiply these two numbers together to find your driveway’s square footage. So, if the width is 10 feet and the length is 15 feet, your driveway will be 150 square feet. Multiply that number by the desired depth of each layer to get the number of cubic feet of stone you’ll need for each layer. The recommended height for each layer is four to six inches. If you want a four-inch layer, divide the square footage by 3 (because four inches is one-third of a foot). Now that you’ve calculated the necessary volume of stone in cubic feet, convert that number to cubic yards by dividing by 27 (because there are 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard). Our 150-square-foot example is 50 cubic feet, or approximately 1.8 cubic yards (50 divided by 27), per layer. You’ll need about 1.4 tons of stone per cubic yard, plus four percent to account for compaction. So 1.8 x 1.4 x 1.04 equals your total order of stones (in tons) for one layer.

Drive Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 3
Think strategically when it comes to scheduling the delivery of the stones for your gravel driveway. (Also, bear in mind that some gravel delivery trucks are capable of not merely dropping off the stones, but also spreading them.) It’s best to schedule separate deliveries for each of the three driveway layers. Further, it’s recommended that you stagger the deliveries a few days apart, so you have time to address each layer in turn. If you’re spreading the gravel manually, prepare yourself for the job by assembling the right tools: a heavy-duty wheelbarrow, a shovel with a sturdy trough, and a rake with metal tines.

STEP 4
Before the first gravel delivery truck arrives at your property, it’s important to even out the dirt in the path of the driveway. Depending on the area of your driveway, you can handle this work with your own tools or by enlisting the help of a professional with a backhoe. Are you planning to lay down a weed barrier? Do it after you’ve finished smoothing out the ground; take pains to ensure that the fabric doesn’t bunch up.

STEP 5
The bottom layer of the gravel driveway, of course, goes in first. Once you have spread these six-inch stones over the driveway area in a single, interlocking layer, ideally you’d bring in a bulldozer to compact the stones with its roller. Failing that, so long as you don’t think you’ll imperil the tires, drive over the base layer repeatedly with your car (or a neighbor’s truck). The object here is to pack the crushed rocks into the soil beneath, creating as strong a driveway foundation as possible.

STEP 6
Next comes the middle layer of two- to three-inch stones. In a perfect world, the gravel delivery truck would spread this layer for you, but whether or not that’s possible, the edges of the driveway are first going to need a little TLC. Neaten the perimeters with a shovel and rake and, if necessary, your gloved hands.

Finally, introduce the surface layer of gravel. To facilitate rainwater drainage, grade the stones in such a way that they peak in the middle of the driveway and incline slightly to the sides. Every few months, you may wish to use a rake to restore this peak. Likewise, you may need to neaten the edges from time to time. But for the most part, the gravel driveway you’ve now completed is—and will remain—a low-maintenance affair.