Cutting Brick Pavers – How We Do It

We already know why we cut pavers – they “finish” things. A good-fitting brick paver is a treat to an installer’s eyes – and he may just be the only one, in some cases. In a few years, often times plants grow over the edges of those crisp lines, or even grass. All that slick-looking work won’t show up again for 10 years, when the owner decides the plants have grown too dam big. Then he will suddenly go: “Wow, those guys really were good!”

(to enlarge any pictures, left click)

We take the approach that what we work on is permanent. The actual fact of the matter is, many of these driveways and patios will literally outlive the houses they abut. We realize this and I design and install thinking 3-4 generations of plants ahead. I fully expect the perennials in the picture above to be dug up and changed out possibly 20 times during the life of this combination driveway and patio. It’s what happens when you deal with the best products. It’s also what happens when you bother to prepare what’s under them adequately.

And we believe the same precepts apply in the walls we build.

And we cut wall blocks much the same as we cut pavers. Some blocks fit perfectly on the table of a large saw, sporting that wonderful device – the diamond saw blade – encrusted with industrial diamonds which can tear through just about anything, and particularly concrete products.

I’ve owned a pretty good number of saws in my day. The one pictured above ends up being what I found was the most useful for paver work. It is electric and, of course, as can be seen, it runs with water forced onto the cutting surface which serves to cool down the diamond blade and – most importantly – to keep the dust down. Cutting through bricks – especially cement ones – creates an enormous amount of dust. The particles cut are absolutely tiny. Modern electrical saws these days can run on far less amperage then they used to. There was a time when we would shut down breakers in a house from the stress on the electrical circuit. Now, better ball bearing technology and advances in more efficient motors has meant electrical saws can once again be considered usable and very dependable. The other very, very major advancement is in how much quieter they are than the gas powered engines which were what we used for long years prior.

Here is a floor model look at a powerful but noisy gas-powered brick saw:

Now, these cut faster, for sure. They have all the torque in the world. But they are tough for residential work, owing to their irritant factor. These will never be quiet – ever. But, for commercial work, they are clearly the state of the art. Just remember your earmuffs!

Next, we have the “art” of cutting. Those machines will all do the job. The “art”, however, is in making the perfect cut. The brick pavers it will take to make this look like a smooth consistent edge will take some real precision.

We typically work our way outwards from a house. This is primarily because near the home is where most of the traffic will eventually be and we want the largest possible pavers to service underfoot. Thus we end up looking like this on our way out to an edge.

As we close in on the outer edge, we lay as many completely intact pavers as we can. At that point, we begin cutting. I typically cultivate a two man team for this process. We have one guy marking where the pavers are to be cut and another guy on the saw. We can also waste pavers in the process of failing to get them to exacting standards. And, yes, I choose those standards. Where we do have a couple of tricks in our professional arsenal to make it look close to perfect, we also have a couple of tricks that can allow us to BE perfect.

We come to resemble this along the process:

Depending on the severity of the curve we are conforming to, straight lines can generally totally succeed at giving a curved look. And the saw only cuts straight lines. Oh, there are some artists who like shaving a bit, but that is Paver Cutting – Graduate Course. If you notice the pictures above and below, you can see how all the cuts at this project were straight ones.

Gratuitous Corey picture Alert!  😉  Hi, Corey!

And here is the finished product:

True Mud – Part Troix! – A Note On Landscaping As A Career

In the spirit of continuity, I’m opting for yet another tale of mud and woe describing the constant battle against this unforeseen mistake of Creation which has comprised probably 40% of my landscaping career.

But this post takes a more philosophical slant, which I feel is in order before I describe yet another unfairly vicious attack of the Mud Monster – tales of which I have many, many.  I herein hope to provide us all with the various caveats which place us in life’s ultimately “most miserable moments at work”, but which become secondary in a completely illogical and weird twist on human perceptions. If this turns out to not be believable, I cannot blame anyone for that assumption. All I have is what I own.

Note: A Picture of Portland’s Waterfront Park, below, which does not at all resemble the terrain which it consisted of at first.

Good Lord, ha ha, far, far from it:

A Spiritual Aside

Let me insert at this time something which has gone unspoken. As much as I have detested rainy days which stretched for months – and who would not? – and as grueling as some of those work days were, there remains an optimism in someone who works with dirt and landscape planning and installation which tends to factor in at a spiritual level. Sure, you’ll hear men complaining endlessly about it all. And certainly it motivates many of them towards other employment. This is inarguable as it can be.

But, as a very qualified expert on these matters, I can assure anyone that the fruits and pleasures as the goals become increasingly apparent are resplendent with the sense of accomplishment. I can think of very few trades or practices outside of waging war where so much is arrayed against so few. Is this “over the top”? – I honestly don’t think so. Believe me, the “felt experience” at the working end of a shovel – the constancy of donning rain gear and the extreme interest in the technological  improvements in such apparatii – the grimness of those early, sometimes pre-Sunrise hour mornings when the temperature is barely above freezing – when one faces 8 hours of climbing dreadful inclines in torrential or semi-torrential, all day rain, packing rocks, plants or sod – these things are the litany of drear. One’s heart can sink as he opens his house door, prepared for work, and the rain cascades down, drenching one as he negotiates the walk from his house to his truck.

What, in all this, can be remotely considered good?

The only answer I have is the stubborn insistence that, aside from becoming fully invested in a career which produces such regular disappointing climatic events and which apparently allows so few alternatives, we have the Final Product as goal and the penultimate reward. That we labor for someone else is nearly secondary, but even that relationship has a promise which is pretty ‘off the charts’ as well, in terms of pure respect and the appreciation of what, indeed, gets accomplished.

But Wait! It Gets Worse!  😉

Each rainy, miserable and simply awful day is counteracted by the amazing relief of actually seeing it all the way through. We plod home, drenched and sore, our muscles aching from the typically hard landscaping tasks which were exponentially made worse by a persistent rainfall. As we sweated inside our modern, up-to-date rain gear, we had the completely dreadful realization, 3 hours into the work, that we were getting as wet as we would have gotten has we eschewed the rain protection!

This is true: I had guys working for me in Vancouver who would walk to the job without rain protection and who worked entire days without even bothering with it. As ‘The Dude’ from The Big Lebowski might say: “Moisture abides”. 😉

OK – Enough Already……..Then there is this 

In North America, where we have abundant rain, we so often also feature milder Winter temperatures. In one of the worst-ever Winters for rain in Vancouver, BC, I recall not missing a single day of work. Not a one. There was also very close to 100% attendance at work for those of us on those crews.

Where we have abundant rain, we also feature incredibly productive plantings. It is our onus – implementing the plans proscribed by designers – to present them in the best possible foregrounds and backdrops. One learns, in short, to use the rain as an asset. We can indeed attain this, ironically,  for purposes of, say, compaction under hard surfaces which require a 12% moisture level for the ultimate in compaction. Needless to say, pretty much the last thing we face worrying about is to remember to “water the new plants”. The assurances of planting success are beneficial in a strictly business sense as well. In Reno, many landscapers were regular “re-visitors” to nurseries, bringing in plants which were obviously under-watered and who had croaked as a result. I can honestly say I have gone for years without returning one dead plant. I’ve had nursery owners who were actually relieved I showed up with one and I’m being serious. “I thought we’d never see you again! Heck, I know all about (so-and-so’s) family after all his visits returning dead trees!”

“Let’s get lunch!”

Where we have abundant rain, the air is so ozone- and oxygen-rich it cannot be described accurately. One can go to work sick and come home well, with air this pure, and I am not exaggerating. Our endorphins, always a factor for those who work outdoors, ramp upwards, creating pleasure where – supposedly – none should exist. The truly grimmest moments in climatic disgust can produce nearly ineffable moments of clarity and repose. One feels a rare pleasure in his existence at  incredibly unlikely times. I am being completely serious here: The Mystery of Life merely deepens as we assess with our conscious mind any remote intelligence which could inform us as to why on Earth we are not totally and irrevocably miserable.

I admit working for a living can perform all these spiritual tasks for anyone. Anyone at all. Working, for Americans, provides imminent self-worth – a prize for anyone – and rightfully so.

But I can aver right now that the physical rewards of maintaining strength, using it, contributing in an open atmosphere about solving problems, acting proactively in doing just that are but a few of the incredibly strange rewards one can grab while landscaping “where no man dares to trod”.

Next, I describe the effects of approaching a hole in the ground, 50 feet by 30 feet in circumference, a full 20 feet deep – completely filled with long-sitting and somewhat rancid water – and hearing a man advise us that he needs a brick pavement structure on top of this area by the end of the week.

Bricks Over Existing Structures – Adhesives

It was a major Red Letter discovery the day I happened onto adhesives which could bond bricks to cement. Indeed, I had always typified this technology as a grouting mechanism. The very idea that a strong adhesive could last through the weather and climates I have worked in pretty much blew my mind. But here we are – 20 years after I installed some of these – and they stand as permanent as ever. I can safely aver that experience has shown me the worth of such products.

Without producing testaments to one maker over the products of another, I can say that the adhesive range is wide and quite effective. The porous nature of bricks themselves – indeed any brick or cement product – allows a penetration of adhesives well into the objects being glued. When, for example, that concrete chemical “par excellence” – Muriatic Acid – is listed in the methods of ‘removing glues’, then you know it takes some etching and eating to get rid of something that basically embedded itself.

Here are some projects which were the results of adhering bricks to existing cement.

This particular one was always a huge favorite of mine. It has a total “cookie cutter” look to it from above, revealed so by the following frame. This one was a total effort, adhering the brick to a crumbling substructure in Lake Oswego, Oregon, hard by the gorgeous lake there. It’s a bit “sun washed” in the picture, but the results stand with enough definition to reveal the ‘cookie cutter’ thing, I think.

Other efforts include this look outward from a patio featured in the prior post. The ‘finished look’ of these patios includes a “Bullnose” – rounded – brick on the outer edge. While this is not altogether necessary on all projects like this, it does work as a matching edge material, nice and long and strong on the outer rim and not aesthetically dangerous.

Other examples include this “bridge” we erected in place using cement, designed to connect walks over a water feature. Inasmuch as these homes were models for a newer subdivision in Carson City, Nevada, the owners wanted a connecting walkway for conducting potential buyers down to the various models of homes for sale. The “honeycombing” of the cement was addressed, for those who wonder, with a grouting mix. This picture was taken before that got accomplished.

Pavers were glued to the top of the surface and then connected to the walkways. It was actually a very interesting edifice, all the way around. A little cramped, but successful.

In the end, what we find with adhesives for cement is a viable option for addressing nearly any surface. The adhering qualities of these glues is honestly pretty awesome, allowing any number of potential arrangements and adaptations to our existing hardscapes.

Putting Bricks Over Existing Cement

I was pretty satisfied with the rendition of methods I posted in early 2009 on ways to improve the look of existing cement pads and patios by gluing brick pavers over the surfaces of cement. The bottom example in that post also gives us a glimpse at how we can manage the same task by simply building a paver patio over an existing cement pad by using more traditional methods and raising the entire thing.

Here it is: “Laying Pavers On Cement”

This post was issued in February 2009. I keep seeing search results streaming into this blog with a very steady – if not increasing – frequency. I choose to highlight this again owing to those many searches. I reached an assumption: Among the reasons I believe we see more interest in the technologies  involved with paving over existing facilities have be economic.

And, yes, it is even more possible to glue pavers onto existing cement. And Lord yes, it is also far more attractive. I’m sure we can agree that this – below – is more attractive (disregarding the unfortunate camerawork of yours truly as it ‘lists’ to the left):

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I think it’s better than this:

Elevation Changes

The gluing effort raises the height of the edifice attached to, and figures hugely in the technical brain pans of the guys tasked to install them. But in the end the process is generally pretty straightforward. Adding 2.375 inches won’t affect Global Warming.  😉

Glue or Cement?

Other considerations which demand attention:

1. The possibility of using a grout/cement base mix. This is a terrific option and is especially pertinent when dealing with real, clay-fired brick – and not the compressed cement cement pavers I so often deal with. Here in Louisville, for example, the use of bricks as a building material of choice is widespread and really nice to look at. There are equally huge variations in colors. The “Used Brick” look has often just startled me with how gorgeous it looks.

Laying fired brick on a sand/rock base – for example used brick – for paving can be done, but the variations in sizes – not just width but everything – make it pretty tough to expeditiously lay on sand. It becomes a puzzle. Here’s a Louisville project we completed just last Fall:

That’s a pre-planting view, fresh after sealing. It had a remarkable amount of pain but the look was very nice and the client was quite happy. Below we can get at least some idea of the difficulties inherent in variations in sizes of the bricks. Enlarge this for an even better perspective

Here are a few examples of projects where we did indeed add pavers over existing concrete structures. The first one is from the, ahem, ’tilted picture’ above, just from 90 degrees. It also shows that we created a circular pattern at the doorway, which I thought might be cool and which the owner was beside himself over:

In the patio featured below, (from the same home), we also added lighting, running wire behind the pavers, for those who wonder what is possible:

Below, we added pavers to the steps, then worked outwards:

Here is one we actually laid on glue using fired-brick facing. It delivered a very nice “Used Brick” look and was nice and substantial:

This was an interesting project, adding a circular element to an existing rectangular one:

The sheer professionalism of the picture-taker needs some remarks. 😉

Wait. Nevermind.

Next post, we’ll deal with the application of glue and the conditions required for the best and most permanent adhesion. We will also enter the debate about water, glue and the expansion of the adhesive.

For now, seeing these examples of successful applications of bricks over cement structures, suffice it to say we can safely assume it is most do-able.