How to Build a Gravel Patio

Pea Gravel Patio

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Gravel is one of the most economical and simple materials to use for a patio. This outdoor project is easy to make, and long-term maintenance is a breeze. For very little money and a day or two of work for an average sized area, you can have a graceful and gorgeous patio with a look that lends itself perfectly to many other cool, fun elements: string lights, do-it-yourself firepits, outdoor furniture, and more. 

Pea gravel is the easy-to-handle material that makes all of this happen. While hardscaping materials like slab concrete, concrete pavers, and natural stone are solid, reliable patio surfaces, they can be expensive and difficult to install on a do-it-yourself basis. As suggested by the name, pea gravel is about the size of 3/8-inch diameter peas. Each piece of gravel is rounded and smooth, making it ideal for patios since it is far less prone to clumping up and retaining footprints than gravel with angled sides. 

This project will help you create a gravel patio that is 16 feet long by 16 feet wide, with a gravel depth of 2 inches. You can adapt the dimensions to fit your patio's size. Because pea gravel is loose and tends to shift, you will need to build a wooden frame from ground contact-rated lumber to contain it. The frame will have the same ground dimensions as the gravel and will rise 5 1/2 inches high.

Tools and Materials

  • Pea gravel, 2 cubic yards
  • Landscape fabric sufficient to cover 256 square feet
  • (8) ground contact pressure treated two-by-six boards, each 8 feet long
  • (8) zinc-plated or galvanized metal 6-inch corner braces
  • (8) zinc-plated or galvanized metal 6-inch mending plates
  • Landscape pins (or garden staples) for securing the landscape fabric
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Measuring tape
  • Shovel that has a straight end; also called a square-point or transfer shovel
  • Metal rake
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Hammer
  • Cordless drill with screw bit
  • Twine or a chalk line

Select the Patio Space

Will your favored location work for a gravel patio? Steep places will not do well because pea gravel's angle of repose can be as low as 20 degrees. Above those angles, pea gravel will begin to shift. Heavy foot traffic will disturb the gravel and create a mess. If an unusual amount of water is coursing through the space, the water can easily wash away the gravel.

Order and Accept Delivery of the Gravel

Order your pea gravel in bulk from a local supplier, since you will need far more than home centers can economically supply in bagged form. For a 16-foot by 16-foot area, 2 inches deep, you will need 1.58 cubic yards of pea gravel. Depths more than 3 inches can be difficult to walk in; depths less than 2 inches will become exposed after time. You should order a full 2 yards of gravel, both to facilitate the order and to have extra on hand to replenish gravel that gets lost over time.

Prior to delivery of the gravel, lay out the plastic sheeting on your lawn or driveway to make clean-up easier.

Level out the Ground

The entire patio area should be close to level. Additionally, the border on which the wooden frame will rest should have no dips or gaps. Otherwise, the gravel will escape through these holes and out of the containment frame. Using the shovel, create a flat perimeter on which the frame can rest.

Build a Frame to Contain the Gravel

The containment frame for the gravel will be constructed from two-by-six lumber set on edge. Use two pieces of lumber to form a corner, securing the pieces with two corner braces and their included screws. Use the cordless drill to screw the braces to the boards. 

You should now have four L-shaped assemblies. Move them onto your intended patio area so that they form a square. To create a large cohesive square, use the mending plates, two plates per joint. Screw the plates to the boards with the drill. 

Secure the Landscape Fabric

Roll out the landscape fabric to cover the inside of the containment frame, overlapping each row of fabric by 4 inches. On the sides, the fabric should extend up the containment frame by an inch or two. Liberally stake the fabric around the perimeter and at all seams.

Deposit the Pea Gravel in the Frame

Load up a wheelbarrow halfway with pea gravel and bring it to the side of the frame. Begin by lightly tossing shovelfuls of gravel at several places throughout the area to further secure the landscape fabric. Be careful not to tear the fabric with your feet or with the shovel.

Once you have established a shallow amount of pea gravel covering the entire patio area, continue by building up depth. Occasionally smooth out humps and uneven areas with the rake.

Level and Smooth out the Pea Gravel

With the pea gravel deposited in the frame, run the twine or a chalk snap line across the frame several times at various spots. The top of the pea gravel should be about 3 inches lower than the top of the frame. The line will allow you to see where the gravel is higher or lower than that height. Correct the level with the metal rake.