Old House Restoration

A real family makes an old house their home...for the 2nd time
The Splendido's renovate, restore and rejuvenate their home with their own hands - all while living in the house
and balancing their family needs...you know...like most families have to do it!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"Mommy Wants S'mores on the Patio for Mother's Day"

Previously on Restoring the Splendor, I had just finished laying out and compacting all the Crusher Run with lots of help from 6 year old Lily. While we were working together, My Little Helper mentioned that it would be great if the patio was ready for Mother's Day (7 days later), because "Mommy wants s'mores on the patio for Mother's Day."...she is sooo funny....love her!

I told her that would be nice but there is still a lot of work to be done and I don't think daddy can get it all done by then. She went on to tell me, "no worries - you are the best so you will get it done."

As Monday and Tuesday came and went Lily continued to giggle and pull me to the side to secretively whisper in my ear about how excited mommy is gonna be about the s'mores...and a few days later it had expanded into pancakes on the patio for breakfast, too, instead of the Mother's Day tradition of breakfast in bed. Oh brother! I became a man on a mission! Yes, making mommy's day special was very important, but keeping my Superman status in Lily's eyes was just as important!

Carly Supervising
the Work
I had to buy these
Several of our wonderful neighbors donated to our project too! Mark & Michele donated a pile of slates (pictured right) that I used for the uphill walkway that will welcome guests from the yard to the patio. Also Peter and Trish donated some very thick and heavy slates we used as the step off the door we use the most. Those slates will take the most pounding so it is nice to know those are sturdy! Thank you all!

My pallet of slates delivered

Even with the great donations and the found slates Karen unearthed from under the sod and dirt on day one of this project on April 12th - I still had to buy 100+ slates from Faddegon's Nursery. I chose Faddegon's because they are local, I like the friendly and knowledgeable staff, and they gave me a pallet and left me alone to pick every slate myself. I purposely was looking for 1/2" thick slates. A little light duty for most patios (most people use 3/4"-2" thick slates), but I was trying to match the thickness of the 225+ slates I already had. Faddegon's delivered the slates during the week. Then I moved them to the patio area that evening.

Baseball, softball and other family commitments kept me from doing more during the week, so with Lily's (oops I mean mommy's) Mother's Day's expectations on my mind, I knew I had to take a 1/2 day vacation on Friday if there was any chance of getting this done. I borrowed the company truck and went to George's Market on the way home to get the first of 3 loads of Stone Dust (for you do-it-yourself-ers - in the end I used 4 yards of stone dust).

Laying Down a Slate Patio - Part II

In Part 1 of my How to Make a Slate Patio posts, I discussed how to prepare the site to make a sturdy base. I will now finish that process...hopefully in time for pancakes!!!

Day 1 - Friday

Step 1 - Test Your Pattern

I started laying down a completely random example of the non-pattern I planned on using and then got Karen's approval (obviously most important step!). Since I only did a test area and was going for a completely random look, I did not number the slates. But if you are doing your own patio and you lay out every slate in exactly the pattern you want, then remember to number every slate with chalk and take digital pictures of your example so you can place them down in the same order again.

Making a slate patio | Building a Slate Patio
Test pattern and screen guides laid out in background (see step 2 below)
Step 2 thru Step 8 - Work a section at a time

Working in 4 foot sections:
  • Step 2 - I laid my 2"x3" boards (discussed in my previous post) parallel to each other on their flat side in order to get a very smooth surface of stone dust 1.5" thick. 
    • Note: assuming you used a level during the preparation of the site as discussed in my first post about this process you do not need to re-level anything. Just lay down the boards and move on...of course me being me - I checked for level and proper pitch away from the house again anyway!
  • Step 3 - I made piles of stone dust in each section using my wheelbarrow.
  • Step 4 - I used a metal rake to preliminarily level the area
  • Step 5 - I hand-tamped the area of stone dust to compact it
  • Step 6 - I then used another board placed between both 2x3's to screen the stone dust to a perfectly smooth surface that was 1.5 inches thick (see below)
  • Step 7 - I picked up the 2x3 on the inside edge of my working area and filled the void left by the wood with stone dust
  • Step 8 - I then laid out some of the slates in a random pattern in the section I just smoothed out, making sure to leave access to the remaining 2x3 for the next section.
    • There were some open voids in the pattern, where I would need to cut a slate to size in a later (see Step 9)
Lay down the 2x3 making a new 4 foot section and repeat steps 2 thru 8 until the whole patio is covered. Sounds easy doesn't it?! Sure it is easy to write about it and read about it, but it is a killer on your body!

Making a slate patio | Building a Slate Patio
Example of Screening the Stone Dust
You can also see the previous sections completed by using steps 2 thru 8 above
Making a slate patio | Building a Slate Patio
Knee pads and gloves are mandatory for this type of work
In the above picture you can tell it is still early in the process on Friday...How? I am still smiling and don't look like a beaten down and battered man.

Making a slate patio | Building a Slate Patio

By the end of Friday I had worked from 1-8pm and got about half of the area done. My in-laws came Friday evening to visit for Mother's Day. When they saw how sore I was, they lovingly suggested that I take it easy and not try to finish by Mother's Day. I jokingly said to them, "Do you even know me?"

Day 2 - Saturday
Making a slate patio | Building a Slate Patio

Started at 5:50am on Saturday. I knew it was relatively quiet work so the neighbors would not hate me. Just repeating Steps 2 thru 8 above. I had to get an early start because like for most families - springtime Saturday's are spent mostly going from one ball field to another. I had to help coach the twins at A-Ball at 10am and then go watch the end of Paige's softball game. Around 8am it started raining on me. It was not so bad for me. It kind of felt nice. However, it was not so nice to the twins. Their game got canceled. More time for me to work! The picture to the right shows how far I was able to get done on Saturday morning...

...because luckily the rain had stopped in time to see this!

Paige playing catcher for the first time this year!

After the game I was able to finish laying out the rest of the patio by 3pm. Then came the next step.

Step 9 - Cutting Slate

After I was done laying out the majority of the full pieces, I had some (many?) smaller squares and rectangles that I needed to fill in with pieces of slate. I would need to cut the slate to size. I realized slates are cut to size at quarries before being shipped, but as a homeowner I had no idea what to expect. I talked to my brother, Jim, who owns Select Shower Door, Glass & Mirror in Cold Springs, NY. Besides windows, mirrors and shower doors, he does a lot of patios and all other facets of contracting, too. He told me it was easy, but very dusty so to use a face mask and work away from the house. He told me to buy a diamond circular saw blade (or to rent a wet saw for less dust).

Personally I see one of the huge advantages of doing all my own work (besides the satisfaction of a job well done) is that I get to buy new tools - no questions asked!!! It is hard to believe that I have been doing home improvements since 2005 all without owning a corded circular saw (or a table saw for that matter)....and I have done quite a bit of extensive woodwork both at this house and my last house. My trusty 18v Ryobi rechargeable 5" Circular Saw and some homemade saw guides (I'll discuss these in future posts) got me through those projects with relative ease. But for cutting through stone - I figured I needed to go old school. I picked up a diamond blade and an inexpensive corded circular saw.

Besides being uber dusty cutting the slates was easy! Not as easy as cutting through wood, but it was much easier than I had anticipated.

Even though the slate cutting was going well - I was hurting. It took me about 2 more hours to cut all my pieces and lay them out. I was shot. Karen came home from shopping for flowers and plants at Faddegon's with her mom and I said "uncle." I had no more juice...and I was starting to feel sick. It was 5:30 and my day was done...but the patio was not.

As I walked around the house stiff and moaning Karen made me promise I would not try to finish it and just take Sunday off. I promised (but my fingers were crossed).

Day 3 - Mother's Day

Step 10 - "Grout" the seams

Making a slate patio | Building a Slate Patio
It was nice of the sun to join me
I woke up on Mother's Day feeling like garbage. But I knew I only had 2 hours of work left to make the patio ready. So I got up before the sun and started working. By the time the sun had come over the horizon (pictured right) I was about halfway done with sweeping the stone dust between the crevices.

Grouting - Finishing Touches
  • Dump piles of stone dust along the patio
  • Sweep the stone dust into the crevices
  • Walk around on patio looking for loose slates
    • Because most of my slates were hidden underground for decades they did not have squared edges anymore. Therefore they could rock under foot. (The new slates did not have this problem)
  • Hand compact the stone dust around and under the loose slates until properly supported
  • Sweep more sand
  • Wet all the seams with a house to help settle all the stone dust

The above finishing touches will need to be done a few more times over the coming months as things settle more, but that is to be expected with any natural slate patio (i.e.-not mortared in with cement or gator dust), but especially if you are reusing slates that have some rounded edges.

To the left is a picture I took after I had sprayed all the seams with water to help settle the stone dust. I actually like the vibrant colors when it is wet. They do sell sealers than can be added if you like the wet look. I am not going to do that because I am not sure how natural it looks...plus I would want to live with it as is for a while and enjoy it before making a permanent decision like that.

The After Pictures!

I am glad to say I had the patio furniture in place by 8am and Lily and I were able to say "Pancakes are served on the patio!" Happy Mother's Day Karen!

Making a slate patio | Building a Slate Patio
As for the patio furniture - I need to give a shout out to Karen. This furniture was ugly. It started this past week as white and peeling. It would actually shed flecks of paint every time we moved it....plus Karen said the white did not match our house. She prepped and painted the set this week. They look great! Thank you honey!

Making a slate patio | Building a Slate Patio

We will be cleaning up the edges by adding mulch and landscaping over the coming weeks/months/years but that is a separate project!

Making a slate patio | Building a Slate Patio

You know what? It turns out Lily was right, because mommy (and all of us) enjoyed s'mores roasted over the fire pit on Sunday evening. Yum!

Walkway entrance from the yard


Making a slate patio | Building a Slate Patio | Before & After

This Before picture is not a true Before. It actually looks almost decent in this before picture. Trust me it did not look that way when we started the project. We did not even know most of these slates existed until Karen unearthed them. She dug into the ground and heard a "Clang." She found about 30 slates this way!

Luke just hanging with me on the patio
showing me his best Derek Jeter batting stance
I am very happy with the results. All-in-all what Karen started as a quick and easy patio project on April 12th became a much expanded and a completely renovated 500 sq ft outdoor living space by May 11th.

I am glad to say I was able to spend a lot of time sitting on this patio on Sunday. I made sure Karen got to do what she wanted for Mother's Day first. Luckily for me that involved just watching the kids so she could be free to plant new flowers and shrubs around the house. After those several days of busting my rump, being asked to sit and watch the kids was A.O.K. with me. I explained to the kids that I could not play daddy-monster tag that day, but I would be happy to just sit on the patio and watch them play on their playground... and thankfully this time they were fine with just that.

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