Category Archives for "Other Backyard Projects"

How to Build a Flagstone Patio A Helpful Guide

I’m warning you, be careful, if your wife is anything like mine, she knows how to plant a seed in my mind. Once planted I have no choice but to carry out her plans. She is crafty that way… and that’s why I love her. All she did was merely mention adding a flagstone patio near our backyard pond and BAM… I was obsessed!

flagstone patio by the backyard waterfall

Basic steps

  1. Plan – choose location and size
  2. Dig and level area
  3. Build up a level 4 inch compacted gravel base
  4. Add patio sand on top of the gravel base
  5. Lay out flagstone overlapping on another
  6. Trace and cut flagstone for a natural tight fit
  7. Level flagstones one at a time
  8. Fill the cracks with patio sand
  9. ENJOY!

Tools and Supplies

Most of the tools needed, you most likely already have, like a shovel and rake. The reciprocating saw and disposable blades (affiliate links to Amazon) are a must have if you encounter roots of any kind. As you can see mine is an older model, but it has served me well.

Another thing you will need to do this project right is an angle grinder and diamond blade (affiliate links to Depending on the size of your project you can get a 3 pack of diamond blades like the ones I used in the video, or a single diamond blade.

  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Level
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Angle grinder with a diamond wheel
  • Metal rake
  • Sand
  • Driveway stone
  • Flagstone
  • Ambition!

A Video From Start To Finish

The Planning Stage

We needed more of a gathering place close to the pond, that would allow us all to hang out together. Here is a breakdown of the steps to get this done from start to finish.

Just like all the projects featured on this site, planning is a big part of your success. Whether it’s a pond, waterfall, grill island, concrete countertop, or simply a stone wall, you must have a vision of what you want before you set out to create it.

Figuring out what works best in your outdoor space is the first step. You need to picture what would fit best in your space. Brick has a rustic look to it, but a bit too formal for our application. This was why we chose flagstone. The natural look of the stone plays off well with the surroundings

pallet of flagstone ready to be a patio

This material is semi easy to work with, and it matches our natural looking pond. The field stone compliments the look of the slate and the whole thing comes together, creating an inviting natural patio and walk.

This Flagstone Patio Will Be A Piece Of Cake

My original thought was to scrape off the grass and merely place the flagstone in the dirt, leveling and fitting them in as I went. I marked out where I wanted it to go with a can of spray paint, and then chopped an outline in the grass.

Using a roto tiller to pull up the grass over the area. As I did this I ran into lots of roots. If you ever do a project like this… be sure to do it under the largest tree on your property (can you feel the sarcasm here!).

Root Removal

Once I was done complaining I realized there was no easy way to do this, and it had to be done the right. I ordered 5 tons of driveway stone and began to remove the dirt and cut out the roots about 5 inches below where I wanted my finished patio.

The easiest way I have found to remove large roots is with a reciprocating saw. The blades for these are relatively inexpensive, you can get a 10 pack on Amazon. This will allow you to cut through roots in no time.

Do not use a chainsaw. As soon as the chain makes contact with the dirt it will dull out.

Getting Back on Track

I used the dirt that I removed around the edge of the new patio. The ground was pitched about 6 inches on one side, and needed to come up if I wanted the patio to be somewhat level.

After I had removed enough dirt i used a hand tamper to compact the ground. Doing this helps reduce the amount of settling once everything is done.

Once the dirt was dug out and packed down, begin filling it up with driveway stone. When you do this, rake the stone until it is the level and pitch you want your flagstone to be.

bringing up the grade for a flagstone patio

If your driveway stone is higher than the surrounding elevation, dirt will need to be added around the edge to keep the driveway stone in place. If not when you go to compact it, the driveway stone will just fall away on the edges. Use either a power tamper, or hand tamper to compact the driveway stone.

This is where things are different between laying a brick patio and using flagstone. Flagstone varies in thickness from piece to piece, so your base doesn’t have to be perfect. Brick on the other hand demands a consistent surface to be laid on.

Each piece of flagstone needs to be placed and leveled individually. Since the flagstone is not always uniform the way it sits, it needs to be completely supported underneath to avoid cracking. Using a layer of paving sand on top of the stone base you just compacted down accomplishes this. Now the flagstone has even support and this will also stop it from rocking when stepped on.

Large pieces of flagstone can be difficult to manipulate without a helping hand. There are two benefits to using larger pieces of flagstone:

  1. Large amounts of surface area are covered by on piece
  2. The larger size makes the stone stay where you place it.

Using a pallet with wheels attached to the bottom was extremely helpful to move the large stone from the drop off point to the worksite. Keep this in mind when you have your stone delivered and place it as close as you can.

How To Start Laying Flagstone

My technique was to begin in the middle with a few very large pieces and then build out from there. It’s like having a giant puzzle. Finding the perfect piece for that perfect spot is what will set the whole thing off and make it look amazing.

If the pieces don’t fit… make them. Lay one stone on the other and trace the rustic edge. Using an angle grinder with a diamond wheel, score the line you just scribed. Flip the stone over and try to match what you did on the first side.

Scoring the stone on both sides will create a breaking point. Gently tap the piece you want to remove with a hammer and it should fall away. This technique may take a little practice but after a stone or two, you will get the hang of it.

This is the easiest way to make nice tight spaces between the stones. By using one stone to trace the other you maintain the natural looking shape rather than cutting straight lines to make them fit.

Place your first stone and pitch it the way you like, making sure it’s supported completely with sand. Find your next piece and off you go. Try not to have too many seams in a row. It just looks better to have a seam broken up after a rock or two.

finishing off a flagstone patio

If and when you place the last piece in place, take a breath and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.

After a short rest it’s time to fill the cracks with more sand. Use polymer sand if your seams are 2 inches or less. The polymer sand resists washing out and minimizes weeds. Once it gets wet the polymer sand will lock the whole thing together.

finishing a flagstone patio

Dump out a bag or two depending on the size of your project and sweep it around with a push broom until all the cracks are filled. Now wet the whole thing down. Try not to blast the cracks and wash the sand out.

Now that you put your “puzzle” together it’s time to finish the edges and bring the whole thing together. I used the dirt from where the patio was going and created a berm.

Just adding a few plants really help to set the whole thing off. Now mulch and voila! Instant outdoor entertaining space.

planting and mulch around a flagstone patio

In Conclusion

That’s all there is to it. Don’t put it off until next season. Start now and before you know it you will be enjoying your new patio.

Put all the pieces together one at a time. It may look overwhelming but if you go step by step anyone can accomplish this. Hope you found this useful. I would love to hear about projects you have created to bring your outdoor space to life. Please comment below. Until next time… enjoy your backyard water garden.

Building a Dry Stack Stone Wall

dry stacked stone wallBuilding a dry stack stone wall is not as difficult as it looks if you follow a few guidelines.  You can create a beautiful dry stacked stone retaining wall that won’t look like someone just dumped a pile of rocks around your garden.  You can also use these techniques when you are rocking in your pond.  If you follow these guidelines you will have a sturdy wall that will last for years.


As with many things in life, you must start with a strong solid foundation.  The success of your project depends on this.  To begin with, dig down below grade. Keeping it as flat as possible.  If you are putting your stone wall on a hillside or ground with any sort of slant to it, then you want to start at the lowest point.  Dig down an inch or so below the lowest point.

This next part all depends on what type of climate you live in.  I am in the north east United States and we get our share of wintery weather. For me it is important to have proper drainage below your wall to prevent it from shifting during the freezing and thawing cycles.  This can be easily accomplished by simply adding about an inch or so of gravel below your first course.

By placing gravel below your wall you allow the water to drain out from beneath reducing your chances of the wall shifting due to excess rain or snow.

Keep It Tight

Be sure to compact the dirt or gravel to reduce settling. Try not to disturb the ground deeper than you plan on digging when you dig to lay your first course.  Keep your shovel flat will also reduce the amount of settling that occurs.

Start laying your first course.  Try to keep the size of the rocks random.  You don’t want to use all your large rocks in one course.  When laying the first course, find the flattest edge of the rock you intend to use and keep that on the top.  This creates a flat surface for the next rock to rest on.

The uneven portion of the rock can be placed in the ground.  Move the gravel around and ensure that your first course is straight and the flattest parts of your rocks are fairly level.  This is important because as you build your wall up all the uneven and unleveled parts will be magnified.  Sort of like a ripple in a calm body of water.

If you are building on a hillside, keep stepping up the courses and dig out your foundation as you go.  Lay your first course, then dig out where the next course will disappear into the hillside.  Then lay your second course across the entire wall.  Then dig in for your third course and so on.

Building up properly

well made dry stacked stone wallAs your awesome new masterpiece starts to take shape, remember these things take time.  Not just any rock will fit.  This is what separates the “men from the boys”.  I have built up most of a wall and stood back to look at it, and wasn’t “feeling” what I was looking at.  At that point I undid a course or two and then rebuilt it.

Remember when you do this, especially if it is for yourself, you are the one that has to look at it so take your time and make it what you imagine it could be.

As you build up it is very important to break the vertical seam.  What I mean by this is to make a letter “T”.  As you build you may have one or two courses where the seams between the stones line up with one another.  It is important to break that seam by laying another stone across the seam.

Never go further than three courses without breaking the seam.  That’s the rule of thumb that I use and it has suited me well.  This adds strength and stability to your wall.  If you don’t break the seam, the wall will topple over.

Drainage and backfill

gravelBuilding your wall up, it is important to back fill behind it as you go.  This will help tie everything together to give you a “rock solid” finished product.  It is important to have proper drainage behind your wall to help alleviate the pressure from excess rain or melting snow.

To be sure your wall is backfilled properly, bring dirt up to about 4” – 6” from the back of the wall.  Do this as you go.  Bring the dirt up every one or two courses.  As you bring the dirt up there will be a gap between the dirt and your wall.  Fill the gap with gravel.  This will allow water to escape without washing out your awesome wall.

If you have major drainage issues where your wall is being built, you can also place drain tile (4” perforated flexible drain pipe) behind the wall before backfilling it to help guide the water to where you want it to go.  Just remember water will always go to the lowest point trying to seek its own level.

I have seen many mistakes where people thought that just because they put in drain tile the water would just magically flow against gravity.  Just a side note, that’s all.  If you do use drain tile or any other method just be sure that it is place and pitched in the direction you want it to flow.

Use a Dead Man to Hold It Together

As your wall begins to take shape there is another technique you may want to take advantage of.  This also depends on how high you intend to build your wall.  If it is nothing more than 2 or 3 courses high then don’t bother with this, however if it is of significant height this will be paramount to your success.

Instead of just having all your rocks follow the wall in a line, use longer rocks and lay them so the face is flush with the outside of the wall, but the rest of the large rock goes back into the dirt behind it.  This technique ties the wall in to the dirt it is retaining.  These dead men act as anchors keeping your wall secure and tying the whole thing together.

Keep At It

short stone wallBuilding a stone wall isn’t for everyone.  If you are like me and loved playing with Legos as a kid, then I think you should give it a shot.  It’s like having a never ending Lego set.  Yes, all the pieces may not fit perfectly together but when you find that perfect fit and your progress is rolling along, there is no better feeling.

One last word of advise, be sure you have enough rocks before you start.  When you think you have enough, get more.  You can never have enough, and when you are looking for that perfect fit it’s better to have many to choose from.  The last picture in this post was a poor attempt at a wall, I used all the rocks, and the ones you see are all I had left.

Just like people have writers block, the same type of thing can happen with a project like this.  The best remedy is to walk away for a bit and then come back to it.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they sure have some beautiful stone work that has stood the test of time.


A dry stacked stone wall has a certain romantic charm to it.  It brings something magical to the landscape.  I would love to hear your experiences with this type of project.  Did you set out to build it and give up?  Did you seek out help?  What kinds of stones do you use for your projects?  Please leave any comments or questions below.  I would love to hear from you, and will respond ASAP.  Thanks for reading and keep building!


Polished Concrete Countertops

Polished Concrete Countertops

Bring the wow factor to your grill island with polished concrete countertops.  Your grill island is really starting to look like something great.  Time to put the icing on the cake. I will show you how to get professional looking results step by step.  Follow along and when you’re done you will will be left with an amazing BBQ grill island, or outdoor kitchen.

You’ve come this far… why not

You have a raw slab of concrete resting on your beautiful stone or tile work. So let’s finish it off and make it look spectacular. This is how you make polished concrete countertops. Doing this process, will make it look worse before it looks better. You will need to purchase or rent a concrete polisher, then you will be ready to get started.  Let’s take a look at all the materials we need before we begin.

hand held concrete polishersMaterial List:

  • Portland cement
  • Fine grout
  • Acrylic bonder
  • Concrete sealer

Tools Required:

  • Concrete polisher
  • Diamond polishing disk set
  • 8” drywall knife
  • Safety glasses
  • Rubber gloves
  • Rain gear

Do It Yourself Concrete Polishing

Hand held concrete polishers all work about the same. Look for one that has variable speed so you can adjust it to fit the finish you are trying to achieve. I found this polisher to work the best (amazon affiliate link). It comes with the polishing disks.

Some polishing disk sets, come with more grits than others, but they are all numbered. The lower the number, the courser and more aggressive the grit. These disk sets are fairly cheap. Here is a link (Amazon) if you are getting discs separately.

Start with the coarsest grit, it may be 30 or 60, and start removing the surface layer of the concrete. Be sure to keep it flat, holding it at an angle will create an uneven surface, especially with such an aggressive grit. Do this over the entire area. When you’re done it will look worse than when you started. You can see the difference in the picture below between polished and unpolished.

hand held concrete polishers

Add That Personal Touch

This is a great time to add an edge to your top with the aggressive grit. It will remove material very quickly. You can add a bevel or a round over. Play around with it. This is one of those skills you get better at the more you do. I put a bevel on the upper top and a round-over on the lower.

hand held concrete polishersWhen you are finished you will notice holes and crevices all throughout your top. Don’t freak out, this is perfectly normal. I know you thought you got all the air bubbles out, guess again! Now mix up a dry mix of 1 part Portland cement, and 1-part fine grout (I used fine grout because I had some left over from another project. The color of your grout will affect the color of your slurry. I used a black grout so it would blend in and be subtle). Instead of using water, use latex bonder. This will help the tiny bit you will be filling the holes with, stay put.

how to polish concrete countertopsPour the mixture, or slurry on your countertop. Use an 8-inch drywall putty knife to spread it around and push it into all the voids. Allow it to dry for 20 minutes or so, then use the knife to scrape off all the excess. Now walk away and let it set up overnight.

Using 100 grit on your polisher, remove all the slurry. Depending on the size of the holes, and how much your slurry mixture shrunk, you may need to repeat the above process. Once you are happy with the top and all the voids are filled move on to the next step.

Get Out Your Rain Gear

hand held concrete polishersdo it yourself concrete polishing before pictureThis takes some time and getting used to. You WILL get soaked. Now that you’ve got the whole thing polished to 100 grit it’s time to put in the elbow grease and make it shine. Go over the entire top, and sides with each grit. Be sure to rinse off the top between grits to get rid of any excess material. Let the polisher do the work. No need to press down hard. As you go it will look a little more beautiful with every pass. When you are finished you won’t believe that it is just ordinary concrete. It’s just the icing on the cake!

AHHH… The Finish

Allow the top to dry completely before adding sealer to it. There are countess options for this as well. I just chose a high gloss sealer to bring out the colors in the concrete.

If you are going to acid stain your top, now is the time to do it. I don’t have experience with acid stain, but I have seen the amazing results you can achieve with it.

If you plan on experimenting, I suggest this acid stain sample kit (amazon link). After all that hard work it’s a good idea to “try it before you buy it”.

Again, it all depends on the look you desire. As you can see below, sealing the concrete really brings out the natural color.

do it yourself concrete polishing

how to polish concrete countertopshow to polish concrete countertopsAccording to the manufacturer of the sealer I used required the concrete be at a certain temperature, and not in direct sunlight for proper curing. This was accomplished by doing it later in the evening when the summer sun went down. Be sure to follow the manufacturer instructions for best results. I applied the sealer with a 4” foam roller. This type of roller had 0 nap, to leave a smooth finish.

Lights, Then Action

outside lights for your houseoutside lights for your houseoutside lights for your houselights for outside your houseNow for my favorite part, adding the lighting. I used relatively cheap LED lighting. These aren’t just average outside lights for your house. The color of these lights can be changed by remote control to match any mood you desire. Since the lighting will be installed under the countertop lip, it will be kept out of the weather. I’ve had mine for 2 seasons without issue. These lights (link to amazon) come encased in a silicone type material. To install them I used clear silicone and placed a heavy bead under the countertop. I then encased the lights in the silicone. This method worked incredibly well.

Final Thoughts

What a difference polished concrete countertops make.  Customized for your outdoor space.  It truly is amazing what an inviting atmosphere a backyard barbecue grill island creates. You may start to make some new friends with the neighbors when they smell the tempting aroma of delicious grilled food and see the fantastic space you’ve created. All the hard work finally pays off, creating something that will last for years with little to no maintenance. Enjoy what has been done before moving on to the next project!

I would love to hear about your success stories and challenges you may have had doing your own projects.  Drop a comment below, and if you have any questions feel free to leave them below as well.  I will be more than happy to answer them.



Building Your Own Concrete Countertops

Building your own concrete countertops are easier than you think.  Have you ever wanted to have an amazing outdoor bar or grill island that will stand up to the elements and look impressive year after year?  This is a fantastic project that’s the icing on the cake of that awesome grill island you built in the previous post.  Perhaps you need a custom top for your outdoor bar.  There is nothing like a concrete countertop!

First Things First

This is its own project all together, but when it goes on your island it will be most impressive! We will start similar to the foundation, not with digging, but with a form.

Measure your island and be sure of the dimensions before you start. Because of the irregular shape of the stones on the sides I wanted a 2” overhang on all sides. This time instead of using 2 x 4’s for forms we are going to use melamine. The reason for this is it is much easier to remove, and the texture leaves the countertop with a relatively smooth surface.

Cut your pieces for the top of the countertop 1.5 inches wider, to accommodate for the installation of the side pieces. Cut strips for side pieces as thick as you want your countertop. Mine was about 2” thick.
Clamp the side pieces in place one at a time and predrill and countersink the screws. If you don’t countersink the screws, they will be in your way when it comes down to leveling off the concrete.

Keep It Clean

Once your form is all screwed together, remove any dirt or sawdust that is on the surface. This can be done with a lint free rag and rubbing alcohol. Compressed air also works well to remove sawdust, just be sure to wipe it down before you go to the next step.
Using clear or white silicone place a small bead ¼ inch or so, on all the seams and smooth them out with your finger. Be sure there is no excess, as that will leave a void in the finished product. Again, be sure the surface is clean and let the silicone set up for 24 hours before the next step.

Another Crossroads

There are two ways to go about making this countertop. One is to pour your concrete, let it cure, remove the form, flip it over, seal it and viola “instant” countertop! If this is the route you choose then you can skip down to the next section. If you want to stick with me, then read on. The other option is the same, except after you flip it over the top and sides get polished. This is the rout I chose. If you plan on polishing your project, it allows you to place objects and designs into your top!

DIY concrete countertop with designNow is the time to unleash your creative side! After all you ARE building your own concrete countertop, why not put your won “stamp” on it.

For my project I needed to create 2 forms. One for the main surface for grilling, and one for people to sit at and enjoy the food and conversation. For the latter, I decided to place some broken glass and a “K” representing my last name. Now you don’t have to do as I do… I’m just giving an idea of what is possible.

That Personal Touch

To create the “K” I took one of the rocks and sliced it into ½ inch thick pieces on my wet saw. Then I cut the slices into strips to form the letter.  I drew a circle on my form, and used white glue and covered the circle. I was thinking it would work the same way glitter works, on projects from preschool. I’m returning to my childhood here!
I placed my pieces of cut stone and pressed them into the center to form the letter. Then I took the broken red glass and sprinkled it all around within the circle. Allow the whole thing to dry overnight.

Not sure if regular white glue is the best thing to use to hold it all in place, but it worked OK for me.  On my next project I will try using rubber cement or something a little more durable than white school glue.

Mix It Up

It’s time to get our hands dirty once again. My choice in concrete was a high early strength concrete. There are other types of concrete on the market specifically for concrete countertops, but for price and convenience I choose a type that was readily available to me at my local home improvement store.

To determine how much concrete you will need refer to the concrete calculator.
Mix the concrete thoroughly into a peanut butter like consistency, then shovel, or bucket it into your form. I started in the corners first, and made sure to pack it tightly. If you are going to put a design on your top, be sure not to disturb it too much when you place the concrete on top of it. It works OK if you pack it straight down, but try not to move it side to side.
Fill the form completely, then use a straight 2 x 4, or other straight edge level off the top, by moving it back and forth in a sawing motion. The same way it was done for the foundation.

Time For a Shakedown

To remove any voids and air pockets the whole thing needs to be vibrated. This allows the air to rise to the surface. Remember, your countertop is upside down, so any air will leave a void in the top. I’ve seen people use a rubber mallet to accomplish this, but it seemed like a lot of work, especially on a large countertop. My solution was to use my reciprocating saw without a blade on it. I held it directly under the form, and on the sides, and vibrated it like crazy. It’s amazing how much air gets trapped in the concrete during the mixing and pouring process. Do this until minimal air bubbles rise to the surface… yes, it takes a while.

Take A Break

The key to curing concrete is to not let it cure too quickly. I kept my counter covered with plastic for a week, spraying it with a hose daily to keep it moist. This helps to slow down the curing process, and to keep it from cracking. I poured my concrete into the form that I had resting right on the grill island. It took approximately 4 and ½, 80 lbs. bags weighing 360 lbs. total. That’s 163.3 kilograms for my friends outside the United States. This thing is too heavy for one man to move!
After it was cured for a minimum of one L O N G week it was time to remove the form and reveal my creation. Take care in removing the form. The concrete can still chip off the edges. Use a pry-bar against a piece of wood for the stubborn pieces, never use your pry-bar directly on the concrete.

Breaks Over

This next part took some engineering for sure. The task was to flip this monster and then place it exactly where it had to be. This is where we go back to that famous nation… DETERMI-NATION. There were 5 people to help and a determined mind, so using leverage, the top was maneuvered onto a few 2 x 4’s and my picnic table. We then slid the top, with the form still under it and the sides removed onto the 2 x 4’s.
installing a concrete countertop
With the counter off the island I mixed up a batch of mortar and placed a bed all around the perimeter of the grill island. Then using all our might, we flipped the monstrosity over. Slowly and carefully we put it in position and laid it to rest. If you do this, remember communication is key when working with other people. The whole process is no way to lose a finger, or worse, just be careful!

I repeated this step again for the upper countertop. That’s the one with the broken glass in it. Being much smaller and lighter, it was easier to maneuver, and required fewer of my tired friends. In the next segment you can see the entire project completed.

In Conclusion:

As you can see, it’s not too difficult to build your own concrete countertops, and get a professional looking result. If all you were after is a solid place to slice, dice, and roll out your pizza dough, mission accomplished. Just seal the concrete and enjoy. If you are like me and just HAVE to go that extra step further, go to the next post to see how the finishing touches can make all the difference.

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Cinder Block BBQ Island – More Than Just Blocks

DIY cinder block bb grill island

Grill Island Phase 2

When you hear someone say they are building a cinder block bbq island you probably get a certain picture in your mind and think of an unappealing cinder block wall.  Well the blocks are only the bones of the project, and when we are finished we are going to have something custom, and high class.  If you do this you will not be disappointed.  You are creating something that will stand the test of time.

Your foundation is in place it’s time to lay your first course of cinder blocks. I laid mine out first to be sure everything would fit properly before I started mixing any mortar. When laying cinder blocks in this fashion, use a string line to keep your “wall” straight. It’s very easy to start drifting off.

Build Up Your Barbecue Grill Island

I found this whole process a bit tricky. Not to discourage you, but it does take a bit of practice to lay down just the right amount of mortar for your blocks to rest in. You can watch video after video, but until you actually try it you will never know how difficult it truly is.

All you need for this part of the project is patience, cinder blocks, mortar, and a good trowel.

Since I wasn’t experienced, it took me a lot longer, and I wasted a lot of mortar! But the only way to learn is to try. One more hint is to only mix up as much mortar as you can use in 15 to 20 minutes. This will help to cut down on the waste as well.

Remove your blocks from the foundation and using 2 stakes, one on either side. Run a string line exactly where you want your blocks to sit. Keep your level nearby because you will be using it very soon. Now scoop up some mortar with your trowel and make 2 strips of it about 1” wide and about 1” high for either side of your block to sit on. Place the same size amount on the end as well.

Grab your block and place it evenly on the fresh bed of mortar. Be sure not to push down on it too much, as it will squish a lot of the mortar out. Now use your level and the handle of your trowel to tap the block until it is level.

One down, all the rest to go! Place a bed of mortar on the end of the block you just laid so it will connect to the next block you will lay, and another bed of mortar for it to set in. Repeat this process until you’ve laid the first course.

And Then There Were Two

Starting on the second course, be sure to stagger your seams. If you don’t, that will create weak points in the wall and you will have issues down the road. Just keep everything straight and level and you will be fine.

The average height of a counter top is about 4 eight-inch cinder blocks high, approximately 32 inches. If all you want is a counter top, stop there. I went one more course where the bar area is. This gave a good backdrop for my grill, and also elevated the people sitting there so we could strike up conversation as the food was being prepared.

After you’ve laid your final course, let it cure for a few days. The length of time depends on the temperature and the humidity.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

What look do you want to achieve? You could use a stone veneer, real stone, or even tile. The sky is the limit when it comes to the variety of choices available. I chose something timeless. Plus, I have an extremely generous neighbor who is a farmer, that allowed me to take all the rock I wanted from his field down the road.
So when I say that my island is made of field stone, it truly is made from stone right out of the field down the road. Thanks again Big John.

Once you’ve decided on the look start mortaring all of it up. If you are using tile, be sure to dry fit and plan it out before you start so you don’t wind up with a sliver of a tile at one end. In my case all the shapes were random and it took a lot of trial and error to get the stones to fit just right.

If you are using random shaped rocks, take your time. Make sure you are happy with the way it looks before the mortar cures. This thing is built like a tank and you will be looking at it for many years, so be sure you are content.

As you can see from the pictures, some rocks were quite heavy and required bracing until the mortar set. If you are using some sort of manufactured stone veneer it will probably go much quicker as they are manufactured to be laid a certain way.

Appreciate What You Accomplished

This took me a month to complete. Probably because I’m very picky and had to use just the right stone, in just the right place. The best feeling is when you put on the last stone! You may even want someone there to give you a drum roll when you do it (I did)!

I also used a couple of 4 x 4’s to go across the two openings you see in the picture. This is so I can easily attach doors, by screwing hinges into the wood in the future. I covered the wood with cement backer board and then with the field stone. I used a grinder with a diamond blade to make sure the rocks were not sticking up past the cinder blocks, to allow the counter top to sit flat on the top.
Inside the island I installed two wire shelves braced up on bricks. This is a great place to store all your grilling supplies and keep them out of the weather right at the point of use!

Fill The Gaps

Once you’ve admired work for a bit and how far you’ve come, it’s time to fill in the gaps between the rocks with mortar. Doing this will bind them all together and help hold up the heavy rocks during the freezing and thawing cycles of the seasons, at least where I live.

Use a grout bag (Amazon link) for this procedure. A grout bag looks like the thing used in the bakery to frost cakes. It works fairly well. Mix up your mortar and make not as stiff as normal so you can squeeze it through the grout bag hole. Then starting at the bottom, squeeze the mortar into the gaps. Be sure to use rubber gloves as the chemicals in the mortar will eat your skin away after too much exposure.

The easiest technique I found was to squeeze in the mortar, then smooth it out with my finger. I know there is a tool for this, but I felt I had more control doing it that way. As you go make sure to remove any excess mortar that may have gotten onto the rocks before it cures.

Do one side at a time. Once you are finished with one, go back to where you started and using a paintbrush smooth out all the cracks. The paintbrush leaves a nice texture as well and makes it all look uniform.

In conclusion:

Your walls look great, and are built to last. A project like this is not done overnight. It takes perseverance, dedication, and my favorite… DETERMINATION! Nice job so far. As you can see cinder block BBQ islands don’t have to look like plain cinder blocks! In the next section we will be putting the icing on the cake. The concrete counter top.

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Outdoor Kitchen Grill Islands

Let me propose a question… What could be better than relaxing by the beautiful water garden pond or pondless waterfall you created with your bear hands. Yes, bear hands, because that’s how your hands feel after all that digging!

The answer is, relaxing by your beautiful water garden with a plate of delicious food that you prepared on your new outdoor kitchen grill island. And of course a nice cool beverage to go with it!

Yes, it’s time for yet another project to bring us closer to that at home getaway feel. This time we will be building a stone outdoor kitchen grill island with concrete counter tops.

Location is Key

As before, it’s important to select the right location. You don’t want to travel too far back and forth from your kitchen to your grill. It is also important to orient the entire project in such a way that it creates an inviting area for people to gather and enjoy the view of your water garden.

This is where I may have made a “mistake” in a selfish way. When I created my grill island, it is oriented so the one doing the cooking (ME) gets the best view of the waterfall, while the people at the bar only get to have a conversation with the grill master! But hey, what more could you want… I’m awesome!

When you plan out your project, just keep all that in mind. It’s things like that, that you don’t think of until after, when it’s too late.

When it comes to outdoor kitchen grill islands, you are only limited by your imagination. The island I built was a simple L formation. With a project like this you can always add to it in the future if you didn’t make it large enough or just want a bigger area for seating and entertaining.

Once you have decided on the location and the shape of your next masterpiece, measure it all out, and then use a can of spray paint to outline the foundation. It will be necessary to remove an area 8 inches wider than you plan the island to be.

For this project, my dimensions for my foundation were 16″ wide everywhere, which allows 4″ on either side of the 8″ wide blocks. The other 3 lengths being 32″ X 80″ X 88″

When doing your layout keep in mind the dimensions of the cinder blocks. The ones used were 8” x 8” x 16”. Make it easy on yourself and create a form that will accommodate these dimensions so you don’t have to cut any of the blocks.

Nothing Worthwhile Is Easy

Hopefully your hands and back have healed some since your last project. Now it’s time to break out you two best friends… your shovel, and your will and start digging again!  Remember it is important to know there are no underground utilities before you dig.  Always call before you dig.

You want to remove dirt until you are 12 inches from where the top of your foundation will be. In order to achieve this, you will need wooden stakes, a hammer, a level, and a string line. After you paint out your outline take one stake at the highest part of your site and pound It Into the ground. The top of this stake will be the top of your foundation.

Now pound another stake in around the perimeter. Now place your level on the first stake and pond the second stake in the ground until the top of both stakes are level. If your stakes are further apart than your level is long, rest your level on the straightest 2 X 4 you can find and use that span the gap.

Go around the entire perimeter and set a stake every 4 feet or so. This will ensure that you reach the proper depth. Now dig down until you are 12 below the top of your stakes. Be sure not to disturb the ground deeper than you plan on digging. Leaving this ground undisturbed will help stop your foundation from settling.

Use a hand tamper and compact the dirt on the bottom of your trench. If you are planning on having electricity in your island, now would be the time to put your conduit in place. Thinking ahead when doing a project like this will really pay off. Even if you don’t put electric out there immediately, at least you have an easy way to do it in the future.

Now That You’re Down…

Now fill the trench back up with 2” crusher run, the same kind of stone you would use to make a stone driveway. This will allow for proper draining beneath your island. Fill the trench to 6 inches below the top of your stakes. Use the hand tamper as you go to make sure everything is nice and tight.

It’s time to make your forms. This is sort of like a negative… remember when you had to wait to get your pictures developed, anyways the space inside the form you build will be your foundation. I used 2 x 4’s to build my form. The wood gave the foundation a clean edge and the ground acted as the lower part of the form.

When you make your form I recommend using screws. This way you can easily take it apart after it has cured. Be sure to screw it on the outside of the form because once you add the concrete you will not have access to the screws beneath the concrete.

Here is an example of the form I used:

Now take your form and level the whole thing. Pound in stakes next to it, once the top of the form is where you want it, screw your stake to the form to hold it all in place. Use your level to check from side to side and in line. This is one of the most important steps. Everything in this project is counting on your strong level foundation.

Figure out how many bags of concrete you will need for your project based on the calculations provided by the concrete manufacturer. Always be sure to buy a couple extra just in case.

Before you begin mixing concrete, you will want to reinforce the concrete with rigid wire mesh. Cut it so that it covers the trench. It does not’t have to go all the way to the edges. Using pieces of cut off wire as legs, prop the mesh above the driveway stone so it is suspended above it.

Mix It Up

Get out your trusty wheel barrow and begin mixing your concrete. It’s important to mix it thoroughly so the concrete will cure properly and not have weak spots. Begin to pour the concrete at one end of the trench and fill it to the top of your forms.

As you go, you will need another 2 x 4 and a helping hand. Place the board on the form, spanning over the freshly poured concrete and move it side to side in a sawing motion, while pulling it across the new slab. This will show where more concrete may need to be added. It’s OK if some spills over the edge. Making a mess is all part of the fun!

Keep adding concrete and leveling off the top until the entire foundation is poured. Once you’ve done this allow the concrete to set up a bit, then using a concrete float, go and smooth out the top. This step isn’t all that necessary for this particular project because all of it will be covered by the island.

Finishing concrete is definitely a skill I wish I had. But I figured this was a chance to practice and no one would be the wiser. Give it a shot and let out your inner mason! Full disclosure, prior to this project I had very minimal experience with any type of masonry. If I could do it … so can you!

So Far

Outdoor kitchen grill islands can give you that feeling you’re away while in the comfort of your own backyard. What we’ve created so far is a 6-inch thick floating concrete slab to begin building your outdoor kitchen. Although this is not a glamorous phase of the project it is the most important to get right.


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