How to Make a Level Outdoor Seating Area

Written by philip schmidt
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How to Make a Level Outdoor Seating Area
A level seating area is essential for outdoor entertaining. (patio image by fotogisèle from

Whether your goal is to create a patio-like stage for entertaining or a simple gravel plot for backyard picnics and cookouts, levelling the area for seating involves the same basic process. Once the site is excavated and prepared with a gravel base for drainage, the steps for installing the surface paving depend on the material you choose.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Stakes
  • Mason's string
  • Line level
  • Excavation tools
  • Tape measure
  • Gravel
  • Rake
  • Plate compactor
  • Outdoor surface materials (as needed)

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  1. 1

    Mark the outline of the project area by driving a stake at each corner. Tie a mason's string between each pair of stakes, using a line level to make sure each string is level and all strings are level with one another. Tie the strings several inches above the ground so they won't be in the way while you dig.

  2. 2

    Remove any sod or other plantings, then excavate the ground in the project area to a depth that allows for 4 inches of gravel, plus the thickness of the surface material (and any bed layer, such as sand for pavers). Measure down from the level strings to check the depth as you work; all of the excavation should be the same distance from the strings, and therefore level. Use temporary cross strings set at the height of the perimeter strings to check the depth over the interior of the site.

  3. 3

    Add a 4-inch layer of gravel or crushed stone and spread it evenly with a rake, again measuring from the strings to ensure the gravel is at a uniform height. Compact the gravel with a rented plate compactor or a hand tamp.

  4. 4

    Pave the area with your choice of surface materials. You can add loose materials, such as decomposed granite or trap rock, right over the gravel base, and compact it for added stability, if desired. Or, you can apply a bed layer of sand, then set down concrete pavers, brick or flagstone for a traditional patio finish.

Tips and warnings

  • If the site is steeply sloped, you may consider building a low retaining wall on the high side of the seating area, to help prevent soil from washing and eroding onto the paved surface. These are easiest to build using concrete retaining wall block; follow the manufacturer's directions for installation.
  • If drainage is a concern, you can slope your seating area to one side at 1/8 inch per linear foot. It will feel level underfoot, but water won't pool on the surface.

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