How to Pour a Concrete Sidewalk

by Team HomeServe
Construction worker pour cement for sidewalk in new residential home

Pouring a Concrete Sidewalk at a Glance

  • Step 1: Mark path
  • Step 2: Begin digging
  • Step 3: Assemble forms
  • Step 4: Pack soil and lay gravel
  • Step 5: Lay concrete mesh
  • Step 6: Order concrete
  • Step 7: Pour concrete
  • Step 8: Flatten concrete
  • Step 9: Cut control joints
  • Step 10: Add texture
  • Step 11: Let it cure

Concrete is a strong, durable and versatile construction material — but it tends to scare a lot of DIYers. It’s actually a lot easier to work with than you think. Laying down your own concrete sidewalk can save you a lot of money on labor costs. This type of project requires a lot of planning, making adjustments for weather conditions and understanding how to pour concrete. You’ll probably need an extra hand as well, so invite a few friends or family members to assist you.

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Laying down a concrete sidewalk does pose some risks for you and your crew, so it’s extremely important that you protect yourself when working with the material. Make sure you’re equipped with eye protection, gloves, long pants, sleeves, a change of clothes and rubber boots.

How Thick Should a Concrete Sidewalk Be?

You want your concrete sidewalk to be at least 4 inches thick to ensure it’s going to be durable and support all the weight that might be placed on it throughout its life. As long as you’re ordering concrete, you’re better off ordering more than you need than not ordering enough for your project. It comes in cubic yards, so you’ll need to perform a few calculations to be sure you can complete the job.

Since you’re creating a concrete walkway that is 4 inches thick, you’ll want to multiply the width in feet by the length in feet of your sidewalk by 0.33. This will give you a volume in cubic feet. Now divide by 27, and you’ve got the number of cubic yards of concrete you need to pour. As previously mentioned, you should order more to ensure you’ve got enough in case of surprises. Ordering about 5% more than your measurements is a good idea.

Do You Need Gravel Under a Concrete Sidewalk?

Laying a gravel base for your cement sidewalk is best in most cases. There are numerous threats to the foundation of your walkway you have no control over, and gravel addresses things such as shifting soil and moisture buildup. It can also help keep the sidewalk level. In hot weather climates without much topsoil, you may be able to pour concrete sidewalks directly on sand. Even in these cases, it’s often advised to use gravel because it won’t hurt.

Can You Pour Concrete Directly on Dirt?

You shouldn’t pour your concrete directly on dirt because the weight is likely to cause the ground to shift beneath it. Tree roots and flooding can threaten the stability of your foundation. Eventually, the concrete will crack and invite unsightly weed growth.

How Do You Lay a Concrete Sidewalk?

Learning how to pour concrete isn’t difficult, but it requires a lot of patience and planning. You only want to pour concrete when weather conditions are favorable. If there is a forecast of freezing temperatures, excessive heat or rain, move the job to a different day. Rain is the biggest concern as it can ruin your concrete if it hasn’t had the chance to set.

This isn’t a solo job and requires a moderate skill level. So, enlist the help of some able bodies before taking on this DIY project. Once you’ve got a plan of attack, here’s how to pour a concrete sidewalk:

Step 1: Mark Your Path

Determine the exact path of your sidewalk. Use hardboard siding, temporary stakes, a spacer block and spray paint. The hardboard siding will allow you to see if the curvature of your path is too sharp.

Step 2: Begin Digging

This step is the most time-consuming part of building your sidewalk. You’ll run into surprises along the way, such as tree roots and other disturbances in the ground. Be prepared to remove these obstacles as you encounter them. A sod cutter is a really useful tool for this step in the process, and you can rent one from a hardware store. Dig to a depth of 8 inches to make way for the gravel underlayment and dig an extra 3 inches past your paint markings.

Step 3: Put the Forms Together

Using cheaper hardboard works in your favor for this step because it is more flexible. It lets you contour your path with better curves if you’re looking to make the path more rounded. Drive stakes every 3 feet, then attach the hardboard to the stakes with splice blocks and drywall screws. To space the other side, you can use a 1x4 cut about a 1/4 inch longer than your planned width. This method will make sure your sidewalk is not wider in some spots and thinner in others.

Step 4: Pack the Soil and Lay the Gravel

It is important to have an even surface to pour your concrete sidewalk onto. You can rent a plate compactor to pack the soil and remove any uneven surfaces. This provides added stability to the walkway when it’s finished. Then, lay down 4 inches of gravel so you’re able to fill the other 4 inches with your concrete.

Step 5: Protect the Sidewalk with Concrete Mesh

Don’t skip this step, as laying down steel mesh will stabilize your concrete and prevent cracks in the future. Safety is a concern, so take your time, work with another person and communicate the entire time. Because the mesh is tightly wound, both you and your partner need to keep weight on the mesh at all times when you are cutting it to size. Use bolt cutters to cut the mesh and wear eye protection to protect yourself from flying wires.

Overlap the mesh ends. You want about 6 inches of overlap between mesh layers, and you want to wrap the wires on one end to the other to ensure uniformity.

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Step 6: Order Concrete

Now that you’ve done all of your prep work, you’re able to pour the concrete sidewalk. As stated before, check weather conditions and don’t be afraid to cancel delivery if it’s going to rain or drop below freezing overnight. It’s best to arrange for a morning delivery so that you’re not working at night by the end of your pour.

Step 7: Pour the Concrete

It’s easiest if you’ve got two people moving concrete from the delivery truck in wheelbarrows while another person is forming the concrete. The person forming it should level it out using a steel rake and make sure that it fills in the entire space.

Step 8: Flatten the Concrete

Two people can do this using a 2x4 in a sawing motion to move over the top of the concrete. This is best done as your other volunteers are continuing to pour and level the concrete ahead of you so that you can continue seamlessly.

Finish flattening the concrete with a bull float. Make sure that the surface is completely free of water before using your bull float to further level the top of the concrete path. Lift the back edge as you pull toward your body and the front edge as you push away. Once the concrete has hardened to the point that you’re unable to make an impression in it with your finger, use a mag float to finish smoothing out the surface.

Step 9: Cut Control Joints

Next, cut your control joints to prevent random cracking. You want all your sidewalk segments to be about the same size, so try to make each part 5 to 6 feet long. Divide the total length of your path to determine the size of each portion. Then, use a straight edge and groover to cut your control joints.

Step 10: Add Texture With a Broom

Once the concrete is firm enough to sweep, pull the broom toward you and overlap every 6 inches. If you find that you’re pulling up parts of the concrete, smooth it back out with your mag float and give it a little more time before trying again.

Step 11: Let It Cure

Cover your new concrete sidewalk with a sheet of plastic for about a day, and spray it with water each day to help it cure. It needs moisture to complete the curing process, so a light spray each day for a month will do the trick. It is best to wait several days — or even up to a week — before walking on freshly poured concrete.