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Building a Trash Can Pad :: Another Landscape Challenge Solved


Let’s call it “unfinished business.” After some time off from blogging, we’re (read: I’m) back in 2017. Writing about the final year, okay, two in our now old house. And I do hope to finish up this series. The whole thing – “How to Save a House.” (Maybe.)

The final projects, though, the ones I’ve posted in 2017, are grouped under the tag Victorian Farmhouse. We listed the Victorian Farmhouse in June 2016, and settled on it (after some delays) in October. We (the Moxies) moved to our new house, a Dutch Colonial, in September of last year. (And perhaps soon I pick that up as a whole ‘nother story line.)

Unlike the others so far this year, Building a Trash Can Stand, a Pad is a relatively simple and straightforward project. One that could benefit almost any house, regardless of its age, location and/or shape.

Completed in a weekend, it probably had little impact on the ultimate sale of our house. Instead, it was simply something I felt I needed to do – to “tighten things up”. It helped solve one of several troubled areas in this yard. Areas where mature trees laid down dense shade.


Landscaping / Lawn Challenges

While I of course welcome shade, for several reasons, and also the privacy that large trees provide, large, mature trees make it very difficult to grow nearly anything below them.

A ways back, you heard about one solution I came up with for an area of dense shade in this yard. Under a large decorative maple, I planted a shade tolerant ground cover, Vinca. That itself became part of its own post, Learning How to Landscape.

Note: For more on addressing areas of a lawn residing in heavy shade, see this post – Seeding a Lawn in Dense Shade.

Another highly challenged area of this yard sat off our driveway-side porch. (For a point of reference, I wrote about this side porch, in the article – Refinishing a Mahogany Porch.) On one side of the driveway, a cluster of holly trees created a shady grove. (This was also coincidentally my dumping ground for the clay-heavy soil I cut away from the rear of the house as we installed our paver patio.)

Across the driveway, a line of trees – some sitting on our property, others on the neighbors. Together, these trees created a shade zone for where not much apart from moss grew.

Within this zone, and just inside our gated driveway, our trash cans sat. As remodelers, it also became the location where a pile of discarded construction waste often grew. We would cut it down and it would grow again with each season. It’s roughly where our “dump pile,” as we came to call it, also sat.


Where Do You Sit Your Trash Cans?

It was just off the driveway and inside our fence that I replaced that dump pile with a trash can stand. Meaning – come trash collection days, I still had to pull the cans out for pick up. In another situation, you could build something similar right at a home’s street. (And perhaps this is something I may consider at my new house.)

What I built wasn’t so sophisticated as a Trash Can Corral, where you would build vertically to shield a set of cans. This pad/stand was simply a stable and level location for holding my trash cans and a recycling bin. For the largest part, I used scrap or surplus material I already had on on hand.

For more ideas, check out the pin board of Trash Can Corrals I’ve included at the bottom of this post.

The trash pad featured here was constructed using the following:

* Materials

* Tools

Building a Trash Can Pad

Here are the steps I took in building my trash can pad. While you may select different materials, even different techniques, the steps followed still should look roughly the same.

* Siting the Trash Can Pad

I started by siting my stand. I mean – as I’ve mentioned, I did already knew where it was going to sit. My cans had an obvious and natural location. To formalize it, though, I centered it on the strip of yard at the side of our driveway. In doing this, I was mindful of course that I’d be adding a 4 x 4 frame – a retaining element, amounting to 3 ½” at any side where a 4 x 4 would appear.

To help visualize, I simply laid down the bluestones. These were 2 x 3 fine-cut flagstones about an inch and eighth thick. Once temporarily set it place, they allowed me to get a good sense of the frame I’d need to build.

Note: I used a single bluestone as a base for a rain barrel elsewhere in the yard. For more on the Recycling Bin featured in this post – I built it with my youngest daughter, here. To read more about the types of stone (including bluestone) utilized in this type of project, here’s an article from SFGateStones Used in Landscaping.

* Laying out the Trash Can Pad

Tweaking and twisting, I squared up the stones not on the driveway, but instead measuring from the fence behind. At this point too, I determined that the stones would work best with about a 1” spacing in between (a space that I ultimately adjusted).

With this information, I formulated the inside location of my timber frame. Doing the Math: Side to Side – 1” (the spacing between stones) + 2’ (stone’s width) + 1” + 2’ + 1” + 2’ + 1” = 6 feet, 4 inches for the inside dimension of my frame. Front to Back – 3’ (length of the stone) + 2” (1″ spacing at the front and back of the stones) = 3 foot, 2 inches.

Note: At this point, I didn’t quite know that I wouldn’t add a timber to the front edge (though one may have given things a cleaner look).

Adding the width of the timbers (again 3 ½”) to these dimensions, I then marked the back outside corners of the pad’s footprint with a spot of marking paint. Alternatively, I could have driven stakes into the ground and ran a string with a line level hung from it – also a point of reference for leveling the grade.

* Considering Grade || Preparing to Adjust the Grade

Our yard pitched steadily from the street to the rear of the yard. The location for my trash can pad was no exception to this. To install the trash can stand, I would have to cut, as it is called, the grade at the top side of the pad and build up the downhill side of the pad. When finished the top timber would sit roughly flush with the ground.

Because this was a small project, I started by simply setting the timber frame. A larger footprint probably would have started first with finalizing the grade.

* Using 4 x 4 Timbers to Build the Frame for my Trash Can Pad

Because there was roughly a 6” fall across my pad, top to bottom, I’d have to stack two timbers at the low side (as well as along the back). As you read on, remember I was working with various lengths of scrap pressure-treated 4 x 4, some rated for ground contact, others not.

Rather unceremoniously, I started by setting my uphill side timber first. Cut to around 45” in length (as determined in part by layout above), I simply scratched away enough soil, and pulled any roots that intersected , such that this timber would lay level.

I checked level both side to side and front to back with a two-foot level. Wiggling and twisting, I was mindful of keeping the frame square. When I was happy, I gave it a couple whacks with a maul to set it roughly in place.

Now, since I jumped into setting the timbers in this manner, it forced me to make an important decision rather quickly. How would I stack and/or stagger timbers? Meaning – how would I treat the frame’s corners and how would I fasten everything?

I could have cut timbers such that they lapped in a stagger. More advanced even, one might consider a half lap. But honestly, I didn’t see the point on such a low key project. Because of the change in stack, one timber in some places and two in others, I planned to simply butt all joints.

How I came to 45″ for the side timbers – 3′ 2″ from above plus 3 1/2″ + 3 1/2″. My side timbers would just span the width of the rear timber. And while accounted for, in the end, I left out the front timber.

* Setting Timbers with Landscape Spikes & Fastening

As I began to work my way around the frame, I checked square frequently. I measured both from my fence behind and employed a carpenter’s square at the inside corners of the frame.

For the first timber, I used a 10” Galvanized Landscape Spike. I did this with all timbers that contacted the ground. For the top timbers (where two were stacked), I transitioned to 12” spikes.

Because I was dealing in various materials I had in surplus, I did have to improvise in some spots. For example, on the bottom timber in the rear leg of the frame, I had to pair two short lengths of timbers, ganging them with a mending plate – to get my required span.

For spikes, I pre-drilled using a 3/8″ auger bit. While likely oversized for this project, I had 3/8″ spikes on hand. As I continued with laying out the entire frame, I checked level frequently running either a 4-foot or a 6-foot level from the back leg of the frame to the front edge of the side legs. Once I was happy with everything, I used 6” HeadLok structural fasteners to tie the side legs of the frame into the back. I pre-drilled and used my impact driver to set the fasteners (as pictured).

* Adjusting the Grade and Building Up the Substrate

With the frame assembled, I began to consider the substrate – what my bluestones would sit on. I did a quick formulation of how I’d build the substrate. With this, I also figured how much material I’d be adding under the stones.

Remember my bluestones were 1 ⅛” thick – but I wasn’t going to sit them just on soil. I knew I’d have to cut the grade down even further to accept about an inch of Crush N’ Run as well as a half inch of Builders Sand. (Math: 1 ⅛” + ½” + 1” = 2 ⅝”.)

Because I was dealing with that pitched slope, I would need to remove at least this much soil (2 5/8″) from the top side of my slope. Using a transfer shovel, I laid it near flat and I “cut” the grade.

Also with a wheelbarrow nearby, I laid some hardware cloth over it. I used this to screen the soil of rocks and roots. Unwanted rocks were dumped around a nearby maple, and were roots – deposited with other yard debris. I then poured out my filtered soil to build up the low side of the slope, compacting it with a hand tamper.

Once I had a depth of about 2 ¾” (from the top of the timbers), I quickly checked level. Then, using a combination square, I drew working lines, marking the inside of my timbers with each corresponding layer of my proposed build-up. From the top of the timber, I drew three lines on all three sides of the frame – one at 1 ⅛”, one at 1 ⅝” and one at 2 ⅝”. With each layer in my substrate, I would know exactly where to finish. (Ideally, all layers of the substrate are packed and leveled as they are installed.)

Editor’s Note: To read more about Transfer Shovels and other Types of Shovels, you could see our Guide to Shovels.

* Installing Landscape Fabric

In an effort to 1) Keep weeds down & 2) To provide isolation of my substrate from both tree roots and possible movement, I rolled out and cut landscape fabric in the footprint of my frame. Once cut, I tacked the barrier into place using landscaping staples. I pushed them in (setting them with my foot) around the perimeter. For insurance, I added a few staples also near the center of the cloth.

 Adding a Crush and Run Base

I had a little pile of 1/2″ Crush and Run left over from our patio project. Sometimes called crusher run or written as  either “crush N’ run” or “crush-N-run“, it would provide the perfect base for my bluestone. I had just enough on hand to give my 20 square foot pad about an inch base. (Alternatively, and if I didn’t have access to this surplus, I would have looked into paver base (crushed stone) at a local home center.)

I poured the stone in from my wheelbarrow, agitating and spreading it with my transfer shovel. Once poured,  I raked it out, bringing it roughly flush to the lowest marking I made earlier. Because I was only working with about an inch of base, I did this in a single pour. I again finished with hand tamping, checking level and making minor tweaks as needed.

*Laying Builders / Pavers Sand

You have probably seen this trick before – using scrap ½” pvc pipe, I laid down a grid on top of the paver base (as pictured). This would allow me to pour sand out, building up to that second working line (1 ⅝” down). Then using a scrap length of lumber, I screeded it out to perfect level. Then pulling these pipes, I filled the recesses left behind with handfuls of sand.

I used (2) 50-lb bags of play sand in my 3 x 6 trash can pad. With that, I was finally ready to lay my bluestones.

* Laying the Bluestone / Paver Stones

Laying the bluestones is probably the easiest part of the job. Starting at the back corner on the downhill side of the frame, I placed the back end of the first stone about ½” from both the back frame and also from the side. I then gently laid it down. I did the same with placing the other in the uphill corner.

Now, my third bluestone, the one I would place in the middle, was damaged. To clean up this damage, I used my angle grinder and a diamond cutting wheel to square off the stone.

This of course left me a gap, in the field, that I’d have to fill front to back. To make this up, I broke out my table saw. I then took a two-foot length of pressure treated 4 x 4 and tri-sected it – cutting slices from it to about 1 1/8″ thick. (These would then of course match the depth of bluestones.)

I treated my cut timber with wood preservative, I adjusted this center bluestone and simply laid in my pressure-treated wood just as I would any other paver.

Editor’s Note: To read more about using an angle grinder in masonry applications, you could see our article – Repointing Brick.

* Finishing Up :: Using Pea Stone to Pack Joints

To finish out the whole assembly, I poured out two bags of pea gravel. Using a push broom, and working diagonally across the bluestone, I worked the pea stone down into the joints between each stone.

At the front edge, I worked to create a kinda ramp. Building the stone on a slope, I used my transfer shovel again, this time to pack the gravel into place.


Note: While I could have done this at nearly any point in the assembly,  I clipped the front end of the low side timber using my circular saw set at a 45. I felt this gave the pad a more finished look. (My apologies for no fully-completed project pic.)

* Summary

Again while not the most high impact job in and of itself, building a small pad certainly is a good practice project for those considering tackling larger paver projects.

For me, a pre-cursor for finally writing about our patio redo. (That project has been teased in many places on our site including: Installing In Patio Lighting & Installing a Post Lamp.) Many of the basic strategies, skills and techniques described in this article apply, but just on a different scale.

Thanks for reading, hopefully next – Building a Paver Patio. To wrap this up – a Pin Board of Trash Can Stands and Corrals, below. Cheers, Enjoy and I hope it helps. ~jb


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