You’re probably thinking, “Jeez, look at that guy lying down on the job while everybody else is working!”.
Actually, what he’s doing is critical to how the Belgian block curbing will come out.
His job is to “eye-up” the top line of each Belgian block and shout directions to the guy with the hammer.
The Belgian block is sitting in fresh cement, and by tapping the block with the hammer it can be adjusted in small increments to get it just right.
As antiquated as this method may seem, there is simply no substitute.
Of course I should tell you that the pitch and grades for this driveway and curbing were all set using a laser level. String lines are often used as reference points to ensure proper pitch.
It’s always interesting to watch the different trades mix modern day technology with good old fashion know-how.
In the proper order of things, the curbing height should be anticipated early on in the project because the top of the finished curb dictates surrounding grades.
You need to know this right from the beginning so you can plan your grading and drainage work accordingly.
Consider installing any PVC sleeves and/or conduits before Belgian block curbing goes in. These curbs have concrete footings that will be difficult to contend with if you need to get a pipe through them.
Remember to discuss “curb reveal” early on as well. Curb reveal is the amount of curb face showing on the pavement side. (a.k.a curb height)
Typically on residential properties we like to show approximately 4″ of curb. This, of course, can vary according to personal taste and circumstance.
Municipal codes and regulations come into play at times, particularly near and along public roads. Visit the town zoning & engineering office to check. Don’t find out it’s in violation after it’s installed. Ouch!
Lastly, I want to mention “drop curbs”. These are stretches in the normal curb-line where the top of the curb gradually slopes down to become flush with the paving. (above pic)
Not only do drop curbs look nice by keeping the curb line “continuous,” but they structurally maintain the supportive edge (on both sides).
Whether it’s asphalt, decorative gravel or paver bricks, a structural edge like Belgian block is best. It’s a permanent feature that will forever support and contain the surfaces.
I have been setting belgian blocks and cobbles on and off for more than half my life and I set them the true natural way. In my mind, “the tighter the better” is how its done. Never tap a stone into place with a steel hammer, a 5 pound rubber mallet leaves no marks. Myself, as the stone setter uses my own eye.
We have Belgium block steps that lead to our backyard.
The mortar has decayed between the blocks. We were told that you need a special cement or mortar joint for Belgium block. Cement falls out does not adhere to the blocks.
Hmmm. I’m not familiar with any special mortar to use with belgian block.
Now it could be that the mortar mix proportions, i.e. sand and portland, may vary for belgian block, but I have never heard that.
To get more information you could call mason supply yards and ask them.
I will say that deteriorating mortar joints does happen over time. And various conditions can affect and accelerate that. For example, snow melting material used on walkways and stairs can cause this. How the steps are built and if they drain properly is another factor. Is this work built on a stable footing? Etc.
I have belgium block edging which has worked well for many years around my driveway. I then had a slate walkway done three years ago with belgium block edging which was not cemented and now needs to be done properly.It at the top of a slo.p Since my husband’s illness and death I now need to complete this project, any suggestions? Thanks, Jean
Sorry for your loss.
You can dry-set Belgian block (i.e. without concrete), but it can, and likely will “move” some. Of course a lot depends on how well it’s installed, the site conditions, and certainly freezing temperatures, which can cause “heaving” and movement.
I’ll bet the driveway Belgian block is set in a concrete base of sorts, which is the typical way it’s installed. And if possible, I’d do the same for the walkway.
The slate walkway could then be re-set in a dry-laid fashion (w/o concrete). The properly set Belgian block will provide an excellent border to retain the dry-laid slate walkway. Just make sure whoever does the dry-laid slate work that they prepare and install the proper base for the walk.
Do you also cement between blocks or just butt them?
The joints are typically jointed with (mortar) cement. There are situations where the joint gaps remain open for drainage reasons.
I recently picked up some old Belgium blocks to create a 10′ x 4′ apron for a driveway. What do I need to create the “compact base”.
There are a number of ways to set the Belgian block apron. But basically there are 2 base differences — one being dry-set, where no concrete is used, and the other is with concrete.
Over the years I’ve been involved with quite a few different installs, and today we use a concrete install method.
I can’t get into all the details, but the method includes a poured concrete base which the blocks are then set on. Then, the joints are “partially” filled with mortar. The remaining joint space is then filled with polymer joint sand.
You could certainly do a dry-set install with a compacted base of “quarry process” (a binder material), set the blocks with a layer of coarse concrete sand, and joint with polymer joint sand. As I’m sure you realize, the base preparation is perhaps the most important aspect. Since it is a driveway install the base area should be excavated at least 14″ down to ensure at least 10″ of compacted quarry process.
If you don’t have a plate compactor you can rent one. Compact the excavated area first, and then compact the quarry process in 4″ layers. You can never have too much compaction when it comes to hardscape installs. 🙂
I have Belgium blocks going down the side of my driveway, I actually want to make my driveway wider so I need to remove them. Any suggestions?
You’ll have to dig down and see what kind of concrete footing/base they’re set in.
There is the possibility you can save and reuse them, but sometimes the effort to break them loose from the concrete and clean them off is not worth it. Find out the cost of new Belgian block in your area. This will help you decide on whether the effort to salvage them is worth it.
The tools and actual method(s) for removal again depend on how they’re set in concrete. Pick, shovel, sledge hammer, stone chisel, lump hammer are some of the hand tools you could use. We’d likely have a small excavator, demo saw, a breaker/jack hammer, and maybe a skid steer or loader for handling/loading the heavy materials.
I am looking at setting some Belgium blocks for edging as the previous owner started but did not finish the edging. But I can not find how you create the “rounded” joint between the blocks? Is there a special tool for this?
The way I see masons make rounded joints in belgian block curbing is by first using a grout bag to fill the joints with mortar, then they shape the joints with a tuckpointing tool.
These rounded joints take more skill and patience than the conventional concave joint.
I’m replacing the mortar in the joints of my Belgian block apron and wanted to ask for advice as to the best way of going about it. I saw a few videos and don’t know which is best. Should I spread out the mortar dry, sweep it into the joints and apply water or should I mix it wet and insert it into the joints using a trowel or mix it wet and use something like a cake decorating frosting bag. Any advice would be appreciated.
I’m not sure of the current condition of your Belgian block apron and how it was constructed, i.e. what’s underneath. But I’ll briefly explain how our contractor joints the aprons on our jobs.
The Belgian block is laid with a relatively dry mortar mix on a concrete slab. Then, a very wet (bordering on liquid-like) mortar mix is “poured” in between the joints so it settles about 1″ below where we want the final joint height. After this lower mortar joint cures, a polymeric joint sand is used to bring the finished joint to the proper height.
Hi I have a few Belgian blocks in my curb that are broken and need to be replaced. Di I just chisel them off at the road line, install new and put mortar on them or do I have to go down to the existing concrete base and install from there.
Thank you for a response
I would try to remove the entire belgian block and some of the concrete base/footing it’s sitting on. This way you can re-set a full block on fresh mortar and re-joint. It will look right when you’re done, and be as strong as before.
Hello, I have a single line of belgian block at the perimeter of my tree well at the sidewalk. The tree was planted too high by the city and I plan to lay 2 new rows of belgian block over the existing so that the exposed root ball can be covered with soil. Any tricks to building a curb higher? Do i need to back the inside face of the belgian block ‘low wall’ with the cement mortar mix? Or troweling on the horizontal and vertical joints sufficient? Blocks are 4x4x8. Thank you.
I’m presuming the existing belgian block border is sitting on a good base of concrete so it has integrity and does not move. With that, you should be OK to build the two new rows on top.
It’s good you’re using 4×4″ block rather than larger blocks. Here I’m presuming you’re laying them horizontal.
You could plaster the backside with mortar, but I don’t think it will contribute much to strength and support. Hopefully this border is not located where cars or other heavy things could bump into it. If it’s just to retain soil and occasionally be stepped on, that should not be a problem.
Great read! I’m learning a lot. I have build a lot of dry-lay stone walls however, this is my first time working with Belgium Block.. here is my question: replacing an old driveway with a Belgium apron and edge. First, I live in the North.. so we do get frost! I dug out the drive to about 7″ inchs while doing so I uncovered an old tar and chip- so the base is extremely hard. I was going to replace it with QP first, tamp and then add a little cement to lay my block down into. does that sound Right? or can I skip the cement and use sand and fill between the stone with the ploy? thanks for any advice you can provide. Carl
Hard to say if that base will be stable enough for the long-term. When we do driveways and aprons with concrete pavers or bricks, we excavate to 12″ — then add and compact the base. So there’s always 9″ of compacted base material underneath.
Setting the Belgian block on a concrete slab for the aprons guarantees stability for the block and the joint spacing.
I hesitate to recommend any compromises to these standards. We always approach things for the assured long-term.
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Landscapes are complex, and shortcomings anywhere in the process can affect the project… and your peace of mind.
My approach is process-oriented. I break things down from planning to implementation — and make sure everyone is kept informed.
My goal is to alleviate concerns such as design decisions, costs, workmanship and material quality. I want folks to stress less and actually enjoy the process.
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