Building a Boardwalk


Springtime in the Smoky Mountains means warmer temperatures, greener scenery and rain.  Lots of rain.  Some years we get a few weeks of heavy, almost non-stop rain, other years we get a couple months of lighter rains.  Either way spring time means we’ll be dealing with erosion and mud.  On the monsoon years the quarries do a lot of business with folks seeking rock to repair washed-out driveways.  We’ve had one area that has been a consistent problem for us every year, heavy rains or light rains.


There is a long, horseshoe shaped driveway that comes up from the hard road, loops in behind a mobile home, then goes back down to the road.  The mobile home and driveway behind it are on a shelf cut into the slope to provide a flat spot.  In spring, rain water runs down the mountain side onto the driveway and collects there, making the area really mucky despite a thick layer of gravel on the drive.  Some years, when the rains are heavy the ground saturates so no more will soak in, then water comes cascading over the ridge at the top of the cut-in and flows across the driveway like a river – often taking all the gravel with it.  Even on light rain years the area between the mobile home, which is now my workshop, and the embankment gets sloppy fast and stays that way for weeks.  This was enough of a problem when it was just me going to and from work, but now we are providing foster care for dogs, and the pens are in this area too.

This year I decided to do something to get us all up out of the muck.  I built a boardwalk.  This is not a piece if high-end architectural engineering, nor is it fine craftsmanship.  There were three criteria it needed to meet: 1) It needed to keep us out of the mud, 2) I needed to build it quickly, 3) It needed to be cheap.

The proper way to do this would have been to drill several dozen post holes, set short posts in them with concrete, determine height of the posts to get the decking flat and level and cut the posts off at the right heights, notch the posts to accept joists then lay planking across the joists.  Have you ever tried to use a post-holer in muck?  That doesn’t work so well, especially not in our red clay.

What I did was to lay landscape timbers in as sleepers, using pavers as support in the lowest spots, then cutting some old barn wood to use as decking.  This barn had been built by sawing whatever trees were at hand into lumber, so we have a mix of red oak, white oak, poplar, pine and a little walnut, but once it all silvers from sunshine it will match up closely enough.  The boards are not consistent in their thickness and are wildly random widths from 3” to 14”.

5/29/2019 12:56:20 PM

When we first moved to our house just over 31 years ago, we did something like that, but it was temporary until we got concrete pavers in place for a sidewalk by our garage. the only difference we did was we laid down a small layer of gravel left over from building our house and then built our boardwalk out of 2"x6" and 2"x4" lumber. We cut the 2"x4" s into 12" lengths, Then fastened 2 - 2"x6" s about 5 to 6 ft long with a 2"x4" on each end and one in the middle to make each section of boardwalk. We did have to make one section about 3 or 4 feet long. That lasted for about a month or 2 until we got the concrete paver (24" Wx48"L) walkway laid down. We built the boardwalk in early spring just after the snow melt and before the rains came. After we put down the Concrete pavers we then used the boardwalks for in our garden between the rows.
5/15/2018 9:22:06 PM

I used the plans at WWW.EASYWOODWORK.ORG to build my own boardwalk– I highly recommend you visit that website and check their plans out too. They are detailed and super easy to read and understand unlike several others I found online. The amount of plans there is mind-boggling… there’s like 16,000 plans or something like that for tons of different projects. Definitely enough to keep me busy with projects for many more years to come haha Go to WWW.EASYWOODWORK.ORG if you want some additional plans :)

6/2/2013 3:08:25 AM

Allan, wow, you sure have allot of wood stacked up. Did all that come from the barn? My source of wood has been and will be free pallets. There seems to be an never ending supply of wooden pallets on Craig's list in my area. This has been a rainy cold spring for us here in Nebraska. I'm just thankful that the weather hasn't been disaster oriented in my area. I am indeed have some difficulty getting my garden planted this year. In May we had 17 days of rain. It wasn't gully washers but just enough to keep the ground muddy. I had to muck in some rose bushes that I received in the mail last week. I just hope they take root and grow. Have a great board walk day.

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