How to build a reclaimed wood scaffold boardwalk or decking area

If you are thinking of building a boardwalk path in your garden then have a little read of my DIY reclaimed wood scaffold board project.  This sustainable project took just 3 days to complete and only cost about £200.  Read on to see how I transformed this space into a beautiful functional path.

I recently took on this project to join our patio are to the back of the garden where my shed and workshops are.  I took me a couple of days to complete and makes a massive difference to the appearance and functionality of our garden space.  Using partially reclaimed wood and matching colours it’s the perfect addition to connect the majority of key areas within our outdoor space.

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We purchased our house back in 2014 and have since completed a number of garden renovations to increase the aesthetic and usable space in our 28m x 8m garden.  For so long I was using stepping stones to get from one end to the other and having to navigate across muddy patches which became more and more difficult and messy.  So during the spring 2020 lockdown we decided to upgrade and improve the garden which included this much needed path.

We toyed with several ideas for paths including a porcelain tile path, stepping stones, gravel path but eventually settled on the idea of a boardwalk.  We decided on this for a couple of key reasons.  As this was a DIY garden project the first consideration was time required to complete the job.  this also ties in with difficulty level.  I wanted a path that was quicker and easier to complete and the boardwalk seemed like the easier option.  Yes I had to dig up all the existing turf, but not quite as much as if I were to install a paved or gravel path.  The second consideration was cost.  I had a good stock of used scaffold boards to hand because of my furniture business and shop so it made sense to make the most of this cheap, easily accessible material.

Lastly we decided with the boardwalk because we agreed it would look great around the pond and we could paint it to match the two decking areas I had also recently completed.

how to build your own boardwalk

To save more money on this project I used my TopCashback account for my online purchases.  I try and use this with all my online purchases and have accumulated over £450 in the last couple of years so it’s well worth it, especially when buying new tools and materials.

What tools did I use?

You wont need a long list of specialist tools to complete this job but these are a good starting point to get the job done quickly.  I’ve included some links to some of my preferred brands.

What materials where required?

I used a number of reclaimed scaffold boards, old patio slabs and stepping stones.  The rest of the materials were purchased from local hardware stores like B&Q or Wickes.

How to build a boardwalk path – Step by step guide

Step 1. Plan your route

You’ll want to start off with a plan.  Maybe try producing a scale drawing of your garden and plan the layout of you path.  We wanted a somewhat organic feel to our path, something that meandered around the features in the garden.  So whilst we had a rough drawing of the path, the build process itself was going to dictate the finer detail.

You’ll also want to think about waste at this point.  We ordered a small/medium size skip to put all the turf and soil and stones in.

Step 2.  Mark out the area

Using a piece of string I marked out the rough shape we had planned on our rough drawings.  As above, this didn’t need to be precise as the build itself was going to be organic.  You could also use a spray paint marker like this one.

Step 3. Remove the turf

I dug down to a depth of roughly 75mm for the length of the path.  At this point I only really needed to dig a channel for the boardwalk support frame.  The depth had to be enough for the carcassing timber frame to sit level with the top of the lawn.  Additional digging will be required when we add the support slabs.

I wanted the boardwalk to sit above the level of the lawn but it’s up to you if you want it higher or lower.  Just remember it’s a good idea to keep the boards from touching the lawn as over time they will rot with any stagnant water sat on them.

Step 4. Preparing and levelling the slabs

The slabs are used to raise the timber frame off the ground.  This is to prevent the frame from rotting away.  If the frame touches the ground, stagnant water will quickly rot the wood.  So to prevent this I laid the frame on raised plinths. The slabs or old stepping stones, some of which I smashed into 4 pieces.  For each 2.4m length of frame timber I used 3 points of support, one at each end and one in the middle.  If you are cutting different lengths just aim for a support plinth every 1m or so.

It’s a good idea to slightly lower one side of the boardwalk to allow for water run off.  So using a spirit level try and ensure one side is about 10mm lower. (depending on the width of your path.)

To ensure a secure level slab I dug a 30mm hole the size of the slab and filled it with sharp sand.  The sharp sand provides a more solid base for the slab to sit on and will prevent the slab from moving as the boardwalk is used regularly.  You also have the option of using cement at this point for an even more secure plinth.  So far however I have found the sand to be sufficient.

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During the dig I came across tree roots and other objects which made the levelling process difficult in places.  For some roots I simply cut them out altogether and others I just managed to avoid.  If you come across a similar issue you just need to be aware that the roots will grow over time and could make your boardwalk uneven.

Step 5. Building the frame

I didn’t fix the frame to any of the plinths.  I’ve allowed for the weight of the boardwalk to secure it in place.  I did however screw the frame into a small concrete section near the patio.  This was to prevent any movement as the boards butted up against the patio.

I simply laid each 2.4m length of timber and screwed in a cross support piece and followed this process down the length of the path.

Before you lay down the support frame you should add the weed control fabric.  This will sit between the support plinth and frame and cover the whole underside of the boardwalk.  This is going to prevent anything growing up through the boards.

Step 6. Cutting and securing the boards

Using a circular saw I cut the boards to the correct length and simply screwed them into the frame.  Scaffold boards have a tendency to bow and cup so it was important to add a screw into each side of the board.  Try using an impact driver here to speed up the process.  I didn’t bother with pilot holes when adding the screws as it wasn’t really required.  The softwood generally takes the screws quite well.  Each piece was carefully measured and cut to the desired size before securing down.  I ended up with quite a few off cuts which will end up in the log burner during winter.

All the boards were laid with a 4mm gap between each one.  This will allow for a little expansion on the boards as the weather changes.  You can use tile spacers or a custom made spacer for this.

I generally used straight cuts on all the pieces, even when navigating around objects like the pond.  So although the boardwalk looks curved all boards have straight edges, just at different angles.

Step 7. Treating the boards

I strongly recommend using a dedicated decking paint on the boards.  This paint is specially designed to protect the boards in all weathers.  Make sure you buy enough and ensure you have some spare to top up areas that might have closer contact to moisture, like the pond for example.

It’s probably worth painting the boards before you put them down.  I found that it was difficult to paint the sides of the boards once they had been secured in place.

We used Cuprinol Urban Slate anti slip decking paint on our boards.  2 coats.  If you want a natural finish on the boards you can try something like this Ronseal natural decking oil.

Conclusion

That’s it in a nutshell.  If you are also looking to make a decking area with reclaimed scaffold boards then it’s a very similar process.  Just ensure you have enough screws to secure the boards in place.  Scaffold boards have a tendency to twist and cup during the different seasons so make sure they are fixed down well.  Take a look at my other post about how to build your own decking area for some more detailed guides.

Before and after

You might also be interested in some of the other DIY garden projects we’ve taken on:

 

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