Walking on Wood: Build a Boardwalk

Boardwalks have been a part of American history for close to 150 years. Originally designed to help railroad passengers avoid wet or sandy conditions as they walked to the entrances of luxury hotels in places such as Atlantic City and Virginia Beach, boardwalks have become an iconic part of American scenery.

Closer to home, a boardwalk is a great option if you’re considering building a ground-level walkway over stable soil. (Though a boardwalk can also offer a dry path across wet or swampy land, the construction of that type is far different and best left to professionals.) Because a traditional boardwalk rests on the ground, it requires no footings or concrete, a simple base of leveled, compacted gravel provides plenty of stability for its pressure-treated sleepers. In fact, a boardwalk is so simple to build that you’ll only need a shovel and a wheelbarrow, a level, a saw and a drill-driver to complete the project.

Start by removing the sod from the area where the boardwalk will rest. Use your spade to shave off any high spots in the soil.

To prevent weeds from growing up through the spaces between boards, install landscape fabric over the soil. Do not use a plastic barrier, it will not drain properly.

To create the proper base, cover the landscape fabric with 4 in. of gravel, keeping it level as you go. Lay three pressure-treated boards to serve as sleepers facedown on the gravel – I used 2x4s for edges and a 2x6 for the center – and then check for level one more time.

Install the boardwalk’s decking (in this case, 5/4x6 cedar boards) by screwing the individual boards to the sleepers below. Allow a 1/8-in. space between boards for drainage, and drive two screws at each point where the board rests on a sleeper. Once construction is complete, apply exterior-rated stain and waterproof finish to maximize your boardwalk’s longevity.