In our part of the world a flat yard is a rare thing.  Even the “flat section” of our yard isn’t exactly flat – it’s more like flat-ish.

So last year when I went to set up the small family pool, I kept getting frustrated because one side would be full when the other wasn’t… that doesn’t sit well with me.  I came up with a temporary fix, but it wasn’t a great one and, like I said, it was just temporary.

Level 3

This year I did it right.

If you have a similar problem and need a flat space to set up a pool, patio, garden, or whatever, here’s how I did it.

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Select an area you want to level.  The larger the area, the more challenging it will be, so don’t make it too huge.  Mine was 12′ x 12′ and it was a pretty big job.

Build a box the size of the space you want.  Remember that if you want the inside to be a certain area you need to account for the size of the wood.  For my 12 x 12 box I used 2 2″ x 4″ boards that were 12′ long and 2 that were cut to 12’4″ to fit the 12′ x 12′ carpet I already had.

The measurements below assume you’re using the same size wood.  If not, adjust as needed.


Pre-drill holes slightly smaller than the diameter of your screws on the 12’4″ board 1″ from each end.

Place the 12′ board against the pre-drilled holes perpendicularly and screw together using 3″ deck screws.  Do the same until you have a box.


Now it’s time to dig.  Dig a trench the same size of the box.  At the higher end of the hill you’ll want the trench to be as deep as the board is wide – in my case, 4″ – and as flat as possible.  I used a shovel to dig and trowel to even it out.

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Depending on how much of a slant you’re dealing with, you may not have to dig at all on the low side of the hill.  I actually had to prop the box on a rock, then I used rocks to block the gap so the dirt wouldn’t escape.  Fortunately for me, rocks are Connecticut’s main crop, so I had plenty around.


Once the box is buried it needs to be filled.  Count on needing to add about half the volume of the box in new dirt.

Here’s how to figure out the volume of your box.

Volume is length x width x depth.  Make sure you’re using the same units of measurement (inches, feet, meters, etc.).  Since dirt is sold by the cubic foot, I used feet.

For my box the numbers worked out like this: 12 x 12 x .33 (4″ is 1/3 of a foot) = 47.5 cu. ft.  So I’d need about 24 cubic feet of dirt to fill the box.


Finally, you need to level off the dirt.  Once the dirt reaches the top of the box all the way around, use a stamper or just walk around to compact the dirt.  It’s a good idea to wet the area at this point, just to help compact it a bit more.  Wait for the water to drain.  Add more dirt and repeat as many times as needed.  (If this is going to be a garden, you don’t need to compact the dirt.)


The compacted dirt will be lumpy, so to make sure your space is level you’ll want to add a thin layer of sand.  There is special sand for patios or you can use playground sand.

The easiest way to make sure it’s level is to use a flat board that spans the width of your box.  You hold 1 end while someone else holds the other, and slide it across the box a few times (like you do when leveling a cup of flour in baking).

If you don’t have another person, or a long enough board, you can use any board and flatten out the dirt/sand like you’re spreading peanut butter.  It will take a bit longer, but it will work.  Be sure to start in the middle and work your way out.


If you’re using the area for a pool, I recommend an outdoor carpet.  It will help keep dirt and sand out of the pool and help define the space.  I nailed this one down with 8″ spikes so it won’t blow away in a stiff wind.  Mr. O ran over the carpet with the lawnmower last year (another reason I wanted to box it out this year), so we’ll put the pool over that corner.


Level 1