Summer is here and everyone is out and enjoying their time in the backyard. We all know the kitchen is the center of most of our homes and the focal point of family gathering. However, the backyard is where we spread our legs and take in summer sun. Take advantage of that space by cooking on the backyard smokers.
This is how I used my STIHL power equipment, some existing tools and some new pieces, to create a rock path and elevated and dedicated area for my Traeger Pellet Grills. The main ingredients for this project are 3/4 chip rock, railroad ties, and long pavers.
A Home Improvement You Can Eat From
Many of us have a back yard we can spend time in but not all of us that do have made the most of that space. Whether we like lounging in a hammock or Adirondack chair, playing on a trampoline or croquet, or putting our best efforts and passions down on a grill, there is something for everyone behind the home. I personally love using my wood pellet grill from Traeger Grills, so much so that I have seven of them.
If you do love your backyard space, and have one or more backyard smokers, then pay attention. This is how I made my scattered and sparse ‘yard to the rear' a far more attractive and organized place to be with the best chainsaw manufacturer in the world; STIHL. I mean, I have a shed dedicated just to my STIHL tools back there so of course that's what I was going to use.
Measure Your Backyard Space
As my grandfather always said, “measure twice, cut once”. The good thing about this excellent point and working in the backyard, as apposed to working on a cabinet, is the space is a lot more forgiving. That's the benefit of working with dirt and not wood… a shovel can fix a lot.
So, first thing is first, before we go grabbing any power tools and start buying supplies for our garden, take the time to get a good sense of the size of your Traeger grill. Remember, a Traeger Pro 575 doesn't have the same base as a Timberline 1300 or 850 for that matter. Also, depending on the brand of your pellet grill, BBQ, Egg, or other cooking system, you are going to want to pay attention to the base system so you have an idea of what you might need to set it on.
Using Railroad Ties for a Garden Space
So, one thing I've learned in my farm life and home remodeling, when it comes to tough and durable upgrades, is that railroad ties are a fantastic option. They don't rot, are bug free, and hold up to just about anything. The only concern is that they are sometimes covered in creosote and you want to make sure they aren't in a place or space where little ones might get splinters in their hands or tar on their feet.
Using New Fantastic STIHL Products
One of the many amazing STIHL products I have walked by in the store and always been curious about is the STIHL MM 56 Garden Cultivator and Tiller (with the wheels). Since my soil is rough and hard to work with, I decided to not only use the STIHL MM 56 to break up the soil for my rock path project, but also later found it extremely useful in digging out a trough for and setting pavers.
My plan for this project is to create a dedicated station for my pellet grill using railroad ties to hold in rock at an elevated position. I used the MM 56 to cut straight lines for the ties and eliminate unwanted bumps and chunks of bad soil so each tie could be easily leveled and placed end to end as a boundary. I was actually pleased at how effective the STIHL tiller was at facilitating this work.
Then, I used a wheel barrel to bring in each of my 8′-9′ railroad ties so I wouldn't risk hurting my back. My plan was to create an “L” configuration so that I could run my smokers in a ‘half, half moon' layout. This way I could put the whole set of backyard smokers off in a corner and not block any of the ingress or egress through the gate (the lower portion of the “L” being away from the gate).
How to Cut a Railroad Tie
After I had the longer sections of my smoker station laid out, I needed to make a few of the ties shorted for my end pieces. This was an exceptionally easy job using my STIHL battery powered MSA 220. This saw made quick work of each tie I needed to cut and never once slowed down.
I love my MSA 200 but the more robust 3/8″ chain on the 220 just has that oomph you want when doing a job like this. Just remember that “battery powered” doesn't mean “skip on the safety. STIHL always recommends full length pants, boots, gloves, face and eye protection, and ear protections (yep… even on a battery powered chainsaw) along with their outstanding chaps.
How to Secure a Garden Box
Using a 4′ level, I placed all the railroad ties together and ensured they were flat, straight, and tight together. Utilizing a small sledge hammer can help bump the large pieces of timber together without bending over too much and lifting. Then, it was time to make sure all the sections were permanently held in place.
I pulled out my STIHL BT 45 Wood Auger and put on the 1″ bit. I bored a hole approximately 10″ from the ends of each tie section. Then, using my little sledge hammer, I pounded a 2′ stake into each hole (or a 2′ section of 1′ rebar if you can get it).
As I went about leveling the rest of the yard and tilling high sections for the rock to later be put in, I used the excess dirt to partially fill the ‘smoker bed'. This meant that I wouldn't need to fill the entire area with only rock and would only need approximately 3-4″ to reach the top. It also made it so I didn't have to haul away any excess dirt.
How to Mark Out Landscaping
Next, it was time to mark out the area I wanted to rock in. I chose to cover an area approximately 6′ out from any edge on the outside portion of the yard. This gave me plenty of space to walk with plans for additional people to traverse that area at the same time; like during a gathering of a bunch of friends and family members.
How To Place Pavers
After marking out the area I wanted rock with stakes and string, I found an amazingly simple way to ‘trench' a path for pavers to keep the rock ‘in bounds'. Almost by coincidence, the STIHL MM 56 tiller blades are the perfect size on either side to carve a little row for each paver to sit in.
It's also a great time to let the little ones help out. The job is simple enough for them to do and also a big part of the overall project. You might later have that grill perfected, but this is something they will remember for a long time as it is all part of making a home.
Where To Get Rock for Landscaping
If you are looking to do a nice upgrade like this, I highly recommend looking at local landscaping suppliers. I also recommend, for the sake of your truck, either using (if you own) or rending a trailer to haul the rock. For my project, I decided on a light colored 3/8″ chip or locking rock. It doesn't collapse like a smaller round rock and isn't so big you might get one jabbed in your foot. It took me 6 yards to complete this amount of area.
Enjoy the Final Results
Let's be honest, this is a long hard project to complete. There is going to be a lot of dirt to move and level out, and I didn't even put down mesh as I plan on using a plant killer to prevent growth in the rocked area. Be sure to keep ibuprofen on hand afterwards.
Not only does the rock keep your backyard looking clean but by using pavers and railroad ties, you wind up with a well lined and organized space. Another benefit of using rock is that it can be hosed down and also helps prevent dirt from getting into your home. That will definitely keep the neat freaks and robo-vacuum happier.
Once you are done, we placed our pellet smokers, lawn chairs, and other yard features all into place. We threw on the grill covers to clean up the look and now, our backyard smokers are all nicely placed and ready to make that smoky flavor wood fired flavor.
The Best Way to Clean a Driveway
Now, you thought this was going to be all fun and games. We still have some extra rock that we dropped off in the driveway to clean up. This is where the KMA 135r with the bristle brush attachment dominates and makes work cleanup almost as easy as the temperature setting on your fancy electric smoker with a Traeger app.
What type of upgrade would you consider for your backyard?