Lay out the garden location using stakes and string or hoses and then mark the outline directly onto the ground with landscape paint.
Excavate the site and install any large specimen stones that require burial more than ‘/2 ft. below grade.
Dig a trench around the border for the border stones.
Pour a 3" thick layer of compactable gravel into the border trench and tamp down with a post or a hand tamper.
Place border blocks into the trench and adjust them so the tops are even.
Test different configurations of rocks in the garden to find an arrangement you like. If it’s a larger garden, strategically place a few flat rocks so you can reach the entire garden with a rake without stepping in the raking medium.
Set the stones in position on individual beds of sand about 1" thick.
Rake the medium into pleasing patterns with a special rake (see next page).
Once you have constructed your Zen garden, you will use two tools to interact with it: your eyes and a good rake. While any garden rake will suffice for creating the swirling and concentric rills that are hallmarks of the Zen garden, a special rake that’s dedicated to the garden will enhance your hands-on interaction.
Many Zen garden rakes are constructed from bamboo. Bamboo is lightweight and readily available, especially through internet sites. While you can certainly choose this material, you’re likely to find that the lightness can actually work against it, causing you to exert more strain to cut through the raking medium. A rake made from solid wood has greater heft that lets it glide more smoothly through the medium. The rake shown here is made using only the following materials:
• 1W-dia. by 48" oak or pine dowel (handle)
• V2" by 36" oak or pine dowel (tines)
• 2 x 3 x 91/2" piece of red oak (head)
Here is how to make it. Start by sanding all of the stock very smooth using sandpaper up to 150 grit in coarseness. Soften the edges of the 2 x 3 with the sandpaper. Drill a VA" dia. hole in the head for the handle (Figure 1). The hole should go all the way through the head at a 221/2° downward angle (half of a 45° angle), with the top of the hole no closer than %" to the top of the head. Use a backer board when drilling to prevent blowout and splinters.
Next, drill 1/2"-dia. by 1 "-deep seat holes for the tines in the bottom edge of the blank. Locate centers of the two end holes 1" from the ends. Measure in 2V2" from each end hole and mark centers for the intermediate tines. Use masking tape to mark a drilling depth of 1" on your drill bit and then drill perpendicular holes at each centerline.
Cut four 5"-long pieces of the 1/2"-dia. oak doweling for the tines. Apply wood glue into the bottom of each hole and insert the tines, setting them by gently tapping with a wood mallet (Figure 2). Then, apply glue to the handle holes sides and insert the handle so the end protrudes all the way through. After the glue dries, drill a 1/2"-dia. hole down through the top of the head and into the handle. Glue a V2" dowel into the hole to reinforce the handle (this is called pinning).
Finally, use a back saw, gentleman’s saw, or Japanese flush-cutting saw to trim the handle end and the handle pin flush with the head (Figure 3). Sand to smooth the trimmed ends and remove any dried glue. Finish with two or three light coats of wipe-on polyurethane tinted for red oak.