DIY Tacoma Manual Pad

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to build a manual pad for under $3,000. This project was demonstrated in Tacoma, Washington in April, 2010 and took three days of work over a two-week span.

Step 1: Funding

The local skatepark group approached the neighborhood council with a proposal to introduce a new skateboarding structure at an existing skatepark. Once a year the council is provided foundation funds to award community programs.

The improvement required a letter of concurrence from the Parks Department. This document demonstrated the Parks’ support and approval of the construction. Given the skatepark group’s long-time involvement with area skateparks, there were few questions or concerns about their ability to implement the plan on schedule and to professional standards.


The 15-year-old ledge was ready for a facelift.

The skatepark applied for a local “neighborhood improvement” grant and presented the project in person at the appropriate meeting. A few key points were covered as evidence that this project was a win-win for the whole community. Namely, the value and importance of the skatepark to the neighborhood youth was emphasized. The age—16 years—of the skatepark without any kind of modification was also brought up. Finally, the group’s commitment to ensuring compelling, sustainable, and safe terrain was outlined.

One challenge to the grant application was the question whether the project constituted a “repair” or an “improvement.” While the distinction may seem trivial, a “repair” would be the responsibility of the local Parks Department while an “improvement” would not. Therefore, the committee responsible for judging and awarding the grants wanted to ensure that this project was actually an addition to the skatepark’s features and not a simple refurbishment of an existing structure. The group then emphasized the aspects of the proposal that dealt with new construction and described the “repair” aspects as an essential part of the improvement rather than the whole of the project.

The proposal was awarded the full sum of its request.

Step 2: Planning

Although the form and shape of the improvement was described in the application, the skatepark group worked closely with the existing skatepark regulars to fine-tune the size, shape and placement of the manual pad. Careful observations were made of the skatepark activity so that the new structure would not diminish the function and usability of any other existing elements.

Reference photos and measurements were taken of the area slated for construction.

Step 3: Materials

A punchlist of services, materials and tools was prepared so that nothing would be overlooked. Luckily a large, well-stocked hardware store was less than a mile away from the site so overlooked items weren’t going to present a scheduling crisis. At this point the dimensions and design are finalized.


Extension cords
Electric Drill with grout mixing attachment
Couple 5-gallon buckets
Rain barrel (no water was available on site)
Mag float
Rotohammer & 1/2″ Bit (slightly wider than the rebar)
Chop saw with wood blade
Crowbar & Prybar
Grout gun
Tarp (this wasn’t expected but weather required it)
Measuring tape




Grout (3 bags)
Granite blocks
Spacers or shims
Tie wire
Form 2x4s
Form plywood sides
Form plywood top
Form plywood notch hold-outs for granite blocks
16p Nails
2-inch wood screws
Water (rain barrel)
2.8 yards concrete


Concrete cutting
Concrete delivery
Granite fabrication

Step 4: Order Services

Three services were required for this project:
1. Concrete Cutting
2. Concrete Delivery
3. Granite Fabrication

The intent here was to cut out the worn out portion of the ledge and replace it with a nice granite brick. When calling the concrete cutting service we outlined the depth and length of the cuts, then scheduled a day for the cutter to arrive where one of use could be there.

Once the volume of concrete was known, we scheduled concrete delivery. Two challenges arose with the concrete delivery. First, we wanted a weekend delivery due to work and other obligations but it was difficult to find one to deliver on a Saturday. Most concrete supply companies service large construction projects where weekend work in not typical. Second, the volume of concrete was relatively small and “not worth the effort.” After some research a company was found that could perfom on-site mixing to whatever volume was required and was willing to deliver on a Saturday. For this project a 6-bag mix was requested.

granite-orderGranite fabrication was simply a matter of sketching out the desired forms and sending it to a local quarry and stone fabrication company. Because the group had previous experience replacing ledges with granite bricks, little research was required to find a source or determine how the information should be conveyed. A simple PDF with a diagram of the desired pieces was created along with a request for a bid. Once the cost of the granite was known, the group placed the order.

With all of the services ordered the schedule was now set and could not be easily changed.

Two weeks prior: Order granite
Wednesday: Pick up granite
Thursday: Concrete cutting (service)
Friday: Buy supplies, build form components (off site)
Saturday: Install forms, rebar, pour concrete (service)
Following Saturday: Strip forms, install granite

Step 5: Concrete Cutting

Prior to the concrete cutter arriving on site, a committee member measured and marked the portion of the ledge that was to be removed. Given that the granite brick would be 6 x 3 inches, the notch to hold it should be 6.5 x 3.5 inches. The additional half-inch will allow for a bed of grout that the granite will rest on.


The area intended to be cut out is marked with paint.

The portion of the ledge slated for removal was marked using a string chalk line and sprayed with clear varnish to keep it from being obliterated by water, wind, or other influences. (The fact is that the heavy rain prevented this “proper” method from being used. Instead the area slated for removal was spray-painted pink precisely up the edge of the desired cut. Either method work fine.)


It's worth every penny to pay someone to do this exhausting, dangerous work.

The concrete cutter arrived and the intent was reviewed. The dimensions were pointed out. Once the cutter fully understood what was intended he got to work. Two long cuts were made; one on the face to cut the bottom of the notch and another along the top—cutting vertically—to create the back face of the notch.

The unwanted concrete was left resting in place to discourage tampering. The concrete cutting service was paid at the conclusion of their service on site.

The concrete service will supply their own water and generator if you indicate that they are not available on site.

Step 6: Create and Install Forms


The forms were assembled in the early hours before the concrete truck was scheduled to arrive.

The wood forms to contain the shape of the manual pad were partially built off-site. On the scheduled morning of the concrete delivery service, the forms were brought to the site and installed. The manual pad was designed to interact with an existing ledge so a full box wasn’t required. Only the outer edges of the manual pad would need to be installed as the last portion would be abutting the existing ledge.


The form is built with a block that will create a notch in the top side of the manual pad.

The outer sides of the form use horizontal 2x4s to prevent bowing under the weight of the concrete.

The “notch” represents the area that will later be occupied by the granite bricks.

The concrete will be poured to the top of the form and smoothed off.


The form is anchored to the existing structure to prevent the heavy, wet concrete from pushing it around.

The sides are anchored to the existing ledge to prevent the whole form from sliding out of position. For these anchors a hole is drilled through the wood at into the concrete face. A 4-inch all-thread anchor is used but the hole is 5-inches deep so that when the anchor is removed it can simply be pounded into the face instead of cut or wrenched out of the hole.


Rebar anchors are hammered into holes to prevent the entire manual pad from sliding around over time.

Holes are drilled into the slab and rebar anchors are hammered into them. The anchors are bent 90-degrees so that longer pieces can be wired to them. This cage will provide strength to the manual pad and prevent cracking and breaking due to subtle shifts in the slab.


Excess concrete was thrown into the form.

The final form is ready for concrete.

Rebar posts were hammered into drilled holes outside of the form to provide additional support. The blocks of concrete under the cage are the pieces removed from the concrete cutting service. These bits will slightly reduce the amount of concrete needed to fill the form.

The insides of the form are lightly smeared with oil to allow them to break away from the concrete when they are removed.

Step 7: Concrete Pour


Waiting for the concrete truck.

The concrete truck arrives on site and reviews the project. The concrete delivery man was pleased to see the forms complete and prepped. This allows for an expedient delivery.

The concrete is mixed in the truck with calcium to make it set quickly.


The concrete comes off the truck and gets packed into every corner.

Shovels are used to push the concrete into all of the recesses in the form. The sides of the form were tapped continuously with a hammer to knock out any bubbles as the form is filled.


When there's plenty of concrete in the form it is "scree'ed" off with a 2x4.

The concrete is levelled with a 2×4 as it’s filled to indicate if enough concrete is in the form. This is known as a scree. It’s the first and roughest way to level the goopy concrete. Later, as the concrete hardens, you will use different floats to smooth the surface. (It’s important not to do too much working of the surface with floats because it can weaken the surface of the concrete.)


Excess concrete is scraped off.

Excess concrete is scrapped off the side of the form. A board is used to catch the excess concrete to make clean-up easier.


A magnesium float is used to push the aggregate down.

A magnesium float is used to push the pebble aggregate in the concrete downward. This allows for the smoothest concrete to rise to the top of the form. As mentioned before, it’s important not to overuse the mag float as it can weaken the surface of the concrete and will lead to chipping and spalling later.

After the mag float is used to smooth the surface of the concrete, the concrete is given a few minutes to firm up.


A corner trowel creates a slightly rounded edge.

With the concrete a little firmer, a edge trowel is used to clean up the top corner of the concrete.


A steel trowel is used to gently smooth the surface.

Finally, a steel trowel is used to finish the surface of the manual pad. The concrete is stiff but pliable, like paste. Two passes with the steel trowel create a smooth, skateable top of the manual pad.

Note the tarp in the background to protect the wet concrete from rain. Water not only slows drying time but can damage the surface of the concrete. Tarps were used to keep the wet concrete away from the rain.


Stage one is complete!

The entire form is covered with a tarp to keep the rain off and discourage tampering. The site is cleaned up and the day is finished.

Step 8: Granite and Grout


Plastic shims are used to adjust the height of the granite blocks.

The forms are stripped and the site swept and cleaned.

Shims are used to create spacers under the granite.


The granite is perfectly aligned with the rest of the structure.

The spacers are added, removed, and adjusted until the top of the granite is perfectly aligned with the top of the concrete manual pad. When the spacers are accurate, the granite is lifted out of place and laid on top of the pad.


Have all of your crew ready to work before you start mixing.

Grout is mixed in a 5-gallon bucket. The consistency should be thick and gloppy. Care was taken not to mix too much grout at once as it sets very quickly and becomes difficult to work with.


This binder will help the grout adhere to the concrete.

Laying the grout bed and placing the granite blocks requires several people.


The shims have been carefully adjusted and the granite removed in preparation for the bed of grout.

The grout is glopped against the back corner of the notch. The grout is placed around and over the spacers. When enough grout is laid in the notch to completely fill the space beneath the granit block, the granite is lifted and set into place.

The granite is then slightly moved and adjusted on the bed of grout until the top is aligned with the top of the manual pad. Excess grout should ooze out from the space beneath the block.


The granite is gently laid onto the bed of wet grout.

Excess grout that oozes out from beneath the granite is scooped up with trowels and pushed into the vertical space behind the granite block. The grout sets quickly so this work must be done rapidly.

It is not critical to create a beautiful grout joint. The priority should be to ensure that grout is completely behind and underneath the granite block.

Note the granite awaiting grout on the other side of the ledge.


Get volunteers for the grout work.

s the grout begins to harden, a mason’s trowel is used to begin to clean up the edges. Most of the excess grout can be quickly scraped away. This is a great project for any kids who have been lurking around the project. Later they can tell their friends that they helped build it and this will encourage them to keep an eye out for people who like to screw with other peoples’ stuff.


Areas around the corners will require extra grout.

Some areas required extra grout. This was packed into the space then allowed to harden. After the grout is the consistency of moist clay the excess is scraped away.

Fingers, plastic knives and all sorts of devices are then used to finish the grout joints. They should be flush with the surfaces of the concrete and granite.

Step 9: Wrapping Up


It should be ready to try out within an hour.

Within 40 minutes the grout is mostly dry. The entire form is rinsed and lightly scrubbed with a broom to wash away any excess grout.

The water served as a good indicator for when the new manual pad was ready to try out. When the water was evaporated the new structure could be skated.

The skatepark regulars played a game of SKATE to determine who got to take the inaugural run.


Expense Breakdown

Generator Rental: $55.00
Form Materials: 226.33
Rain Protection: 51.62
Grout: 60.15
Concrete: 550.00
Granite & Fabrication: 1,425.00
Concrete Cutting (service): 300.00

TOTAL: $2,906.86

Volunteer Hours: 50

Full project gallery:

no images were found

Map to skatepark:

Center map