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Building a Stone Walkway

Learn how to lay a flagstone pathway around your home.

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  • Time

    Weekend

  • Price Range

    $500 - $1,000

  • Difficulty

    Easy to Moderate

Step-by-Step Instructions:

Plan the Design

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There are many types of building stone available, so it's important to choose one suitable for the walkway you want to create. You also want to choose stone that complements your yard and home. In this project, we’re using a rough-cut flagstone for a random, rustic look appropriate to its lawn and garden setting.

When buying stone for a walkway or any other building project, consider these criteria:

Climate: If winters are cold where you live, use dense stone like granite, bluestone or quartzite that can withstand freezing temperatures. Softer, more porous stones like limestone and sandstone are better suited to warmer areas because when temperatures fall below freezing, any water they absorb could cause them to spall and crack.

Style: Use stone that suits your home’s architectural style. The clean, sharp lines of modular or geometric-shaped stone make it a good choice for contemporary homes; brick and cut stone blocks, called ashlar, are more suitable for traditional or period homes; and the rustic look of rough, irregular stone adds to the character of country homes.

Function: A widely spaced, random stone path, such as the walkway we're creating, is better suited for gardens or secondary paths across lawns or in backyards. For a high-traffic walkway leading to a home's entry, choose smooth, uniformly cut stone set with tight joints to prevent trips and make walking easier.

This project features a walkway that branches off from the front gate and meanders around the side of the home to the backyard. To give it a rustic look, we're using flagstone for the path and cobblestones for a border. The path will be in a low-traffic area and we want it to blend in with the lawn and garden plantings, so we've designed it with wide grass joints between the stones.

Take Measurements and Order Materials

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Calculate the square footage of the walkway area to estimate the quantities of material you'll need. First, determine the approximate width of your path, then multiply that number by the walkway's length, which will give you the square foot total. Your stone supplier should be able to provide the right amount of materials based on your figures.

Flagstone (Image 1) comes in a variety of thicknesses, ranging from one to four inches. If there are no stone yards or quarries in your area, you can order it through your local builder's supply. It's usually bundled on wooden pallets and sold by weight. One pallet typically contains one and a half tons of stone. Depending on thickness, one ton of flagstone will cover 80 to 100 square feet of walkway.

Flagstone may be set directly on well-drained earth, but placing it on a base of gravel or sand ensures drainage and makes it easier to bed and level rough, heavy stone. In areas where freezing and frost heave can be a problem, the gravel also provides room for ice to expand and prevents the individual stones from lifting. Many of our flagstones will sit on a layer of crusher run (Image 2, bottom), a type of gravel made of crushed limestone, which can be purchased along with the stone. Crusher run is sold by the cubic yard. It’s a good idea to buy about 10 percent more than your estimate to avoid additional delivery costs if you run short.

For this project, we also used about 25 four-inch cobblestones (Image 2, top) to edge the portion of the walkway that runs through a flowerbed.

Layout the Walkway

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Start by laying the flagstones on top of the grass to check spacing (Image 1). Arrange pieces to make the path look natural, and rearrange the stones as necessary to obtain a random balance of color and shape (Image 2). As a general rule, lay two smaller pieces of flagstone adjacent to every large one. Walk on the stones to see whether they're stable and spaced to accommodate a comfortable gait. Adjust them if they're too far apart or too close together. Be sure the joints – the space between the flagstone pieces – are consistent. Joints should be no more than four inches wide (Image 3).

Prep the Walkway Base

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Use a garden trowel or spade to cut through the turf around each stone (Image 1). You need to penetrate only the grass and roots sod layer – about an inch or two deep – at this point. Move the stones away; remove the underlying sod (Image 2), and set it aside for later. As outlined below, dig out about four inches of soil for your gravel base (Image 3), depending on the thickness of each piece of flagstone.

If using thicker stones, you can set them directly on the soil without crusher run (Image 4). Their bulk makes them far less likely to move. Thinner flagstones will require a layer of crusher run one to three inches deep to ensure stability and create a firm base (Image 5). Use a hand tamper (a length of 4x4 works well) to flatten and level the loose material.

Set and Shape the Stones

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Add a one-inch-deep layer of loose gravel on top of the crusher run base. Because each stone has a different thickness, adjust the amount of gravel for the correct depth and level (Image 1). Use a rubber mallet to pound the stone into the gravel until its surface is flush with the surrounding sod surface (Image 2). Use a level to make sure the individual stones are equal in height and level with the ground around them, and that none are set too high. This will prevent people from tripping while also allowing for mowing over the walkway.

Check the stones for stability by rocking back and forth on each with your full weight (Image 3). If a flagstone wobbles, adjust the gravel base underneath as needed (Image 4).

Because this walkway is supposed to look rustic and natural, you don't need to "dress" each stone to remove or reshape irregularities. If you have to cut a stone for any reason, however, it can be accomplished with a mason's chipping hammer. Wear protective glasses to shield your eyes against flying stone chips when you do this.

First, use the hammer’s single flat tine to chip or score a cutline across the back of the stone, then turn the stone right-side up and repeat this scoring along a corresponding line across the stone face (Image 5). Then use the tool’s hammer end to rap sharply along the line to break the stone. Chip away any sharp stone spurs.

Continue placing and setting the flagstones until the path is complete.

Add a Cobblestone Border

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If the walkway goes through a flower bed or garden, a decorative border can help to define the path and hold back mulch (Image 1). In this project we used four-inch square cobblestones for the border.

First, dig a shallow trench, approximately six inches wide and six inches deep, on each side of the walkway. Next, mix preblended cement-sand mortar mix according to the manufacturer's instructions. For convenience, prepare just enough at a time to remain workable for a half hour or so.

Place a three-inch deep layer of mortar in the trench bottom (Image 2), then position the cobblestones so they sit an inch or two above the level of the walkway (Image 3). Use a rubber mallet to tap the cobblestones firmly into the mortar. Once a few are set, use a level to keep the cobblestone tops consistent with each other. To add strength to the border, place some mortar along the outer edges of the cobblestones (Image 4), below the path surface, and trowel it smooth at a slight angle away from the stone sides.

Clean Up and Replant Grass

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Use pieces of the grass sod previously set aside to fill any gaps between the flagstones and the surrounding turf (Image 1). Rake the entire work area, being careful not to disturb the replanted grass (Image 2). Wash off the stones with a garden hose to remove debris and help resettle the grass (Images 3 and 4). You can begin using the walkway right away (Image 5), and in a few days the grass will reestablish itself and your stone path will look like it's been there for years.

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