Make a Dry-Laid Stone Walkway

R. L. Rhodes
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Difficulty: Intermediate
Duration: 2-4 hours

A dry-laid stone walkway requires a bit of planning and some muscle to build. But the results are stunning and well worth the effort.

This walkway is made of flat stones resting on a bed of sand and gravel. Lifting stones can be rough on the back, so be sure to rely on your legs as much as possible when lifting the stones.

Materials

Tools

Instructions

Step 1: Lay out the path

Lay out the boundaries and slope of the walkway using batterboards, stakes, and mason’s line. Separate the sod along the edge of the walk with an edger. Loosen it by slipping the blade of a spade underneath the sod and pressing the handle flush with the ground. The loosened sod can be removed by kicking the back of the spade. Dig a bed deep enough to accommodate 4 inches of gravel, 2 inches of sand, and the thickness of the stones.

Step 2: Fill the bed with gravel and sand

Measure down from the mason’s line to make sure the surface follows the intended slope of the walk. Fill the excavated area with 2 inches of gravel. Tamp the gravel with a power tamper. Add another 2 inches and tamp again, repeating as needed until you have 4 inches of tamped gravel. Cover the surface with landscape fabric. If you need more than one piece of landscape fabric, overlap the sheets 12 to 18 inches. Spread 2 inches of bedding sand over the landscape fabric.

Step 3: Make a trial layout

Lay out the stones for the walkway on the ground next to the excavation — this leaves the sand-and-gravel bed undisturbed while you cut and fit stones. A gap of ½ inch between stones makes for a secure and tidy walk. You’ll almost certainly need to cut a few stones to make them fit.

Step 4: Cut and place the stones

When you need to cut a stone, mark the cut with a carpenter’s pencil, making the cut as straight as possible. Hold a brick chisel to the pencil line and strike it with a 3-pound sledgehammer. Score along the entire line this way. Place the stone on a block of wood with the scored line over the edge of the block. Detach the cut with a single, solid blow. Place the stones in position on the sand-and-gravel bed. Embed each one in the sand by tapping it with a rubber mallet until it is flush with the adjacent ground.

Step 5: Check for flatness

Stone walkways are never perfectly flat, but check for high and low spots by placing a straight 2×4 across the length and width of the walk. Settle a high stone with a tap of the mallet or by removing sand from beneath it. Add additional sand under any low-lying stones. Once you’ve laid all the stones, sweep mason’s sand into the joints with a stiff brush or broom. Since you can’t use a power tamper on uneven surfaces such as natural stone, mist the surface with water. Continue adding sand and misting until the joints are filled to the level of the stones.

 

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