How to Build a Stone Pathway
Learn how to build a stone pathway, from planning to the finished walk, using gravel, sand and flagstones.
Whether a winding path through the landscape or a straight walk through a narrow side yard, a stone pathway adds character along with practicality. While building a stone path requires planning and a talent for jigsawing the flat stones together, the finished product allows you to traverse your yard and garden with ease.
Prepare the Site
Mark the Path
Use two garden hoses or landscapers paint to mark the path. Measure the path with a tape measure to ensure that it is the same width from beginning to end.
Order the Supplies
With the width and length of the path, the local landscaping supply can calculate and deliver the materials to your driveway. Crushed gravel, builders sand and flagstone are heavy -- too heavy for the average homeowner's pickup truck.
Measure the space for the path and then sketch it onto graph paper. Add surrounding landscaping and buildings to the site plan. When planning your path, consider its use. A 36-inch-wide path allows two people to walk side-by-side or a mobility-impaired person to navigate a wheelchair through the garden. To turn a wheelchair around requires an area at least 60 inches wide. Provide a turnaround or small patio at the end of a dead-end path.
Before building a stone path, contact 811 to ensure that there are no underground utilities, such as power, water, sewer or phone lines, where you're planning to dig,
Build the Pathway
Dig the trench for the path, removing all vegetation and dirt, to a depth of 6 inches.
Rake the soil in the excavated path to level it. Check with a spirit level, laying the level on a board. Sprinkle the soil lightly with water, just to dampen it, and tamp it firmly with a hand tamper or plate compacter.
- Cut a two-by-four board to the width of your path and use it to scree, or level, the layers of soil, crushed gravel and sand. * A plate compacter may be rented from home improvement and rental centers.
Install landscape fabric over the tamped soil to prevent the gravel from sinking into the earth. It also helps prevent weeds from growing up through the layers of the pathway.
Install the walk's border. A straight walk may use two-by-six pressure-treated boards, while a winding walk may require flexible plastic or galvanized roll-top edging. Insert the edging against the edges of the soil. Pound either wood stakes or the stakes provided with the edging into the ground so they hold the edging tightly against the soil. Screw the stakes to the edging.
Add 4 to 5 inches of crushed gravel to the path. Level it and then sprinkle it lightly with water. Tamp the gravel firmly. It compacts to a layer of approximately 3 inches deep.
Rake a 3-inch layer of sand over the gravel. Scree the sand so it is level. Dampen it lightly and then compact it. Add additional sand if necessary to fill low spots.
Lay the stones over the sand, fitting the pieces together according to your plan. Flagstones are available in squares, rectangles or irregularly shaped pieces. Tap each stone with a rubber mallet to set it into the sand. Add or remove sand to ensure that the stones are solidly set on the base and even. Use a board and the spirit level to keep the path level.
Pour coarse sand or stone dust over the stones and sweep it into the cracks and crevices. Sprinkle the stone pathway with water and add more sand or stone dust. Sweep it over the walk until the spaces between the stones are full.
For an overview of a variety of stones you can use for your pathway project, see Types of Stone for Walkways.
Wear shoes or boots, long pants, long sleeves, heavy work gloves, safety goggles and a dust mask when digging and working with crushed gravel, sand and stones or flagstones. Add sunscreen and a hat to protect against sunburn.
If the pathway will be used by a mobility-impaired person, space the stones 1/8 to 1/4 inch apart to allow the wheelchair to roll smoothly over the finished walk.
Things You Will Need
- Quarried stone
- Sod cutter
- Rubber mallet or “deadblow” hammer
- Protective gloves
- Spray Paint
- String and wooden stakes
- Mixed equal amounts of potting soil and compost (as filler)
- Low, fragrant, spreading plants (i.e.-creeping thyme or clover)