Installing a Flagstone Walkway
A stone walkway not only is functional, but will greatly enhance your yard, as well. However, many folks regard stone as a finish reserved for the rich and famous. Actually, a natural stone path can be as affordable as its traditionally less expensive counterparts – poured-in-place concrete, asphalt, brick, or a similar hard substance.
What makes stone more expensive than the other choices mentioned? The cost of the stone, the base on which it is set, and the labor to install it. While, its tough to get around the cost of the stone, there is some latitude with the other two components. Plan to spend in the neighborhood of $1 to $3 per square foot for quarried stone such as flagstone and silver mica.
When it comes to the base, a popular means of building a stone walkway is to lay the stone on a concrete slab. Thus, what you really have are two walks in one – and the cost that accompanies it. Moreover, with this method, the stone is set in a bed of mortar and the joints surrounding the individual pieces of stone are filled with mortar to create a monolithic installation. Due to its complexity, this method typically is left to a professional (the third component – labor). Thus the pricey project.
If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and dig in (literally), you can have a stone path that is as pretty as a picture and affordable. All you need to do is to install your stone in a bed of sand with a gravel base. The mortared-in-stone-on-concrete is the best money can buy and, properly installed, will last for eons. The alternative we are presenting will require periodic maintenance, as stones settle or shift and sand needs to be replenished at the joints.
The first step in building your stone walkway is to determine the location and to create a design. A meandering path is generally more appealing than one that is straight. Often, a garden path is too narrow, barely accommodating one person let alone an arm-in-arm couple. A path for single file use should be about 36 inches wide while one for two people should be no less than 48 inches. When laying out a path, try using flour. It is easy to see and can be easily “erased” should the design change. Wooden or metal stakes and string can also be used.
Next, use a shovel with a sharp blade to excavate the area down about 8 to 10 inches. At this time, an optional border can be installed. This can consist of a concrete curb, 2×6 pressure-treated wood, redwood or synthetic bender board or brick – the choice is yours. The wood or synthetic border material can be anchored in place with stakes and nails.
Next, install the rough base, which will enhance drainage and minimize movement. The base material, consisting of pea gravel or zero to three-eighths-inch crushed rock, should be 4 to 6 inches deep – more for expansive soil, less for stable soil. Use a steel rake to level the material and compact it using a garden hose and a hand tamp. You can make a hand tamp by attaching a piece of plywood to one end of a four-by-four post.
Install a layer of landscape fabric on top of the rock and then place approximately 2 inches of sand on top of it. The fabric will allow water to pass through, but will prevent sand from filtering down into the rock, which can inhibit drainage and cause the stone to settle. Level the sand using a steel rake or a wood screed, and compact it using water and a hand tamp as discussed earlier. The distance between the top of the sand and the surrounding area should be slightly less than the average thickness of the stone.
Now its time for the big moment – laying the stone. Arrange the stones for your walkway as if putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Choose an attractive pattern by test-fitting the stones over the walkway base. Select the smoothest and most attractive side of the stone to be exposed. The gaps between the stones should be somewhat uniform. Wearing safety goggles, use a mason’s hammer to shape the stone for the best fit. Thicker pieces can be cut by scoring them, using a circular saw with a masonry blade.
Next, lay a piece of stone on the bed of sand and add or remove sand to level the stone. Use a rubber mallet to firmly set the stone in the sand. A carpenters level or straight edge will help ensure that the path is flat.
After you have finished laying all of the stone, fill the gaps with sand, and use a broom to sweep off the excess. Use a garden hose to compact the sand and clean the stone. Since the sand in the joints can be eroded by wind and water, be prepared to refill the gaps with sand about once a year. An attractive means of curtailing erosion of the sand in the gaps is to plant a small ground cover or “creeper.”
Consider adding decorative low-voltage path lighting that will highlight your work of art after the sun sets.
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