One of the easiest and quickest ways to make a stone block sidewalk for your home is to lay down the stone and pavers without using any sort of concrete or cement. These dry-laid walkways have a lot of advantages over poured concrete. Putting down stone without mortar won’t work in every environment and yard, but if you want to make a walkway or even a patio in an area that’s relatively flat and well-drained then putting down a dry-block sidewalk could work well for your home.
Using stone allows you to customize the look and feel of your walkway much more than you can with cement, laying block without using any sort of mortar is much faster than spreading your own cement and letting it dry and the overall process is much easier for the average homeowner who doesn’t have a lot of concrete experience. You’ll need to be up for some physical labor but the process is pretty easy once you get going. This same process can be used to build stone patios or other flat areas in your yard.
Because this project includes some digging you may want to call 811 and have any utility lines marked out ahead of time. To install a dry-laid sidewalk you’ll only need to dig down about 5 or 6 inches in most cases, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Before you begin you’ll need to have your block ready to go, you’ll need some fine landscaping gravel or stone and you’ll need the following tools:
- a shovel
- a tamper (or equivalent heavy, flat object)
- a 4-foot level
- a handheld level
- garden stakes
- a 2×4 for leveling sand
- eye protection
The overall process is pretty straightforward and like most landscaping projects, the larger your area the more time you’ll need to dedicate to the project. This project would be great for a mild sunny day without any rain in the forecast for at least a day or so to allow you to finish the project.
Step 1 – Mark Out Your Patio or Walkway
First you’ll have to plan where your walkway or patio is going to be and you’ll want put a series of stakes in the ground along the path or area you intend to use. If you’re not sure of how you want your walkway to run you can try placing down garden hoses as imaginary lines. This will help you decide the width and flow of the area you intend to build. Most walkways are wide enough for two people to walk next to each other, so that means you’ll want to be at least 36 inches or 3 feet wide.
After the stakes are in, you should run some landscaping twine or heavy duty string tightly around each stake, like big game of connect-the-dots. If you’re measuring out a patio or a square area then you’ll want to be sure your area is even and square. You can do this by measuring the distance diagonally between opposite corners. Your square is perfect if the two diagonal measurements are identical.
Once the strings are in place you may want to also use a can of spray paint and quickly line out the grass or ground, directing the can directly down and over the string line. Though optional, this will serve as an additional marker of the area you’ll be placing your blocks.
Step 2 – Excavate
Now it’s time to dig and remove all the grass and ground cover inside the marked area. This is where you’ll be laying the blocks for your walkway. You can use a sod shovel to cut through heavier grass if needed. While you’re removing the grass and other living coverings you’ll also want to be on the look out for any heavy roots or other organic objects in your way. You ultimately want to remove anything and everything that could rot and sink or could rise up later.
Plan to go down at least a few inches, based on the thickness of your cement or stone blocks and the amount of gravel you are planning to put down. If you have a 2 inch thick block and you’re going to use 2 inches of gravel and 1 inch of sand then you’re going to need to dig down 5 inches throughout the entire area. If you want a raised walkway you can just dig a more shallow trench.
You want this base to be as level as possible without any debris of any sort. If you area has a mild slope to it then you’ll want the base to be consistent, but still slope gradually with the terrain so that the walkway is still even to the step, but excessive water will flow to the sides.
Step 3 – Sand and Gravel
Now it’s time to put down support layer for your walkway. You can use landscaping sand, crushed gravel or even a combination of the two, depending upon your soil. You’ll want to put down a layer of crushed gravel first and use a rake to even it out. At this point you can also choose to roll out a layer of landscaping fabric which will allow for water drainage but will greatly reduce the chances of weeds growing up from the soil and through your walkway. You can use a level to be sure it’s as even and flat as possible before you lay down a layer of sand on top.
Evening the gravel and sand is a little bit of an art form, so it may take some time to get it just right. Be patient. A screed board is just a flat and straight piece of wood which can be dragged over the sand to make things perfectly flat. I’ve used a heavy duty level to do the same thing. Dips and waves in your sand will translate into dips and waves in your stone walkway. After your sand is even you can tamp it down with a metal tamper. This compresses the sand to make your surface more solid and rigid for your stone to lay on.
Step 4 – Install The Edging
I’ve installed a small block patio before without any edging at all, but it’s often a good idea to use some of the block you’ve picked out or an additional style of brick or stone to edge the perimeter of the area you’ve excavated. Again, careful planning will be required to make sure your edging will be no higher than your block pathway once it’s laid out. A brick edge that’s slightly higher than the walkway itself could be a tripping hazard and could trap water in a heavy rain.
To edge your walkway with block you may need to lay the stones on their sides or use a masonry saw to cut them in half. If you have experience with cement blocks you can score them with a heavy duty rock chisel and then snap them neatly in half.
Step 5 – Install the Pavers
Now you want to begin laying out your stone pavers on the sand, using a rubber mallet or block of wood to gently “knock” the pieces tightly into place. Feel free to vary the directions or pattern as you desire, as long as the stones are tight against each other. After placing each brick or paver you will want to use a 4-foot level to make sure it’s even and flat and level with the other blocks around it and you’ll want to use a smaller handheld level to make sure the brick itself is laying as flat as it can.
If a paver is sticking up or two high then you can tap it down with the rubber mallet, but if a block of stone is too low you will need to remove it and place a little more sand beneath it and then replace the block. If your walkway curves or has angles and area that don’t fit the block shape you’re using then you’ll again need to get creative and cut or snap your pavers to fit into those areas. Again, a masonry saw can help in this, but if that’s outside your budget then some garden centers may be willing to cut your blocks to shape for a small fee.
Step 6 – Fill In The Joints Between the Stones
Now that you have your walkway completed you will want to fill in the joints with sand. Take the same fine landscaping sand you used for the block walkway’s base and sprinkle it over your walkway, a few cups at a time. Now take a stiff broom and sweep the sand back and forth over the surface, which should push a lot of the sand into the cracks and crevices between the bricks.
Once you’ve gone over the surface with sand once you can spray down stone area lightly with a garden hose, let it dry, and then repeat one or two more times. Each time you wet the area you paved you should see some of the sand settling in the joints a little bit. After two or three times the cracks between the bricks of your walkway will be tightly filled with sand… and your paver walkway will be ready to walk on!
This method is not necessarily recommended for driveways where cars or trucks will park regularly because their excessive weight usually demands a thicker foundation of stone and heavier pavers than you might use for a sidewalk. In those cases a vibrating tamper is usually used to really compact the surface and block structure well. Enjoy your new stone sidewalk!