The simplest form of stone paving consists of laying flat stones directly in the earth; the earth is dug just enough to make sure each stone sits firmly without rocking. Grass or ground cover will grow between the stones and you can mow right over them if you like. This method is appropriate for a rustic, natural setting such as a garden path.
For a slightly more formal look, lay a flagstone walk in a bed of compacted sand. This is a bit more work but still makes a simple project. You'll have flatter, more regular paving and joints of sand between the stones instead of growing vegetation. The sand bed acts as a cushion and compensates for minor irregularities in the ground. Once the bed is in place, laying the stones is a lot like doing a puzzle---different stone combinations are tried until the best fit and smallest gap between joints are achieved.
Tools and Materials:
Flagstones, Filedstones, or other flat stones - Tamper - Heavy work gloves - Landscaping fabric - Safety Goggles - Standard 2 x 4 or 1x4 - Measuring tape - Rubber mallet - String - Piece of plywood - Wood stakes - 4-foot-long-spirit level - Small sledgehammer - Pencil or crayon - Framing square - Brick hammer - Garden Hose - Pitching chisel - Shovel and spade - Piece of board or pipe - Gravel - Broom - Sand - Knee pads or Protectors.
Laying a Walkway in the Sand
For walks, a 2-inch sand bed is usually adequate. If your soil has a large percentage of clay or doesn't drain well for other reasons, excavate an extra 4-inches deep and add 4 inches of compacted gravel. To protect your hands, wear heavy work gloves and, when cutting stones, be sure to wear safety goggles and a breathing dust mask.
1) Lay Out the Perimeter
Set stakes adjacent to any existing construction to mark where the edge of the patio or walkway will be, and set stakes for the outside corners a little beyond the proposed edge. Use a framing square to make sure corners form right angles. For free-form shapes, lay out the curves using a garden hose. Then go around the outline, sinking a spade in the earth to score the perimeter. When this is done, remove the stakes and string, as well as the hose.
2) Excavate the Soil
When you set the stones, they should be about 1 inch above the ground. To do this, excavate to a depth that equals the thickness of the stone minus 1 inch, plus 2 inches for the sand bed, plus 4 inches for a gravel base, if needed . Remove all grass, sod, roots and large rocks. Set the sod aside because you will need it to fill in around the edges. Place the gravel now, if using it, and tamp it down with a hand tamper or mechanical tamper.
3) Install a Weed Barrier
Install a layer of landscaping fabric on the excavation or on top of the gravel. Overlap adjoining sections that are covered by at least 4 inches. Landscaping fabric is designed to prevent weeds from growing through the cracks, yet still allow air and water to pass through.
4) Spread and Screed the Sand Bed
Top the landscaping fabric with ordinary construction sand. Tamp, then use a straight length of 2 x 4 or 1x4 to “screed” the sand level.
5) Install the Stones
Starting in one corner, place the stones on the sand and tamp them into place using a rubber mallet. Make sure that the stones are solidly bedded and do not wobble. If necessary, dig out a little sand to make the bedding more solid. Arrange the straight stone edges toward the outside perimeter and fit the irregular edges together, leaving about ½ to ¾ inch space between the stones.
6) Cut and Shape the Stones
Some stones will need to be trimmed for a better fit. First, hold the stone to be cut over those in place and using a pencil or crayon, approximate the cutting line and mark it.
For small sections, trim the pieces off using a brick hammer.
For larger sections, first score the marked line using a pitching chisel and small sledgehammer. Then prop the scored stone on a board or raised area and tap off the unwanted piece using the sledgehammer.
7) Fill the Joints with Sand
When all the flagstones or fieldstones are placed, sweep the joints full of sand to stabilize lock in the stone. Dampen the sand with a mist from a garden sprayer to compact it, then sweep more sand into the joints. Fill the joints again in a few days if the sand settles further.
Now stand back… and admire your work.
Installing a Stone Walkway Over a Packed Sand Base
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