making big stone steps

stevedug(TN)February 28, 2006

i'm planning on making some stone steps up the slide of a hill. its about a 6 foot rise and a 10 foot slope. i wish i had a picture of the hill. these will be very informal and will not be a major walkway. they are in the backyard and i'd like them to be 3-6 ft wide so that they can be used to sit on also as they are close to a play area. i plan to use either large sandstone/limestone slabs, 2"-6" flattish fieldstone, or a combination of the two.

anyway, has anyone made such steps, have some pictures, or any practical advise. i'm wondering if i should set them in a gravel base or just set them on the dirt after i compact it.

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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

Steps are a little trickier than a simple wall. You don't say your zone, but I'm guessing you have freezes in TN, in which case just putting them on compacted dirt will be a decision that you will regret in future years, as it slowly heaves out of place and gets more crooked with each year.

I'd recommend a book by David Reed (the art of stonescaping.) as I couldn't cover all the details. I'm sure you could get it at your local library. The important thing is to build your steps from the BOTTOM up, not top down.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2006 at 9:27AM
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callousedknees(z5 IN)

hi stevedug

I am an amateur and have absolutely no expertise. I built a set of flagstone steps last summer on a bank that is smaller than yours. I used irregular pieces of very thick flagstone (4'-18' thick and very heavy). Unlike the advice given above, I built it from the top down. If it would have been easier, I wish I would have known, but my concern was being level with the ground at the top and working with what I had, I think it would have been very difficult to go the other way. I buried the stones right into the bank using sand for leveling. I hope maybe the thickness of the stones will keep it from heaving. I have no idea how it will hold up, but thought I would share it with you. It was very hard work but in the end it was all worth it. Keep the number of a good chiropractor handy!

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 3, 2006 at 9:03PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Ditto to both of the above replies - I have no expertise beyond having built some steps last fall, and I bet you have climate issues to think about. Mind you, repairs are possible so you can just lay stones on dirt and then redo with gravel if necessary.

As for direction, I think starting at the bottom makes more sense intuitively, but it may depend on at which end you can more easily flex your level, because you can't be sure your total height will be as predicted (at least, we couldn't). Those are nice steps, callousedknees, here are the ones we built (or rather I have to credit DH because my back was knocked out of commission by the stone wall and he did most of this).

    Bookmark   March 7, 2006 at 1:36AM
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Hi Stevedoug-
I am a stone mason just over in Asheville. It's always best to start steps at the bottom of your slope, as you get toward the top you can always choose the next stones you use to meet the final grade. You can also rent a transit at your local equipment rental and that will help you determine the exact hight you need to reach. I always dig a base below the frost line, around here it's around 6-8". Next put down a layer of small gravel on your subsoil, make sure you have hit packed clay. You can adjust the level of your step by adding or removing gravel. Give your steps a very slight downward pitch, this will keep water from collecting on them. Then just work your way up, packing gravel around the edges of the stones as you go. You can also over lap the front edge of the upper stone with the back edge of the bottom stone to provide greater stability. Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 7, 2008 at 7:49PM
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jugglerguy(z4-5 MI)

I don't have anything to add, except a picture of the steps I built. That's wooly thyme on the steps and elfin thyme on the rest of the path. If you follow the link, there are pictures of the steps being built. I'm no professional either.

Here is a link that might be useful: More pictures

    Bookmark   March 16, 2008 at 7:30PM
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I am building steps next week (weather permitting). I typically take pictures of my projects as they progress.

Here is the hill I will be adding random steps to. The steps are not going to be evenly placed up the hill but instead random to keep the hill informal and to draw the eye upward. You can see 2 flat stones I have placed on the hill in the areas I think I will be adding the steps. I will also add one more (higher).

I did the stack stone wall myself last fall. I was all stoned-out and just couldnt bring myself to complete the steps. Now spring is in the air and I am recharged and ready to tackle the project.

Wish me luck...

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 9:43PM
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jugglerguy(z4-5 MI)

Good luck.

Judging by what you've done so far, I don't think you have much to worry about. It looks like you know what you're doing!

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 9:49PM
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Not bad for a girl 'eh?


    Bookmark   March 19, 2008 at 11:31PM
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Wow---These photos are amazing and what beautiful creations!

ElementalStone's information is informative and I'm printing it out for our next project!

Thank you all!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2008 at 4:18PM
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