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Question DetailsAsked on 10/11/2017

I want to make a pathway in my yard with flagstone or stamped concrete. How do I prepare the ground?

The pathway is 4 feet in width , length is about 20 feet and it has a curve to turn and continues

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2 Answers


A bit too much to describe fully here, especially as there are several approaches. Generally, you need a compact, load-bearing subbase material which is free-draining - may be native material (below the topsoil) in some areas, may have to have structural geotextile under it and sometimes as much as a foot or so (commonly 4-6 inches for pathways which will not bedriven on) of excavation and replacement with suitable base material in very poor soils. In freezing areas best if the top of this base (which should be non-frost susceptible fill) is at least an inch above the surrounding ground layer so the path will not have standing water or "pumping" of the blocks when they are walked on - though if the base is kept well-drained to lower surrounding areas it is possible to make the surface of the walk level or even a bit below grade for aesthetic purposes - just more likely to have issues.

Then a "base" material, typically about 2" thick, of compacted crushed stone (crushed better than gravel because rounded gravel moves around a lot under load).

For concrete, you then put in edge forms to hold the wet concrete and form the edge shape and level, place reinforcing, then place and stamp the concrete, filling along the edges with free-draining granular material afterwards - or topsoil to let lawn grow back in to the edge, as desired.

For stamped concrete, generally a homeowner does not have the skill in finishing the concrete in a timely manner or the "feel" for the concrete curing to do a stamping job by themselves - most of the time they get caught short on time and end up with rough or splotchy stamping or stamping that does not embosss deep enough. My recommendation, leave stamped concrete (and all concrete if not at least somewhat experienced in concrete work and having a helper or two on the job for that size job) to professional Concrete contractors. Also, individual commonly get caught with the concrete taking initial set and/or paying for truck standby time because of transporting the concrete on a walkway job, getting joints in, finishing it, etc - they cannot place the required quantity in the time needed to release the truck and let it get onto its next delivery.

With flagstones or pavers, you need the subbase per above, then an edging strip (usually steel plate about 6 inches wide on edge) staked along the edge to keep them from kicking out sideways. Then place and compact the base (some do this before the edging then place 4" edging with normal 2-4 inch pavers), then a bedding layer of mason's or coarser sand (commonly 1/2"-1" thick) goes in next to allow you to tamp (with rubber mallet) and "bed" the pavers and get them in the proper surface plane as they are placed, mason's or "paver sand" is then placed over the top once they are level and compacted into the joints - preferably with a powered plate compactor but hand tamping can be used for small jobs, packing that sand into the joints to lock the pavers together, then washing it in as the excess is swept off - commonly with a re-sanding pass after the first rain or two. Pavers or stone may be sealed in the process in some cases, though in my opinion sealing commonly causes more problems than it solves. My philosophy - if the stone (or pavers) has such poor weathering qualities it has to be sealed, don't use it.

There is a quicker, simpler pathway method with pavers, getting a suitable base (constructed or natural) to a depth equal to 1-2 inches plus paver/flagstone thickness below the existing grade (or a touch more if you want them a bit lower than surrounding surface foir grass mowing without clipping the stones), then hand bedding them and rubber-mallet tamping them down in pea gravel similar to the sand above, with pea gravel in wider (typically 2 inch wide) joints. Of course, give you pea gravel on top and a bit kicked off into adjacent areas at times - works best with irregular surface stone or "daisy block" type paving blocks (with lots of holed-through areas which also are packed with gravel) - but holds well, does not require edging strip if adjacent soil or sod is reasonably firm and cut close to fit, and makes it quite easy to dig in with a large screwdriver or such to lift up stones or pavers from time to time (about everry 5 years or so for a half dozen stones on my probably 200 LF of stone walkway in a heavy freeze-thaw area) when they are are sinking a bit.

One blended possibility - using the paver method of installation, but using interlocking concrete blocks - can give you, especially in larger cities where they may have several of blocks which interlock with each other properly, a result similar to stamped concrete (including irregular pattern if desired) but installed as pavers. Come in I, W, cloverleaf, X, S, trapesoidal, wavy-edged (like Moroccan tile), "random size block" which looks like dimensional flagstone, and sometimes other shapes - google this search phrase to see examples - interlocking concrete paver images

My recommendation - go to the several how-to articles and videos on This Old House website (some also on Hometime and other how-to sites) to see how it is done - there must be half a dozen or more pathway and driveway paver/flagstone jobs there. YouTube too of course - though not all of them use proper technique, or ignore possible soil conditions or slope or drainage issues.

Stone walkway of course can be a bit-a-day DIY job - but unless you are a glutton for punishment, doing just a block or two or concrete a day with wheelbarrow mixing of the concrete (about 10 sacks of premix bagged concrete per 4x4x4" thick block), concrete paths of any length are not really a DIY job unless you are experienced enough to handle the entire pathway of concrete at one time (or at least a truckload at a time) including transportation and finishing.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD


One thing I did not describe is the simplest solution, assuming the pathway is just for light foot traffic and your native soil or sod is relatively stable - i.e. your foot doesnot sink in or leave deep impression at any time of the year. Just plop the pavers/flagstones (which should be minimum 2 inches thick, more like 3-4 inches if a weak stone like shale) on the ground or turf - using a bit of mason's sand or traction sand (I like that better - coarser so drains better) underneath so when you scootch it into position (technical paving stone term there) it has full bearing under it and is not high-centered (which can promote breakage).

If you want you can lay on the ground and incise around it with a narrow space, then lift the stone up, dig down inside the incised area to remove sod or dirt to the thickness of the paver (1/4" more if you want to mow over it easily) so the stone is inset into the ground, then if you did not incise and recess it fill in between in the gaps (which should be 1/2" or larger) with crushes fine stone or traction sand or topsoil (if wanting grass to grow in).

This method will likely need occasional adjustment but almost eliminates the prep work - has the advantage of getting the project done quickly on DIY jobs, and you can always go back later and pull the pavers up and do improvement of the base if that turns out to be needed down the road.

One other possibility I also did not mention but you can google them - carrying the above grass-filled joints a bit further - is grass pavers, where the pavears have opening through them and you put in topsoil and seed it so you end up with a grassy pathway with the stability and trafficability of a paving stone. Not so hot for party environments though, because high heels get caught in the grass sections and break off or get stuck, tripping up the wearer. Not such a problem with larger pavers or flagstones with grass in between because the walker can be careful to step only on the pavers.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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