Aesthetically, a walkway can draw the eye to a focal point in the yard. Practically, it can prevent a much trodden path from becoming a sea of mud after rain or snow. Timbered terraces or steps in a walkway not only tame modestly undulating terrain but also can protect a footpath from erosion.
For seldom or occasionally traveled routes, flagstones, thin precast concrete slabs, or other kinds of stepping stone can make an attractive walkway. Choose elements that are 18 inches to 24 inches across. Lay rectangular slabs in pairs to form squares, as shown on page 248.
For pathways that get more frequent use, a path of pine needles, bark mulch, or gravel is more suitable. Moreover, loose paving is easier and less expensive to build with than is concrete or brick. Spreading plastic sheeting called landscaping fabric under the paving keeps weeds at bay, and an edging of bricks prevents the paving material from washing into the lawn. Make the path at least 4 feet across, wide enough for two people to walk abreast.
Gloves protect your hands during spadework, and a back brace can reduce the risk of injury when digging. Wear goggles whenever you use a hammer.
For gentle inclines, construct a series of terraces called ramps. Set pressure-treated 6-by-8s into the slope and spread loose paving material between them. The distance between timbers can vary from 4 feet to 10 feet; generally, the steeper the slope, the closer together the timbers should be set. Whatever the distance, keep it uniform to help reduce the risk of stumbles.
On slopes too steep for ramps, timber steps make an attractive alternative. They require a hill that allows a tread depth of 11 inches or more (page 251). A steeper hill would demand an impractical amount of excavation.
Before beginning, check local building codes; in some jurisdictions, stairways of more than four steps require a handrail.
Laying out the stones
Position the stepping stones along the proposed pathway. Adjust them as necessary so that they fall naturally underfoot as you walk the path. Cut around the stones with an edge cutter (right), then set the stones aside. Remove the sod with a spade, digging ½ inch deeper than the thickness of the stepping stones.
Tapping the stones down
Spread ½ inch of sand in each hole, then place the stones on the sand. Tap the stones into place with the butt of a hammer (left) to bring the tops level with the ground.
Digging the path
Lay out a straight path with strings and stakes; for a curved path, use a rope or garden hose. Strip the sod between the marks with a sod cutter, then remove 2 or 3 inches of soil with a spade. Smooth the path with a rake. Dig edging trenches 2 inches wide and 2 inches deeper than the path. Spread landscaping fabric across the path and into the edging trenches (right) to curb weed growth.
Edging the path with brick
Place bricks on end in the trenches on either side (inset). Pack soil behind and under the bricks as needed to align the tops just above grass level. Fill the path with loose material, then level it with a rake (right).
Setting the timbers
Drill three ½-inch pilot holes through the narrow face of a 6-by-8 timber, one in the center and the others 6 inches from each end. At the bottom of the slope, dig a trench 2 inches deep and set the timber in it (left). Save the displaced soil to use for fill. With a 4-pound maul, drive 24-inch reinforcing rods through the pilot holes to anchor the timber. Working up the slope, anchor a timber in a 2-inch-deep trench at each timber location.
Making the ramps
Distribute the dirt from each trench along the uphill side of the corresponding timber. Tamp the loose fill (left), retaining a slight slope to the ramp to aid drainage. Uphill from each timber, spread a layer of loose paving. Keep the top of the layer below the top of the timber, and extend it up the slope to the next timber.
Measuring rise and run
Drive vertical stakes at the top and bottom of the incline. Tie a string to the upper stake at ground level. Hold the string against the lower stake, and level it with a line level. Mark the lower stake at the string (right), then measure the total rise, that is, the distance in inches between the mark and the ground. Divide the length of the rise by 5½ inches—the thickness of a 6-by-6 timber—to determine the number of steps. Round a fraction to the nearest whole number. Next, measure the horizontal distance between the stakes to get total run. Divide the run by the number of steps to find tread depth.
Anchoring the first step
To make the steps, cut 6-by-6 timbers to the desired width of the stairway. Nail two timbers together with two 10-inch galvanized spikes. Nail additional timbers to one or both sides of the first two to make a step of the correct tread depth, allowing for an overlap of at least 2 inches between steps. Make as many steps as needed for the stairway. In the front timber of each step, drill three ½-inch pilot holes, one in the center and the others 6 inches from each end. Working uphill from the stake driven at the bottom of the slope in Step 1, excavate a flat area large enough for the step. Secure the step with 24-inch reinforcing rods as shown right.
Installing the second step
Excavate an area above the first step large enough for the second one and set it in place. With light blows from a sledgehammer (left), adjust the position of the second step to the desired tread depth and step overlap. Next, drill three ½-inch pilot holes through the steps where they overlap. Drive reinforcing rods through the two steps and into the ground. Continue overlapping and securing the steps to the top of the slope.