Do It Yourself: Laying Flagstone Walkways

Design and build your own flagstone walkway. Some basic ideas and simple instructions along with a list of materials.

Flagstone walkways can be aesthetically pleasing enhancements to your yard and landscaping. Flagstone offers all the convenience of a dry pathway from your great outdoors to your clean indoors without compromising the beauty of nature.

There are a variety of ways to lay flagstone; from the easy, but not very permanent method of cutting away sod and placing stones on the ground, working them into a level position where one can walk without tripping as well as run a lawn mower over without scraping the blades. The problem with this style of walkway is that frost or excessive rain could cause the stones to shift, and eventually grass and moss will grow over the stones.

Another rather simple method is to lay flagstones in smooth, washed gravel. The entire walkway would have to be dug out to a depth of 4 inches, filled with an attractive small stone such as pea gravel or river stone. Then the flagstone can be placed on top. When you are happy with the pattern and spacing of the large flat stones you can begin to work them back and forth until they are settled in a level position within the gravel. Either of these methods can be accomplished in a short amount of time, but you may not have the satisfactory feel of permanence. Although frost won't heave, and rain won't shift your stepping stones, this walkway is tricky when it comes to raking leaves in the fall. You'll rake away your gravel with the leaves. And it's difficult to shovel snow in the winter. The snow shovel scoops up gravel and catches on the stones.

The long-lasting way to lay a flagstone walkway is in concrete. This method is more labor intensive, and will take more than one day, but the beautiful and enduring results are worth the trouble. Design your walkway on graph paper and/or lay it out with stakes and string exactly where you want it.

You will need the following: a garden spade, gravel for a drainage base, concrete mix, a wheelbarrow or small cement mixer and an available water supply, a hoe to mix concrete and water, several lengths of 2 X 4's or 1 X 4's to use as forms, strips of cardboard to place between concrete sections to allow expansion and prevent frost heaving, a hand trowel, a sponge, and flagstones. Measure your walkway area in square yards. You'll need this number when purchasing gravel and concrete mix. The concrete mix comes in 60 to 80 pound bags at hardware stores or building supply stores. On the bags are complete instructions for mixing and pouring concrete as well as a chart for amounts needed.

After the walkway is marked and measured use a spade to dig out the area 5 inches deep. Then fill the dug out area 2 inches deep with gravel. From this point on, work in sections not larger than 4 feet by 4 feet at a time. Set forms for your first section, making the top of the form level with the ground. Plan how you want the flagstone to look by placing the stones within the form on top of the gravel. When you are pleased with the fit and pattern of your flagstones remove them. Tip: lay the stones in the same pattern on the ground beside the section you are working on so you will be able to set them in the concrete quickly when you get to that stage.

Now you are ready to mix concrete in a wheelbarrow or cement mixer. It will take nearly 500 pounds (6 - 80# bags or 8 - 60# bags) of concrete to fill a 4 foot by 4 foot by 3 inch section on top of your 2 inch gravel base. If using a wheelbarrow you can only mix about 2 bags of concrete at a time, so you'll need to mix and pour 3-4 times for a 4 foot by 4 foot section. Follow the instructions on the bag of concrete mix. When the concrete reaches ½ inch from the top of the form begin placing your flagstones. Place them quickly. Push flagstone into a level position, keeping a 2 X 4 piece of wood or a level handy to ensure level positioning of the stones. If the concrete is spilling over the top of the form scoop some out with a hand trowel. If the concrete is not rising to the top of the form add more concrete with a hand trowel. While the concrete is still wet, use a sponge and bucket of water to wipe off any concrete that may have splattered on the flagstones. Finally, to add a uniform textured look, gently wipe the wet concrete with your sponge.

Congratulations, one section is done. The forms must be left in place for 24 hours, so if you want to do more than one section at a time you must stagger your sections. Measure off your next section, skip it, and then place a new form one section up in the walkway. Fill that section just as you did the first. Continue this staggered process.

The next day you can remove the forms and use them for the next or in-between sections. This time you don't need a form on the edges that butt up against the previous and following sections. However, this is where a piece of cardboard comes in. Cut strips of corrugated cardboard and place against the finished sections. Continue by setting the side forms in place. Then fill this section with concrete allowing the cardboard to serve as a form next to the completed section(s) of walkway. Do not remove the cardboard, it will disintegrate over time providing just a bit of buffer space to prevent damage in case of frost.

Keep on section by section until your walkway is complete. Whatever method you chose for laying a flagstone walkway you'll enjoy it for years to come. So, design it, build it, and take great pride in having accomplished it yourself.

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