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How to Install Stone Steps

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Stone steps may have been the first type ever built, when early man threw down rocks to help him up or down a slope. Today's stone steps are more decorative, while still serving their original purpose of getting people up and down grades. Steps may be built with any kind of stone, laid in concrete, set with mortar or just laid in the ground. All steps have two elements, treads and risers. Space treads at least a comfortable stride distance apart and at least a foot wide. Make risers at least 4 inches and no more than 8 inches high.

Decide what type of stone steps you want. The basic options are large natural stones as both treads and risers, or built-up steps formed with smaller rocks and installed with concrete or mortar. Use natural stones for a more rustic look, especially on gentler slopes where wider treads and lower risers work well. Build steps of quarried rock, usually cut into regular shapes like rectangles or squares, on steep slopes where a lot of short steps will be needed. Use quarried rock as an option on wider treads and gentler slopes.

Lay out the step line and mark it on both sides with wood stakes and builder's twine, slightly larger than the planned final width. Dig out the area with a shovel, basically making steps in the ground with risers and treads spaced approximately the final height and width. Cover the dirt with landscape fabric to prevent weeds and grass from growing in the steps. Make a border of wood, metal or plastic at the desired width of the steps; this can be permanent or made to be removed when steps are finished.

Put down a base of gravel, using boards across the step area to hold it in place until the stones are installed. Compact the gravel and level it. Add a layer of sand or wet concrete to make it easy to adjust the height of the steps to level them. Build steeper steps by setting risers in place first to hold the later treads; plan these so each riser will go to the bottom of the tread stone below, which will help hold it in place. Make individual stone steps by starting at the bottom, laying one stone in place, then overlapping the next stone slightly; work your way to the top of the steps. Remove the temporary retaining boards once stones are set.

Add tread stones on steps with built-up risers. Use a level to make sure these are flat and level. Make sure there are no protrusions or upright chunks that can catch toes and trip people. Adjust the stones in the sand or wet cement to correct such problems; in extreme cases, use a hammer and cold chisel to chip off outcroppings.


Add a hand rail for safety on steep steps.

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