How to Build Brick Steps Into a Hillside
A slope or hill can be an attractive element in a lawn or garden, adding visual interest and affording different planting locations. A hillside also can be awkward, requiring extra effort to climb up and down. A solution is to build steps. There are many options for steps in a hillside. You can use large flagstones or limestone slabs as individual steps, form steps of natural or quarried rock set in sand or mortar or you can build more formal steps with bricks. The basic step construction is similar for all materials.
Lay out the basic line for the steps, straight down the hillside or curved. Put a stake at the top of the hill and a tall pole at the bottom. Stretch a line between those two and level it with a line level. Measure at the bottom from the ground to the line with a tape measure and measure the length of the steps to calculate the rise in inches per foot; if the vertical distance is 5 feet and the length is 20 feet, the rise is 4 inches per foot.
Design the steps to fit the rise and length. Make treads at least 9 inches deep and risers on each step between 7 and 9 inches tall. Include a landing or extra wide tread partway down or at every bend if the steps change direction. Plan treads and risers around the dimensions of bricks, roughly 2-by-4-by-8-inches; vertical bricks with horizontal bricks on top make good risers.
- Lay out the basic line for the steps, straight down the hillside or curved.
Mark the width of the steps with stakes and mason's twine on both sides. Set stakes at every riser location. Make steps about 36 inches wide in most cases. Excavate the step area with a spade; basically, dig steps in the dirt about 6 inches deeper than the planned finish level of the steps.
Put a temporary plastic or wood barrier along each side of each tread and across the width at every riser point. Lay 2 inches of medium gravel in each tread location and compact it solidly with a hand tamper. Add 2 inches of sand on top of the gravel and compact it.
- Mark the width of the steps with stakes and mason's twine on both sides.
- Lay 2 inches of medium gravel in each tread location and compact it solidly with a hand tamper.
Start at the bottom placing bricks. Lay them in the sand between the barriers and level them with a level. Tap them with a rubber mallet to level them. Place the first risers with the bottoms of the bricks behind the tread bricks below them. Add tread and riser bricks to the top. Remove the temporary barriers as you replace them with bricks.
Sweep sand into the joints between bricks with a broom. Use polymeric sand, which will harden when dampened. Let the sand settle and sweep more sand in until the joints are sealed completely. Test the steps and adjust any that are uneven, loose or wobbly.
- Start at the bottom placing bricks.
- Tap them with a rubber mallet to level them.
- Lay concrete instead of sand if desired and set the bricks into that base, then fill the joints with dry brick mortar; sprinkle it with a garden hose to solidify the mortar.
Bob Haring has been a news writer and editor for more than 50 years, mostly with the Associated Press and then as executive editor of the Tulsa, Okla. "World." Since retiring he has written freelance stories and a weekly computer security column. Haring holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.