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How to Form Concrete Steps Down a Steep Hill

By Carson Barrett ; Updated September 21, 2017
Cutting steps into a hillside can make it easier to traverse.
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If you have a steep hill in your yard, you can find that it's nearly impossible to climb after it rains or snows and the grass is wet, muddy or icy. You can work around this problem by building a set of concrete steps into the hillside. The concrete steps can provide a durable structure on which you can climb and descend the hill. Installing railings on the steps after they have cured can make them even safer.

Building the Concrete Steps

Step 1

Spray-paint the area of the hill where you want to build the steps. Space the lines the width of the steps plus one foot.

Step 2

Excavate the area between the spray-painted lines with a 1 1/2-ton excavator. Dig into the ground along the base of the area until you're 6 inches beneath the ground at the base of the hill.

Step 3

Smooth the soil in the bottom of the hole with a rake, and tamp it down to compact it.

Step 4

Pour a 4-inch layer of gravel in the bottom of the hole. Rake the gravel smooth, then tamp it.

Step 5

Cut the wood for the form for the steps out of 1/2-inch plywood boards. The back panel of the form will match the width of the steps and the height of the back edge of the steps. The two identical side panels are cut so that they resemble steps when viewed in profile. Follow your local building codes to determine the height of each step. Cut risers out of the plywood that are the same width as the steps, and are the same height as a single step. Wear safety goggles when sawing the wood.

Step 6

Nail one of the side panels of the form to each side of the back panel, then nail the risers into position across the front edge of the steps. Brush a thin layer of motor oil onto the inside edges of the form. The oil prevents the concrete from sticking to the form, making it easier to remove. Place the form into position on top of the gravel, centering it so that there is 6 inches of space on each side.

Step 7

Mix a batch of concrete, following the instructions on the packaging.

Step 8

Pour the concrete into the form, starting at the bottom step and working toward the back of the form. Tap a shovel on the sides of the form and work it around inside the concrete as you do the pour, to remove air bubbles trapped inside. Fill the form until the concrete sits slightly above the top edges to ensure that it's completely filled.

Step 9

Smooth the surface of the concrete by dragging a 2-by-4 board across the top of each step. Allow the concrete to set long enough that it can hold its shape without the form supporting it. Follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding this time period.

Step 10

Remove all of the riser boards from the form, except for the one at the bottom step.

Step 11

Glide a finishing trowel over the concrete, using circular motions, to smooth it and draw moisture from the concrete out to the surface.

Step 12

Smooth the front corners of the steps by running a step trowel over them, then add texture to the treads -- the part you step on -- with a wood float. This helps provide traction when the steps get wet.

Step 13

Cover the concrete with plastic sheathing for five to seven days as it cures. Once a day, remove the sheathing to add water to the concrete to keep it damp, then re-cover it.

Step 14

Remove the form after the concrete has cured, then backfill the soil around the steps to remove the gaps between the steps and the hill.

Installing the Railing

Step 1

Place the railings onto the steps where you want to install them. Have an assistant hold them steady, if needed.

Step 2

Mark the holes on the bottom of the railings for the bolts onto the steps, then remove the railings.

Step 3

Drill holes into the steps where you marked the bolt holes. Use a hammer drill with a masonry drill bit. Wear safety goggles when drilling the holes.

Step 4

Remove the concrete bolts from inside the sleeve anchors, then slide the sleeve anchors into the holes in the steps. If you're having difficulty inserting them, tap them lightly with a hammer until they are flush with the concrete.

Step 5

Move the railings back into position on the steps, aligning the holes in the steps with the holes in the railings.

Step 6

Slide the bolts through the holes in the railings and into the sleeve anchors, and tighten the bolts. Don't overtighten the bolts, however, as you can break the sleeve anchors.

Step 7

Paint the heads of the bolts to match the railing.


Things You Will Need

  • Spray paint
  • Tape measure
  • 1 1/2-ton excavator
  • Rake
  • Tamp
  • Gravel
  • 1/2-inch plywood
  • Circular saw
  • Safety goggles
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Motor oil
  • Paintbrush
  • Concrete
  • Shovel
  • 2-by-4 board
  • Finishing trowel
  • Step trowel
  • Wood float
  • Plastic sheathing
  • Iron railings
  • Assistant
  • Hammer drill
  • Masonry drill bit
  • Concrete bolts and sleeve anchors
  • Paint


  • Call 811, the Call Before You Dig number, to get the utility lines in your yard marked before you begin digging.

About the Author


Carson Barrett began writing professionally in 2009. He has been published on various websites. Barrett is currently attending Bucks County Community College, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in sports management.