Stone Puzzle: The Front Walk Emerges

– Posted in: Front Walk, How-to, New House, New Gardens
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How to Build a Stone WalkThe path project, on hold for weeks, finally took a step forward this past weekend. The split blue stone from the quarry arrived last week, three large pallets worth. The stone came in a variety of thickness and sizes, from half an inch thick to three inches thick, and from one foot in diameter to three feet. Weight ranged from 30 lbs for the thinnest and smallest to around 300 lbs for one or two monster stones. This was the material for the surface of the walk.

Building a stone walk with split bluestone

Two of the three pallets of stone that finally arrived after a long wait.

Starting this stage of the project was a little overwhelming. Not only were all the stones of different sizes but they were also all of many and varying irregular shapes. Somehow, we were supposed to sort through all the pieces and find the ones that would fit, in the right order, in the path. It was like putting together a puzzle, except many of the pieces weighed over a hundred pounds.

Removing bluestone from the delivery pallets before arranging them.

The stones had to be unloaded from the pallets before the best arrangement could be determined.

There were several of us working on this stage of the project and there was a bit of dispute over exactly how to get started. Stones were scattered all over the yard and the fact that none of them were magically fitting together became painfully obvious. Finally it was decided that we would start on the end of the walk against the house and I set a few stones down to get it started. From there it became a process of everyone hunting through the many remaining stones and trying out various pieces to see if they fit the emerging design.

Building a stone walk is like putting together a puzzle.

Rundy decides which stone to lay at the front.

Putting together the stone puzzle

Progress is being made!

Make sure you have a way to move the stones into position when building a stone walk.

Many of the stones required two strong men to move.

After four or so hours of work (with a break in the middle) we were about halfway through laying out stones and decided it was time to quit for the day. We had reached the point where our tiredness was such that we were looking for the lightest stones to use (rather than the best stones) and were telling ourselves that the fits were “good enough” when really we knew they weren’t. A man can dig a ditch until he is ready to fall on his face from exhaustion, but you can’t work that long if you need to keep your artistic and aesthetic eye.

When you're tired, you start choosing the easiest stone, instead of the best stone for the walk.

When you’re tired, you start choosing the easiest stone, instead of the best stone.

It was decided that rather than have all the remaining rocks scattered across the lawn for the next week that instead we would try to finish the “stone puzzle” on Sunday day. Teman volunteered to come down and stay with Grandma so I could come up and lead the project. On the way to Grandma’s on Sunday he picked up a diamond tipped stone cutting blade for the circular saw. With saw blade in hand I went home. Lachlan and I spent the afternoon finishing the task of laying out the stone.

The goal for the walk design walk was to have a natural looking border to the stones so I tried to avoid cutting them as much as possible but as the project neared completion and my selection of stones, and available space, grew more limited I had to resort to some cutting to make things fit. The stone cutting blade worked remarkably well (I did wet cutting, not dry) and it was, I admit, pretty cool. Look Ma, I’m cutting stone!

You may need to trim some stones to fit the walk.

The stone was scored with the saw and then a chisel was used to complete the cut.

By the end of Sunday afternoon Lachlan and I had finished laying out the stones for the walk. The puzzle was complete. The project isn’t complete at this point because now finely crushed gravel (or sand) needs to be carefully spread under each stone to make them all exactly leveled to the same surface. This will be an incredibly painstaking procedure, but at least now the walk is in the general shape it will be so there is no great rush in the final refining step.

The finished stone walk layout as seen from the house.

The finished stone walk layout as seen from the house.

The stone walk layout as seen from the road.

The stone walk layout as seen from the road.

I somewhat wore out my butt and my right wrist in the course of hauling stones, and I nearly destroyed two pairs of pants, but I enjoyed working with the stone. Doing the project reminded me that I really enjoy working with stone (and wood, but that wasn’t involved in this project) and now I know that I also enjoy cutting stone. Cut stone has an entirely different effect than rough stone, but each has its place. Maybe some day I’ll have a chance to do more of it.

The stone remaining after the completion of the front walk awaits a new project.

Leftover stone

Update: More photos here

Editor’s Note: Reprinted with permission from The Silverware Thief. I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I didn’t try. This work was done a week ago, on July 20-21.

About the Author

At age fifteen, Rundy decided he wanted to write for his living. He is currently working on a novel, although it is not the novel he started at fifteen. When not working on the novel, he might be riding his bike, feeding his chickens, helping his neighbors, messing around with web design and computers in general, or writing on his blog, which discusses other topics in addition to gardening. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 AHS Heat Zone: 3 Location: rural; Southern Tier of NY Geographic type: foothills of Appalachian Mountains Soil Type: acid clay Experience level: advanced beginner Particular interests: fruits, vegetables, major landscaping, chickens and other poultry

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

15 Comments… add one

Ilona August 25, 2013, 5:20 pm

Ditto on the great crew! This walk is looking fantastic, I like the look of the large stones, it makes not only a nice looking path, but one that seems safe. As for leveling out the stones, you find that some people are more able for this job. I have certain kids that were really good at helping with that part, and yes, it takes a lot of time.

Jenn August 24, 2013, 9:15 pm

Oh! It’s wonderful. You guys did a great job!

Wildflowers August 2, 2013, 5:37 pm

We tried this without cementing down the stones, oh my is all i can say. We had broken toes, noses (from tripping and falling) and bruises all over our children. Since, Ive lived and learned, concrete or quick crete is made for a purpose and that’s one of them.

Leanne Fenwick July 31, 2013, 3:41 am

You can’t go wrong with a little bit of crazy pathing. Looks really really great. x

erin bailey July 30, 2013, 11:47 pm

I’ve done this with much smaller stone and followed the same process, discovered the same truths, but I cannot imagine doing it with such sizes and weights. Congrats for a job well almost done!

Flâneur Gardener July 30, 2013, 12:30 am

That is beautiful stone… I do like stones in all shapes and sizes, though in my garden stones are limited to what I can carry with me from various walks and vacations. NOT enough to build a path, let me tell you that!

The path will be beautiful when you’ve put down the sand/gravel, but I suspect it will look even better 10 years from now when the stones have aged a little and the edges are softened by weeds, moss and grass growing between the stones. (If you get them level enough you can pass over them with the lawn mower on a high setting… It’s so much easier to accept and love weeds between the stones than try to keep them weed free!)

Corner Garden Sue July 29, 2013, 8:29 pm

So, Kathy, I’m thinking Rundy is your son. Is that right? That sidewalk is going to be awesome when they get it finished!

Yassrock July 29, 2013, 7:03 am

Great project. I have just spent days reading books on how to use stone for landscaping as I live on a property strewn with granite of all shapes and sizes (as long as you don’t want uniform shapes and sizes!). I started collecting and sorting on the weekend and totally understand about the right wrist and general soreness. It’s a miracle I still have my toes…

Rodrica July 29, 2013, 5:46 am

What a beautiful walk this will be for decades, if not centuries…that puts waiting into perspective, doesn’t it?

Gail July 28, 2013, 12:01 pm

A fantastic looking path with a great essay describing the process.

Donalyn@The Creekside Cook July 28, 2013, 10:28 am

It looks really nice Kathy – and in a week, I get to see it in person!

Dee Nash (@reddirtramblin) July 28, 2013, 8:53 am

Great path and a great explanation.~~Dee

Les July 28, 2013, 8:35 am

Congratulations on getting so much done. I feel your pain though. I just finished a stone walkway at work on a hillside. We blazed through the 95% of it, but the last 5 feet took all day with all the trying, retrying and retrying again to get everything to fit.

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp July 28, 2013, 7:02 am

Very cool, Kathy, and instructive. What a great crew you had!

Donna@Gardens Eye View July 28, 2013, 6:25 am

Wow Kathy what a beautiful walk…so much talent there to make this come to fruition…and now leftover stone for the garden?

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