Introduction: A Backyard Path That Says "We're Going Places"

About: I am a Product Development Engineer for an OEM of Food Production Equipment in Riverside, MO. I have previously ran the 3D Prototyping Laboratory for the National Institute for Aviation Research and still do…

Sometimes your backyard is just a litter box for a pet or a romping ground for a child.  Sometimes it's a place of tranquility that aids in releasing your your tensions after a long day of work.  Whatever your backyard is used for, Most people do something more with it than just let it be a mowing ground.

My wife and I live next to a park that is adjacent to our rear fence.  There are times when the weather makes the backyard less than desirable to walk through.  With a young child and frequent visits to the park, we decided to build a walkway.

A pathway is a great way to add value, both aesthetically and financially.  But it is your backyard.  Don't build a path that you will hate, you will regret or that doesn't make sense to you.  Now let's talk about what you'll need.

Step 1: Tools, Tools, Tools,...some Advil and a Bed.

Regardless of the style of walkway you build, you will want the following:
Shovel, Round Point
Gardener's shovel
Mason Line

Depending on the type of walkway you may need:
Hand Tamper
Wood for forms, i.e. 2 x 4s
concrete mixer
Shovel, Landscapers
Sand Plate aka compactor

Step 2: Get Started Planning

You can choose to go about this randomly, but you most likely will be frustrated and end up scrapping much of your project to correct the errors.

Take some time to review the types of stones, patterns and current designs currently available on the market.  Check out

So get out some paper, a pencil and a measuring tape.

First, lay out your backyard.  Significant permament items should be included, fences, gates, patios, ponds, trees, etc. 

Once you have a layout, start dreaming about what your walkway will look like.  Sometimes, a physical layout can help you visualize this.  For example, if you are doing a curved pathway, use a garden hose to represent the edge of the path.  If you're going to use garden stones, get some cardboard and cut out some shapes.

Step 3: Time to Pass the Point of No Return

Now that you've set out your idea, understand the necessary materials and have a plan of attack, BEGIN.
I started by excavating the ground where I was going to place the walkway.

LESSON  LEARNED: Designate a location for your excavated dirt beforehand.  Set a tarp down to place the dirt, find a neighbor who needs it, build a berm elsewhere in your yard.  Now I have a very uneven backyard as a result.

Lesson learned:  The actual levelness of the excavation at this point is relatively unimportant.  You just need to be close.  I spent too much time trying to make the bottom level and perfectly flat.

Step 4: Rocks, Paper, Scissors...

Now that the ground is excavated, bring in the rock.

A local gravel pit had 3/4 limestone which is perfect for this application.  You need a rock substrate that will pack together.  Pea gravel or pebbles or anything with smooth edges and surfaces will never pack together to give you a solid base.

As you spread the rock, now is the time to ensure that the top surface is level as much as possible or sloped appropriately.  I chose to have a 1/4 inch drop on one side of my path so that I wouldn't have standing water on the path. 

A 8 in square tamper is a useful tool to compact the gravel.  If you have access to a sand plate, I would recommend using that to tamp the gravel. 

Step 5: Edging and Sand

Paving edgers are critical to ensure that the path stays in line.  There are essentially two types of edgers: Fixed and Flexible.
Fixed edgers are useful for my particular application, but for more artistic applications, the flexible edgers are appropriate.

Use 12" long 0.5 diameter nails to stake the edgers to the ground. 

Once the edgers are staked, add the sand to the path location.

Using a straight edge such as a level or a 2 x 4 cut to length, screed your sand to the desired height, approximately 1" thick.

Step 6: Pave Away!

Begin your pattern where it makes sense. 

For example, If you are using a pattern that can start at one side and work towards the other, start at one side.

If your pattern depends upon a centered feature, work from that feature out.  This can be difficult to do, considering that you will constantly have to work your sand.

As you lay your stones, use a heavy rubber mallet or place a piece of wood against the stones to impact the stones to keep the pattern tight.

Step 7: Lock It In

Once the stones have been placed and you are satisfied with the tightness of the pattern, you are ready to add polymeric sand and compact the path.

The polymeric sand is used to bind the stones together after the sand gets wet.

Spread the sand across the stones and sweep into the cracks between the stones.  After you have worked the sand into the cracks, use a sand plate aka  compactor to compact the sand into the joints.

A thicker layer of sand will work better than a thinner layer.  Work the sand plate across the path and continue to add sand as necessary.  Once the path has settled and is level, sweep the excess sand off the path.

Lock in the path by applying a light mist of water to the surface.

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