Within a week of moving into our current home, I decided, while perfect for us, our beautiful house desperately needed a path from the street to the front door. While warm, dry days are fine for a stroll through the lawn, during rainy or snowy days, there really is no way to get to the mailbox without getting muddy. Also, it just feels more inviting to have a path to the front door. While my husband jokes that the invitation mainly falls at the stoop of the mail carrier and mostly unwanted door-to-door salesmen, we also have friends and family who, I’m sure, appreciate the red carpet treatment we’ve paved for them.
Now two years into living in this home, I decided it was time. Of course, my husband was out of town when this decision struck me like a bolt of naivity and manic gusto. I called my dad in for backup. Being the best dad that ever existed, he rushed over with his tools and elbow grease to help me remove the grass and dirt where the path would soon reside.
Step 1: Remove the grass and dirt from the path area
According to the friendly know-it-alls at Home Depot, I needed to dig down about 3 inches before setting the base gravel. *Enter hardworking paternal figure at stage left.*
“Hi, Dad! Um, what are you doing today?”
“I just rode 30 miles on the bike. About to hop in the shower. What’s up?”
“Oh…I was wondering if you knew anything about stone pathways?” My voice gets so high and squeaky when I’m asking for help, I swear.
*Audible sigh* “When are you getting started?”
“Jeff just left for a week. Now-ish?”
“I’ll be over in an hour.”
God I love my dad! He comes over ready to work. My oldest son gets some props here as well, since he also shoveled his share of dirt and grass in this first step. In my ignorance, I honestly thought this would take about a tenth of the time and effort that it actually did. The path we dug was approximately 90 square feet; 3 feet wide by 30 feet long.
Step two: Smooth remaining dirt and add base
After the grass was removed, I did my best to smooth out the remaining soil. The tree roots, rocks, and other various surprises needed to be cut with an axe, shoveled,and then smoothed with a hoe. After smoothing as much as possible, stamp down with a heavy dirt tamper until smooth. Luckily, my front yard is pretty level, but if yours isn’t, you’ll likely need to do quite a bit more work during this step. After smoothed and stamped, add base gravel. On the bags, there are guidelines as to how much base gravel you will need for your project. After emptying the contents of the bags into the area, rake into place with your hoe, then stamp down until smooth, leaving room for the stones.
Step three: Nail down paver edging guides
Is there another word for the stuff? I just looked it up. They’re called “screed guides.” Eff that. Call them paver edging guides. I should be in charge of naming everything.
A neighbor friend, who actually knows what he’s talking about when it comes to excavating and making stone pathways, recommended we nail in some guides along the edges to keep the stones from migrating with use. Seems legit.
Step four: Lay the stones
It’s finally time! Now is when this dirty eyesore in your front yard begins to look promising to the neighbors. At this point, they have likely already moved away from whispering passive aggressively about the ugly mound of dirt in the yard, and have evolved to curiously inquiring about your project completion deadline. Note that they will only feign slight interest as you delve into the literally nitty gritty details of your callous-inducing home improvement, and will likely not understand when you say you have no idea how long it will take to complete. You’re a unicorn. You have no idea what you’re doing, but keep doing it, homegirl. In the past, it’s usually been a good idea.
For my DIY paver path, I picked stones that came in three sizes. You’ll have to do a little bit of math to figure out approximately how many stones to buy. Of course, if you’re one of those smart alecks who in seventh grade decided you’d never have to know how to do algebra, you could also just drive to and from the store multiple times. No biggie. Since I actually liked algebra (though I admit, some math concepts still lose me at “hello”), I was able to guesstimate fairly accurately how many stones I’d need. That is, how many stones I’d need had I not broken any in the process. At the end of our path, we had to break some stones as well to make them fit along the rounded edge. At the hardware store, they do have some nifty (read: expensive) tools to help you achieve perfection. I however went caveman and used a hammer and small chisel. Go ahead; take out that angst still pent up inside of your old, aching heart on the innocent stones. Personally, I like to name my victims before taking aim. Free therapy.
Step five: Set the stones with sand
After setting all of the stones in place, its time to fill in the gaps to keep the stones from shifting when you walk on them. This means it is time to head back to the hardware store to pick up a bag of polymeric sand. This is a special kind of sand (don’t use it in the sandbox…although it is a funny-albeit-sadistic mental image) that “sets” after it gets wet, which will help lock the stones into place. You will want to find a day where rain is not expected for 24 hours before beginning.
The application of the sand itself is fairly easy and should only take an hour or two. You will need one bag for every 60 feet, and you should start by distributing small piles of sand up and down the path. From there, you simply take a broom and sweep back and forth, gliding the sand into all of the gaps between the stones. Be sure to sweep in all directions to make sure that the cracks are getting filled from every angle. There will likely still be a ton of sand on top of the path when you are done sweeping, but this is to be expected. You should then walk up and down the path a few times using heavy steps, which will cause the stones to shift slightly and the gaps to open up. After this, you will want to again sweep the sand off the stones into the all of the gaps. You will want to repeat the process a few times.
The final step with the polymeric sand is to get it wet. You should carefully follow the instructions on the bag to make sure you are using an appropriate amount of water from an appropriate distance. Let the sand set overnight, and it should be hardened and ready for someone to walk on the next morning.