A stepping-stone path is a beautiful way to finish any garden or patio area. And as a specialist paving supplier, we’re frequently asked how to lay stepping stones.
While laying the slabs directly on the gravel is a quick and easy option, the stepping stones will typically become loose and start shifting as time goes on. Alternatively, you can take a few more steps to create a path that’s firmer and more durable.
Want to create the perfect stepping-stone path by fixing your paving strongly on a gravel surface? Read on for our step-by-step guide on how to lay stepping stones on gravel.
Tools and materials
First and foremost, there are a number of tools and materials you’ll need to lay stepping stones:
● Spirit level or straight-edged timber
● Rubber hammer or wood-handled hammer
● Shovel or spade
● Strong string or builder’s line
● Line pins (for fastening string)
● Builders sand or grit sand
● Portland cement
● Stepping stones of your choice
1. Layout the stepping-stones one stride apart
The first step is to decide on the direction of your path and loosely lay out the stones on the ground. To keep an equal space between stones, you can measure the distance with a tape measure. However, an equal stride from the centre of one slab to the next will usually do the trick.
As the whole point of this path is to allow you to walk from one place to another, it may even be better using one stride, rather than an arbitrary distance. But remember that other people, such as children or elderly relatives, may be using these stepping stones. If this is the case, it’s better to place the slabs a bit closer together.
You can choose to apply PVA glue to the reverse of the stepping-stone slabs to improve the grip to the mortar. This helps to stop the paving slab from becoming loose or sliding off the cement bed once dried.
2. Remove gravel from the area of your first slab
After you’ve laid the slabs and done the measurements, we suggest you start with the first and the last slab on your path. Laying the stepping stones at each end of the gravel path will help when you want to level the remaining slabs.
Start by removing the gravel from the area where the two slabs will be laid, and begin to compact the area. This can be done using a metal tamper, your feet or any other tool like a piece of wood to firm it down. Compacting the area is an important step as it will set a solid foundation for your paving and prevent the area from sinking.
3. Place mortar mix on cleared gravel area then level out
After step two is complete, you’ll need to place a shovel full of mortar mix onto the cleared area. You’ll want to make a full and even bed of mortar for your slab, so level out the cement mix with a cement trowel.
Once you cover the whole area of the stepping stone, you should place the slab softly onto the mix. You’ll probably have to add or take away some of the mortar to get the right finish.
When the slab is placed upon the mortar, carefully move it into the perfect position you measured out in step one.
4. Tapping down the stepping-stone
Once the slab is in place, you’ll need to tap down the surface to level it up. With the help of a spirit level, try and make the slab as even as possible by gently tapping its surface.
A rubber mallet is the best tool for tapping down the slabs, but you can also use a wood-handled hammer. Try to avoid tapping on the edges of the slabs as this will result in constant readjustments. Instead, always tap towards the centre.
Although this helps spread the mortar mix, after levelling you might need to fill some gaps that remain underneath the slab.
5. Point mortar up and around the sides of the slab
Once you’ve filled up the gaps underneath the slab, it’s time to build up the mortar mix against the sides of the slabs to help secure it in place. Add mortar no more than three quarters up the side of the slab to create a small buttress and stop it from sliding off the mortar.
After this, place the level back on the slab to make sure you don’t need to tap it a little more.
6. Fix line pins to attach a string line to the side of the two laid slabs
When the two end stepping-stones are in place, you can start to position the rest of the path. The best way to do this is by fixing a string line between them.
Make sure this line is tight and in line with the two slabs at either end. You can use a metal line pin, hammered into the ground and fasten the string line to the pins.
7. Lay the remaining slabs with the string line
Once you’ve got the string line in place, you can lay the remaining stepping stones in line with it. Follow the same method described above for each of the slabs.
When all the slabs are set in place, you can use a spirit level to make sure they are in level with one another but keep in mind that it is unlikely that the ground will be completely level before laying slabs, which could have a natural effect on the end result.
8. Replace the gravel around the slabs
Finally, after every stepping stone is properly fixed, proceed to remove the string line and pins and then replace the gravel around the slabs. This process should be done carefully, as the slabs take between 24 and 48 hours to dry completely. You wouldn’t want to move them after so much work.
It’s best to secure the area around them to prevent anyone from stepping on before they’re dry. Some timber planks, string or tape around the area will usually suffice. Always wait at least 24-48 hours before you take the protection of the area and begin to walk on the surface of the slabs.
Ready to go?
Now you know how to lay stepping stones on gravel, it’s time to think about the best materials for the job. At Infinite Paving, we have a wide array of natural stone slabs which are perfect for stepping stones, whatever your preference.
Calibrated and hand-cut edge natural stone paving are excellent choices for your stepping stones if you want to keep a rustic charm. Or if you want to combine the natural appearance with smoother edges, why not opt for machine cut slabs? With Infinite Paving, the choice is yours.