Laying a Path, Step-By-Step
Give your garden some direction and charm by laying a path made of bricks, stones or pavers. Don't know where to start? Don't worry. We'll walk you through path design and installation, step-by-step.
Small paving units, such as blocks, bricks and cobblestones, offer flexibility when designing a path. For this project we used carpet stones (blocks set on a flexible mat) because they are quick and easy to lay. If you use recycled bricks, make sure they are frostproof and hardwearing; ordinary house bricks are not suitable for this project.
This project should take you about a day to complete, once you have all of your materials in hand.
- tape measure
- long pegs and string
- wood guide rails
- graded base
- hand tamper
- masonry sand
- carpet stones, bricks or pavers
- sledge hammer
- post-hole concrete
- edging stones
- rubber mallet
- sharp knife
- soil, herb plants
Marking Out a Path
Measure the path and mark it with string and long wood pegs (image 1), spaced every 5 feet. Don't forget to allow for guide rails (see image 4 )and decorative edging. Hammer the pegs gently so they stand up on their own.
Dig out the soil between the string to a depth sufficient to accommodate layers of graded base and sand, as well as the thickness of the blocks (image 2). Check levels along the course of the path using a level.
To prevent puddles on the surface, dig the path to slope gently to one side to drain into soil. Angle it away from the house or garden walls to avoid creating dampness. Continue to check levels as you angle the slope, and make adjustments as you go (image 3).
Carefully nail the guide rails to the pegs to enclose the area of the path (image 4). Check the levels once more with the level, and make any necessary adjustments by easing the pegs up and down.
When you are laying a path you may need to cut blocks or bricks to fit the pattern or to run around an obstacle, such as a mature tree or the edge of a wall.
To make a neat cut, place the block on a firm, flat surface. Then, using a cold chisel, score a line across the block where you want to cut it. Position the chisel on the score line and hit it sharply with a brick hammer. Use the chisel to neaten up any rough areas. Remember to wear goggles to protect your eyes while working.
Laying the Path
Spread a 3–4 inch layer of graded base (crushed stone mixed with stone dust; you can use excavated soil if the path will only get light use) along the length of the path. Use a hand tamper to tamp the base down (image 1).
Spread a layer of masonry sand over the graded base. Level the surface by pulling a length of wood across the path toward you — use the guide rails as a guide (image 2). Fill any hollow areas with extra sand.
Tamp the sand, making sure that the surface remains level. Begin laying whole blocks (image 3). Follow guides for prespaced blocks, like carpet stones; use spacers if laying bricks.
Once you have finished laying whole blocks, fill any gaps with blocks cut to fit. Secure the blocks into the sand with a hand tamper on a flat piece of wood or a plate compactor (image 4).
Edging the Path
Carefully knock the guide rails and pegs away and remove the string. Use a spade to create a "vertical face" to the edge; dig down as far as the graded base on both sides of the path (image 1).
Spread a strip of graded base along each side of the path and tamp it firm with a sledge hammer (image 2). If you're using heavy edging stones, lay a foundation strip of post-hole concrete mix on top.
Position edging stones and secure them in place by tapping them gently with a rubber mallet. Set stones flush with the path, or leave them tall to stop soil from migrating onto the path (image 3). Backfill the outside edge with soil.
Adding the Finishing Touches
Brush masonry sand into the joints (it allows rain to drain away). Remove the occasional block from the edge of the path to form a planting pocket (image 1); if using carpet stones, they must be cut from the backing mat.
Use a trowel to remove sand and graded base from the planting pocket and replace it with soil. Plant a clump-forming aromatic herb, such as thyme (image 2). Water well.
Brush gravel into the joints between the blocks. If, as here, you have left a strip of soil along one side of the path to act as a soakaway, apply a topping of gravel to keep it looking neat and tidy (image 3).