Q: We want to lay a stepping-stone path in our yard. Can we do it ourselves?
—Lorraine Idson, Jamaica Plain, Mass.
Roger Cook replies: Absolutely. A pathway made of stone pavers is a great way to save your lawn from being trampled and compacted by foot traffic. And it certainly is an easy, one-day project for most DIYers. The hardest parts of the process are the labor of mixing the wet stone dust that serves as the pavers' base and then lifting and moving the stones.
Go to your local stone yard and look for pieces at least 1 1/2 inches thick and about 24 inches wide. Pieces that size aren't likely to crack, and no cutting is required; you simply adjust their spacing to fit a natural stride and to make the path curved or straight.
Once you determine the spacing, the digging and the setting go quickly. Start in the morning, and invite guests over that evening for a stroll across your handiwork.
Shown: Roger Cook determines the spacing between each stone before doing any digging.
Establish the Grade
Drive one stake next to the path's starting point and another a few feet beyond its end. Tie a mason line around the first stake where it touches its connecting surface—a patio, in this case. Pull the string to the other stake and tie it off about 1/2 inch above grade. Now you have a fixed reference for the pavers' height.
Position the Pavers
Measure the stride of the shortest person in the household, and lay out the pavers so that there's a stone underfoot for each step. Start with 3 to 6 inches between courses and adjust from there to fit the last paver without cutting it. To create a curve, tighten the space between inside corners and open it up on outside corners.
Cut the Sod
Set a half-moon edger alongside the paver, then step down on it to cut completely through the turf's roots. Repeat along the perimeter of each course of pavers.
Excavate for the Base
Flip each paver to the side of its outline, then strip out the sod. Dig down along the edge to a depth equal to the stone's thickness plus 1 1/2 inches. Use the mason line to check the depth. Repeat this process for each remaining course.
Add the Setting Bed
Stone dust provides a stable base that won't shift or sink. In a wheelbarrow, mix the dust with water to the consistency of cake batter. Add about 2 inches of the mix to each hole, enough to bring the paver up to the mason line.
Set the Pavers
Wiggle the stone into the setting bed and pound it with a rubber mallet to collapse any air pockets. Use a level to set each stone even with its neighbor. Pound one side of the paver until it's pitched slightly, to shed water away from the house.