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Build a stone pathway yourself

Dear Ms. Builder: We just had a new home built and we would like stone pathways through our yard and future flower garden. Is this a job that we can do ourselves? Do you have design and planning tips for us? - Micki V.

Dear Micki: There are many attractive and functional designs of natural stone pathways that you can build yourself. The key word here is natural. You can use special pavers, bricks, etc., but natural stone is always a perfect complement for a flower garden.

The best design tip for anyone planning to lay their own stone pathway is to visit your local zoo. Zoos typically have botanical gardens associated with them and they use predominately natural stone pathways off the main walkways. Zoos also use the most durable stones available in your area.

Your selection of stones for pathways is usually limited by your local geology or your pocketbook. The main cost component in stone is not the stone itself, but the shipping costs. Stone is very heavy so only stone from your local area is commonly used.

Some typical types of stone that you will find across the country are limestone, slate, sandstone, flagstone and granite. Limestone is particularly nice to work with because it can be quarried in thin, lightweight pieces. You won't need the Terminator's biceps to handle it.

Stones with a high mineral quartz content are typically the most durable. Both quartzite and sandstone have relatively high contents. You cannot mistake a high quartz content. When you see the stone glisten in the sun, it is quite attractive.

The easiest natural stone pathway to build yourself uses gravel over the dirt. Make sure that you use very small gravel, no more than 3/8-inch diameter. Most importantly, you must use crushed or angular gravel. Round gravel will roll under your feet, similar to walking in sand on the beach.

If you do not mind pulling a few weeds that grow in the gravel or dirt between the pathway stones, plan on an open design. Here is a simple trick to determine the spacing. With wet feet, walk on a sidewalk in a normal stride. Measure the distance between the wet footprints for the best spacing.

To avoid weeding or for a less rustic look, select a solid pathway design. A simple design uses large irregular flat stones that fit together with a small gap in between, somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle. Fill in the approximate one-inch gap with fine gravel.

Make the pathway slightly higher in the center (crowned) so that rain will run off. A one-quarter-inch-per-foot slope to the sides is adequate. Standing water is not only uncomfortable to walk on barefoot, but it can damage the pathway materials over time.

Before searching for the stones to buy, you must determine the quantity you will need. Just multiply the length times the width to get the area coverage in square feet. Plan on making the path about 22 inches wide for a single person and about 46 inches wide for two people walking side by side.

To find the stone, look in your Yellow Pages. Local natural sources will be the least expensive because of minimal transportation costs. You may also try Vengeance Creek Stone (800-295-6023) that has a national distribution network.

Use a shovel to dig out a bed for the pathway. A two- to four-inch gravel bed is adequate. Place the flat stones on top of this and fill in the gaps with more gravel. Use gravel with some dust and chips so it settles tightly together. After several rains, it will seem like mortar.

Tools and materials required: square point spade, round point shovel, heavy rake, mason's hammer, cold chisel, level, string, wooden stakes, gravel, flat stones.

Send questions to: Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.