• What tips and tricks are there to building steps?
  • can it still be accessible for equipment and the elderly?
  • how can I make it look like it has always been there?

2 Answers 2


This is what I determined before I started. Good planning is essential!

  • kind of soil: compacted clay soil, suitable for laying flagstone on top with minimal base
  • measurements: taken three times. The height of the slope can be particularly difficult to determine accurately. I set up a long stick with markings and used a laser level
  • transition areas: had to join with two other pathways, a slope on one side, wall on the other and transition to a gate at the bottom
  • we get lots of rain spring and fall and lots of snow. Frost heave can be an issue.
  • I rented a 40 yard bin to dispose of the soil.
  • I wanted to be able to get bicycles, wheelbarrows, elderly people and skiers up and down the steps
  • four tons of limestone flagstone and ledge rock and two cubic yards of stone dust required. Gravel (five eighths with no fines) already on site.
  • Informal style matched the existing stonework
  • building code recommended a 7" rise and handrails only if there was a drop
  • I called for a utility locate before starting construction and determined that by keeping the grade close to existing level within three feet of the property line I would not be disturbing any utilities

Rough sketch of stone steps

After two hours work removing grass to the bin enter image description here

enter image description here

After 30 hours of work

enter image description here

As finished in 2011 enter image description here

and as it looks in 2014. The only maintenance was using some construction adhesive to glue stones to the risers after a bit of winter frost heave. enter image description here Edit: I had a base plan on pencil and paper but it did not survive being outside during the excavation. The ramp was to allow skiers to go up the grade during the winter. Small dogs like it too. Unfortunately there was no way to make it accessible by published standards as the slope was too steep. I would have to start the ramp at the door from the house to make the recommended slope of 1:20.

By 2021 the steps only required annual maintenance to deal with loose flagstones but I have replaced the steps with blocks of stone. They are much more expensive but do not let weeds grow and they don't shift after a winter freeze/thaw.

By 2023 I was done with all the weeds coming up between the cracks and started using polymeric sand. Dig at least an inch down and completely fill with polymeric sand. Be prepared to top up yearly if you are on clay and get frost heave.

  • 1
    Guessing a 5' drop over 35'? Lower risers (4") with wider treads will make easier accessibility to elderly. If there is room on the sides to lengthen the drop, side to side we could make this more interesting as well as accessible. But forget wheelchairs. The daylighted drain will need drainrock, versus soil or plants to dump on away from the treads, and the treads should be absolutely flat. Any deviation from level will cause accidents. Water should drain from flat surfaces but treads are small. Whatever you chose ALL of the risers/treads should be the same.
    – stormy
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 0:09

Good mentioned above, but if you want a more naturalistic approach, what you do is place heavy stones over site and press them, then rock cut the top surface to a flat step or have the rocks cut before arrival enter image description here

Its usually cheaper than a total pave job, keeps and retains softscape for planting, gritty surface texture makes it less slippery when it rains/snows.

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