Stone Path on a Gradual Grade

In the mountains of western North Carolina, where Hammerhead Stoneworks is located, we often deal with awkward slopes. Gradual grades, like the one pictured here, are common. The best solution usually involves striking a balance of steps and landings. This walkway features several small stacks of slab steps with flagstone landings spaced throughout. It’s important to take the rhythm of walking into account. The rise and run of steps are an agreement between the builder and everyone who uses their steps. It should be predictable and within a ratio that we are familiar with. Stuttering steps- those awkward ones that are too short or too close together or weirdly spaced- drive my crazy. (A common thing here is the two inch step at the top of a run of stairs. WHY?!)
Of course, there are other variables as well. You want to steps to fall naturally into place along the slope. If your steps are too far ahead, then you have to do a lot building up with retaining walls to support the steps. Likewise, if you get too far into the slope, there’s a lot of digging needed and you may have to install some sort of edging to keep the soil and mulch off the path. Sometimes this can’t be avoided, but often, by taking the time to pay attention to those details in the design phase, you can have a stone path that has a natural rhythm, is safe and easy to walk and is strong and durable. Like this one in the pictures!

Stone path and steps

Drystone pathway with steps. Balancing bench in the background.

stone pathway and steps

A view of the stone path and the mountains

stone pathway

Tennessee sandstone pathway with steps slabs and site boulders

North Asheville Stone Patio and Steps

dry stone wall and steps

A drystone retaining wall supports a set of carefully stacked steps. This is an overview of a recent Hammerhead Stoneworks project in North Asheville.

This is a recent Hammerhead project, a patio and wall combination to create a exterior space at a home in North Asheville. We used sandstone from Tennessee, one of our favorite stones for tight walls and flat floors.

A favorite detail of this project is the set of steps that emerge from the face of the wall. It’s all dry laid- no concrete or mortar. The design offsets two walls, providing support for the steps. This creates the effect of a single wall that is pulled apart to reveal the steps. I love the look and like how sturdy they are.

stone step emerge from dry laid wall

This is a close up of how the steps emerge from the dry stone wall. Super sturdy, clean lines- how Hammerhead rolls…

Dry stone wall detail

Detail of a section of drystone wall built by Jonathan. Part of a patio/wall project in North Asheville.

Stone cut for downspout.

Detail showing where the downspout plunges through the patio surface. There’s a marble we found on site tucked on the right side there.

Short Stack of Stone Steps

stone slab steps

A short stack of stone slab steps that lead to be soon-to-be patio in Fairview, North Carolina.


We’re installing this short stack of stone steps in Fairview, North Carolina. The steps are made of snapped slabs of sandstone quarried in Tennessee. The steps are framed by small retaining walls that will support a patio space.

Formal Stone Steps

Formal Stone Steps

Mortared sandstone steps create s stunning entryway to this home in Arden, North Carolina.

Earlier this summer, Hammerhead Stoneworks built a set of formal stone steps leading into a home in Arden, North Carolina. The steps are mortared and utilize a couple of varieties of sandstone to achieve the desired aesthetic. Hidden from sight are several changes we also made to the drainage in the area.

The existing steps were of pressure treated lumber and were rotten through and through. The old steps sat in so much puddled runoff that there were supporting uprights that had wicked water up vertically over two feet. We could squeeze pieces of lumber and water would seep out like a soggy sponge. Stone, subjected to the same abuse would also eventually suffer, so we put in a trench drain immediately next to the steps and reshaped the planting bed to discourage water from accumulating there.

Formal Stone Steps

The formal stone steps from above

 

stone bench, wall, patio

A stone bench, retaining wall and patio built in Arden North Carolina.

Behind the house we built a small patio with this bench and a short retaining wall to address the general slope of the yard. While the bench uses some concrete and mortar for anchoring, the wall and patio are laid drystone.

Stone Steps

Stone Steps in Sloping Yard

I’m nearing completion on a stone steps, wall and patio project in downtown Asheville. Living in the mountains, there’s generally a slope in every yard. This patio required a small drystone retaining wall to create a flat enough area for this patio. Two big slabs of Tennessee sandstone are integrated into the wall, allowing easy access for the homeowner and guests coming from the backyard.


I built another short stack of stone steps at the back of the house, allowing access from the driveway to the deck and into the house. With big chunks of stone like this, I am able to get the proper rise and run, so that these steps walk comfortably, just like the steps in your house. Prior to installing these, there was a muddy slope to the deck stairs, and a ten inch step up. More pics coming soon of the flagstone area above the steps finished.

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps
I just completed a project in Saluda, North Carolina today. The home was built some time in the 70’s and the existing concrete steps were broken down and needed replacing. New stone walkways were in order as well. I built most of the new walkways over the existing sidewalks, dry laid on a pea gravel bed. The image above shows the new steps; the image below shows the area before we got started. Note the awkward spacing of the original steps; it was hard to hit your stride walking them.

Saluda Stone Walkways & Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps
The brick pathways wrap around the house, from the formal front entrance (shown above) to the opposite side of the house, which receives most of the traffic.


This short stretch of concrete was poured recently and broke up quite easily under the jackhammer assault. Most of the sidewalks were poured when the house was built and were a pain to break up. They crumbled into dust and would absorb the jackhammer’s impact. It didn’t help that they were up to nine inches thick.

Mayflower Path


The renovations on the Mayflower House are almost complete. I went back there last week to detail the pathway, cleaning it up and-at long last- installing pebbles in all the openings. The pebbles really completed the piece. This is a detail of the path as it curves from the driveway to the long section that runs along the face of the house.


The path begins at the driveway, with these two steps. It was a real challenge to shoehorn these slabs into the space between the house and dilapidated retaining wall. The steps are almost five feet across and over 500 pounds each.


There’s one pebble opening inside the house, in the center of the entry landing. Originally the idea was to epoxy those pebbles in place, but for now, they are loose as well. I imagine someone coming to visit and walking the length of the pathway and becoming curious about the pebbles. Once inside the house, that’s when the bend over and pick one up and fully explore the little stones, feeling their weight and texture, discovering the fossil and other treasures hidden in the opening. My camera doesn’t respond well to low light, so this blurry image is the best I have for now.
Please note the massive door and the placement of the hinge. The door and the pathway work together to blend the interior and exterior spaces.

Home Show Prep

The Western Carolina Home Show takes place next weekend at the Civic Center here in Asheville. This will be Hammerhead Stoneworks second year representing. I spent the entire weekend (and will spend much of the coming week) making ready. This year I’m showing off flatwork. The following images show some of the work thus far.


I’m very enamored of pebbles right now. This is a detail from the step that will welcome people into my booth space.


The whole step, 2′ by 4′.


About sixteen square feet of rustic flagstone paving using a locally quarried gneiss, called Hooper’s Creek.