DEAR MIKE: On my side yard I have grass that leads to a backyard patio. I would like to install stepping stones as a walkway leading to the patio. I want to keep the grass, but I don't want to set the stones right on top of the grass. How can I accomplish this? -- Tanya R.
DEAR TANYA: The key here is to have someone else do the lifting. For this job you will need two essential tools: knee pads and a heating pad. The knee pads will protect your knees as you are working, and the heating pad will relieve your aching back when you are done with the job. It's good to invite friends over under the guise of a get-together, particularly friends that you don't want to keep.
About the only benefit of this job is that you don't have to remove all of the grass. You will just cut out the footprint of each stepping stone.
You can buy round or square pavers at a home center, but the overall look will appear budget-minded.
You may want to investigate stone pavers. The edges are irregular and will give character to the overall appearance. Stone is more expensive, but you will get a classy look. If you choose stone, use ones that are around 2-inches thick.
Start by laying out the stone on the grass. You can lay them in a straight line or offset them like a set of footprints. You should lay them out according to the length of your normal stride.
Once you have the spacing right, you can rotate the stones and switch their position in the lineup to change the look. Some stones will be ordinary looking with smooth edges, and other stones will be doglegged and jagged. Play with the stones until you get the look you want.
With the stones in place, you will cut the outline of the stone into the grass. A great tool for this is a drywall saw (about $5). Hold the stone in place with one hand and jab the drywall saw in and out around the perimeter of the stone.
Remove the stone once you have cut the outline of the stone into the grass. Use a hand trowel and dig out the grass. You want to dig out the area so that the bottom of the hole is level and an inch deeper than the thickness of the stone.
Now you will fill in the extra depth with playground sand. You can buy a 60-pound bag of playground sand at a home center for about $5. Dump some sand into the hole to a depth of an inch and tamp it so it is level. Set the stone on top of the sand base and wiggle it into the sand. Add or remove sand until the top of the stone is flush with the surrounding grass, and then you can begin your search for a new set of friends.