How to lay stepping-stones on gravel

How to lay stepping-stones on gravel. Follow our step-by-step instructionsA question we often get asked is how to lay stepping-stones on gravel? Well you could just lay them loose on the gravel surface and you’re done! But often you will find that the stepping-stones laid in to gravel will become loose. Which then start sliding around and becoming uneven over time.

If you want to fix your paving slabs firmly on the gravel surface or within stone chippings with a good solid foundation and a nice even surface then why not read our step-by-step instructions below. We have also provided simple to understand pictures of the process. You can watch our in-depth short video on how to lay stepping-stones on gravel.

What you need to lay stepping-stones on gravel.

Tools you need to lay stepping-stones

  • Trowel
  • Spirit level or straight-edged timber
  • Rubber hammer or wood handled hammer
  • Shovel or spade
  • Strong string or builders line
  • Line pins or small timber stakes (for fastening string)
  • Paint brush for applying PVA
  • Cement mixer (you can mix by hand)

Materials you need, assuming you already have gravel

  • Builders sand or grit sand
  • Portland cement
  • Stepping stones of your choice (We have used Marshalls square concrete slabs. Laying method is the same whatever kind of slab or stepping stone you decide to use, square or round)
  • PVA glue
  • Water with small amount of washing up liquid or plasticizers

How to lay stepping stones on gravel. Step-by-step guide on the best method for laying stepping stones

We hope by reading or watching this guide it gives you a good understanding of how stepping-stones are fixed firmly in place within gravel chippings.

There are many shapes and sizes of paving slabs you could lay on gravel as a stepping stone. Concrete or stone, circular, square or oblong all make good stepping-stones and the method of laying them in gravel remains the same whatever type you want to use.

For our guide on how to lay stepping-stones on gravel we are laying a concrete paving slab called Marshalls Saxon paving. We are using them as stepping-stones and they have an overall square size of 450mm x 450mm (18 inches x 18 inches).

Watch our video on how to lay stepping-stones on gravel

Please watch our short video below on how to lay stepping-stones on gravel. You can stop or rewind the video at anytime during the playing of the video if you need to take notes.

Step-by-step instructions on how to lay stepping-stones on gravel

There are just 10 easy steps to having a long-lasting stepping stone path or walkway laid on your gravel.

1. Apply PVA glue to the reverse of the stepping stone slabs

Apply PVA glue to the reverse of all the stepping stones. Brush in and allow to dry.

Begin by applying PVA glue to the reverse of your stepping-stones then allowing to dry. We would always recommend applying a coat of PVA glue to the underside of your stepping stone slabs before you lay them on your cement mix. We do this to help stick the mortar and slab together. This stops the slabs sliding off the mortar bed underneath the slab. It also makes them harder to steal if they are an expensive stone paving slab because they weigh heavier.

Because the paving slabs are laid individually have nothing to push against. This can lead the paving slabs to become loose. PVA works by sticking the slab to the cement mortar underneath the slab creating a firmer grip between the mortar and slab. This stops the paving slab from becoming loose or sliding off the cement bed once dried.


2. Loosly lay out the stepping-stones one stride apart

Lay out your stepping stones on the surface of the gravel before you begin to lay them to get an idea of distance apart needed


Once the PVA has dried, lay out the stepping-stones and check the distance you need to lay them apart. Everybody has different sized strides. You don’t want to be stretching or taking little strides when walking on the paving slabs. You need to be able to comfortably stride from center of one stepping stone to the centre of the next. Please remember it’s not just you who may walk on the stepping-stones. If you have children or an elderly parent then place the slabs closer together.

Once you are comfortable with the distance the paving slabs are apart, measure the distance for future reference when you start laying the slabs. Keep the stepping stones straight with a spirit level or straight edge when measuring to get a true uniformly measurement.


3. Remove the gravel where the slabs are to be laid and compact the area down

We start by laying the two slabs at either end of our gravel path. First remove the gravel where the stepping stone will be laid then compact the area down to firm the surface.


First we begin by laying the two stepping stones at either end of our gravel area. We lay the two stepping-stones on the outside first so we can fix a string line between the two points. This then allows us to level the remaining slabs in-between the slabs on the gravel.

We begin by removing the gravel from the area we are going to lay our slabs. Save the gravel to replace once the slabs have been laid. We then need to compact the area to stop the area from sinking. You could use a metal tamper as we have done here or you could firm down with your feet, a hammer and piece of wood or any other method you see fit.

As long as you are confident the ground below the slab has a solid and firm foundation you should be ok.


4. Place mortar mix on cleared gravel area then level out with trowel

Place a shovel full of motar mix onto the cleared gravel area and even out the mix with a trowel to the size of the stepping stone. Then place the slab on top of the mix.


Once you have cleared the gravel and firmed the surface you need to place a shovel full of mortar mix onto the cleared area. Level out the cement mix evenly with a cement trowel to give a full bed of mortar. This needs to cover the whole area of where the stepping stone will sit. Place the slab gently onto the mix.

At this stage you may need to add or take away a little of the mortar mix depending on how high or low you want to set the slab.

*You can read how to make the mortar mix at the bottom of the page


5. Once laid, check your measurements between slabs

Once the stepping stone is laid in on the cement mixture check your measurements you saved earlier. Measure the distance between the slabs and gently move the slab into place


Once the slab has been placed upon the mortar, we use the measurements taken when you first laid the slabs out loosely. Gently move the slab into position using the tape measure.

You can use a spirit level or straight-edged timber to square up the slab to give you a correct measurement.

You don’t have to be too precise with your measurements between the slabs just yet. We are going to be leveling up the slab and hitting it with a hammer so it will need the measurements checking again.


6. Tap down the stepping-stone with a rubber mallet or club hammer

Once you are happy with the position of the stepping stone,place a small spirit level on the surface & gently tap down on the surface a rubber mallet or wooden hammer to level up the slab. Tap towards the centre of the slab and never on the edges.

Place a spirit level on the surface of the slab and then begin to gently tap down the surface of the slab to level up the slab. This also helps spread the mortar mix underneath the slab as well as bonding the mortar and slab together via the PVA. The bubble in the spirit level should be within the two marks marked on the level. You can if you wish put a fall on the slabs if your stepping stone is laid on a slope.

This small type of level we have used is often referred to as a boat level.

Place the spirit level in both directions to make sure the slab is level both ways. Keep tapping the slab gently until this is achieved. Tap the slab towards the centre of the slab avoid tapping the slab on the edges.


7. Point mortar up the side and around the sides of the stepping-stone slab

When you are happy with the level of the stepping-stone you need to fill with mortar any remaining gaps underneath the slab. Also place a buttress of mortar 3/4 of the way up the side of the slab to help hold the slab in place when dry

After leveling the paving slab you then need to push mortar into any gaps underneath the slab and then build up the mortar against the sides of the slabs to help create a small buttress of mortar up the side of the slab. Try not to go above 3/4 of the way up the slab. This method will help secure your slab in place and stop it sliding off the mortar bed.

Keep an eye on your level to keep the slab level. You may need to re-tap the surface of the slab after pushing mortar into gaps or up the side of the slab.


8. Fix line pins to attach a string line to the side of the two laid slabs

After laying the two end slabs we need to set up a string line between the two slabs. We used two metal pins knocked into the ground next to our laid slabs. Once they are firmly in place tie string between the two pins and adjust them so they are in line with our already laid slabs

Once you have laid your two end stepping-stones in place you then need to fix a taut string line in place. This is to allow you to set the remaining slabs in place in a straight line.

Here we have used a metal line pin. Hammered into the ground.

We then fasten the string line to these pins and pull tight. We then hammer down the pins to the level to the already laid paving slabs ensuring the string is in line with the laid slabs


9. Lay the remaining slabs level with the string line

Once our string is tight and in line with the two end stepping stones we then lay the slabs between the two end slabs. Lay the remaining slabs as per the guide. Follow the string line to ensure that all the slabs will line up correctly.

Lay the remaining stepping-stones level with the string line. Follow the laying method for each slab as shown above.

You can use a spirit level or straight-edged timber to make sure the slabs are level with one another. It does not really matter if the slabs are laid completely level to the spirit level because it is unlikely that the ground will be completely level. Often they will be laid on a slightly sloping surface.

This is why we lay the two end slabs first the fix a string line between them.


10. When finished laying the stepping-stones replace the gravel around the slabs

Once you have laid all the slabs we need to remove the line pins and replace any gravel around the stepping stones we have laid. You can gently push some of the stones into the cement to help hide the cement. Finish by cleaning up any mess and don't allow anybody to walk on the slabs for 24 hours.

Once you have finished laying the remaining stepping-stones between the two end slabs you can them remove the string line and pins and then gently replace any gravel around the slabs. Be careful not to move the slabs as they will take at least 24 hours to dry correctly.

Finish by securing the area around the freshly laid paving slabs to make sure they are not stepped upon until the have had chance to dry correctly.

You could put string or tape around the area. We used some old timber planks propped up against the wall to stop anybody walking on the slabs.


I would always recommend waiting at least 24 – 48 hours before you begin to walk on the surface of the slabs. You now know how to lay stepping-stones on gravel.

How to make the mortar mix to lay our stepping-stones on

We are going to lay our paving slabs on a bed of mortar consisting of sand, cement & water. You could use a cement mixer or mix the ingredients on the floor. Because we only used 4 bags of sand, we mixed our mortar in a wheel barrow.

This is mixed at a ratio of 5 parts building sand to one part of cement. We wet the mix with water to create a firm but pliable mix. You can add plasticizers to the water or a little washing up liquid to make your cement a little smoother to work with. But remember when using plasticizers you will need less water. Add the water slowly as we do not want our mortar mix to become sloppy. If the mix does become sloppy just add more sand & cement to the mix. You need the motor mix to be quite firm so it supports the paving slab. If the cement mix is too sloppy the mix will not support the slab and the slab will just sink into the mix.

You could use grit sand if you want but we find that building sand is more able to ‘stick’ to the paving slab to create a good adhesion better than grit sand does. Once stuck it helps keep the slab firmly in place once dry and set.

Should you remove the gravel or not before laying the slabs?

You could remove all the gravel before you begin to lay the stepping-stones but we often get asked how to lay stepping-stones on gravel without first removing all the gravel. This is probably because gravel is often laid before most people consider laying slabs to make the gravel easier to walk on. So this is the method we will use where we just remove the area of gravel where the paving slabs will be fit. If you do have time and the capability of first removing the gravel before you lay the stepping stone we would recommend you do this first. Although it takes more time using that method it can often be easier in the long run.

If you would like to buy the materials or tools needed to lay stepping-stones on gravel why not visit our paving shop. You will find many materials and paving tools available to buy at the best-selling prices. With many discounted to below factory prices. Our paving shop can be seen here

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