Learn How To Build Garden Steps With This Easy Tutorial

Are you a fan of DIY projects? Are you wondering how to build garden steps? They are often part of a garden design for their functionality and ability to link garden areas at different levels, especially in the front yard!

Front yard with external staircase made of granite

The front garden is one of the essential features of any house, just like outdoor lighting, and the steps leading up to your front door give off that vital first impression. They are not only used for function, but they also create a clever division of space that can make a garden feel larger and more spacious than if designed on one level. Our guide will show you how to prepare the ground, how to build garden steps and help you assess what’s involved. So are you ready to upgrade and freshen up your garden?

Planning for your steps

When it comes to any garden design project, the first part of the job is taking the time you need to prepare and think about what the end effect should be. You should consider the location of the steps, what materials you’re going to use, how wide you want them to be and whether you’ll need any sort of handrail for support. Keep reading to find out all you need to know.

The material of your steps

  1. The most common material types used to make yard steps are bricks and paving slabs. They are resistant to frost, and you can find them in all major DIY stores. You may choose either red or yellow brick to build your steps. If your home features yellow or red bricks on the exterior, you can match your steps accordingly. Cool, right?
  2. Softwood frames/logs are also a great choice since they look rustic and authentic. You can also make your wooden frames for your steps using railway sleepers, old pallets or pieces of landscape timber that are used in a variety of landscaping ideas, like raised beds, decking or pergolas. The only downside of wooden steps is that they are slippery when wet and tend to rot because of moisture. That’s why it would be wise to improve the grip of your sleeper steps.
  3. Concrete steps, flagstone or natural stone blocks are very hard-wearing. Just keep in mind when you’re considering making stone steps in your garden that the stone’s thickness will affect your riser height. You can also use stone and fill your steps with gravel or limestone shingle instead. You can also use concrete blocks as well. Remember to add stone or concrete adhesive to your supply list if you’ve decided to work with stone/concrete blocks, plus you may need to cover them, afterwards. 

garden with flowers and stairs made of rocks

The dimensions and the number of steps

After you can visualise how you want your yard steps to look, it’s time to determine the steps’ number you want to build. To do so, you should measure your slope height

  1. If it is not very steep, you can measure the height easily using a thread or a string. First, fix one end of the line on the slope’s highest point using a stone, and then stretch the string straight till you reach the point where you want your steps to begin. You can now get your slope height, measuring the height from the ground to the string.
  2. If your garden is steep, it’s essential first to find your slope height. Keep in mind that the rise of each garden step, generally, shouldn’t be greater than 15 cm.
  3. Since yard steps don’t have a railing and should be comfortable to walk, keeping your step height around 10-12 cm would be an ideal decision. 
  4. To get the total number of steps, divide the total slope height by your preferable height.
  5. Yard steps treads must also be spacious so that getting up and down is easy. You shall require a few steps in the garden, and you’ll be able to figure out the tread size once you know how many steps you have to make. However, if you’re covering a large area, divide the slope’s length by the number of stairs to find out an estimated tread size for you. The minimum tread depth for yard steps is generally considered 30 cm.

Decide on the best tread and riser combination

To work out how many steps you’ll need, divide the vertical height of the flight by their height. Then divide the flight’s horizontal length into a suitable number of treads.

To make safe and attractive steps, follow measurements combinations in the table below. Of course, you won’t always be able to follow them strictly, so you might need to lengthen or shorten your treads, cut some bricks or build up the ground to make your flight work. The important thing is to try to follow these measurements as closely as possible when making your calculations. Also, keep in mind that a tread should never be less than 300mm from front to back.

Tread lengthRiser depth
460mm100mm
430mm113mm
400mm125mm
380mm140mm
360mm150mm
330mm165mm
300mm180mm

 

Tools for outdoor steps

Before you start with your building project, get all you’ll need handy. This will make the process run more smoothly and quickly. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:

    • Builder’s line and pegs
    • Builder’s square
    • Spirit level
    • Spade
    • Sharp sand
    • Concrete
    • Cement
    • Bricks
    • Hardcore 
    • Earth rammer
    • Shim 
    • Slabs
    • Tape measure

close up to a spatula in cement

Step-by-step guide for garden steps

You are now ready to start building garden steps. Follow our step-by-step instructions to make your steps safe and sturdy!

Step 1

  1. Using a builder’s line and pegs, start by marking out your site. 
  2. Fix 2 parallel lines down the slope’s length to mark the outer edge of the steps and 2 more to mark the top and bottom. 
  3. With a builder’s square, check that the corners form a right-angle.

Step 2

  1. You’ll need to measure the vertical height and horizontal distance of your steps’ flight to determine how many treads and risers you need. 
  2. Knock on a peg to mark the highest tread’s back.
  3. Hold 1 end of a long level at the peg’s top. 
  4. Ask help from someone to measure the first horizontal distance and the vertical distance to the ground.

Step 3

  1. Now, divide the vertical height by your step height, use the combinations chart above, and find the tread length you need. 
  2. Using a spade, strip away any turf in the marked-out area of the landscaping to level your garden.

close up to man's hands moving the earth to level the garden

Step 4

  1. Mark the back of the treads using lines. Make sure you set back an extra 50mm or so to have enough room to work. 
  2. Then shape the steps roughly with a spade. You should leave enough depth beneath the concrete slab treads for 100mm of hardcore.

Step 5

  1. Dig a trench about 120mm deep for the footing for the first step. 
  2. Using the level, drive-in pegs to mark the surface of the footing before you pour in any concrete. If you’re going to have a paved surface leading to your steps, dig a deeper foundation and lay 1 or 2 courses of engineering bricks on top of it, below the ground level. You can then apply your paving right up to the first one.

Step 6

  1. Concrete the footing, ensuring the surface is level with your pegs. 
  2. Let it dry for 24 hours before you build on it.

Step 7

  1. Mix a mortar using 4 parts sharp sand to 1 part cement. 
  2. Build your first step on the concrete footing using 2 skins of stretcher bond bricks. Keep checking they’re horizontal using your level. 
  3. Leave the mortar to dry for 2 hours.

Step 8

  1. Use hardcore to fill behind the riser. It should extend beyond the slab’s back when you lay it. 
  2. Compact the hardcore using an earth rammer.

Step 9

The hardcore should rise slightly towards the step’s back. To achieve this, use a spirit level and lay 10mm of shim across the step’s front.

Step 10

  1. Lay a continuous mortar bed on the riser and hardcore.
  2. Position the slab for the first tread on top of it. It should overhang the riser at the front and sides by 40mm. 
  3. Place your level along the front edge to check the bottom step is in line
  4. If you’re laying 2 slabs side by side, make a pointing mortar with 3 parts sharp sand to 1 part cement, and then spread it on the edge of the first slab before you lay the second.

workman laying patio edging bricks in garden makeover

Step 11

  1. Using the level and 10mm shim, check the treads have a slight fall towards their front edge. 
  2. Now fill all the joints with mortar.

Step 12

  1. Build the next riser on the first tread. 
  2. Check that the depth is the same as the first, and make any adjustments to your horizontal joints. 
  3. Keep checking each one against the overall height of the flight to avoid any mistakes. To find this, measure from the top guide peg with a level and tape measure. 
  4. Then, lay the slabs of the next tread.

Step 13

  1. Carry on building your steps, checking the tread lengths are always right. 
  2. Then place a long straightedge or spirit level on the treads’ front edge to check they’re in line
  3. If you want to bank up the slope on either side of the steps, use earth for planting, or grass it instead.

How to build free-standing pavers

Are you looking for some more garden ideas? Not all outdoor steps are built into a slope. You can build free-standing steps on a flat base alongside an existing garden wall. These steps can be supported by low walls made of bricks, forming the risers. Here’s how it works:

  1. The walls look like a series of boxes and are filled with hardcore. The supporting walls can be centred on concrete footing strips for a flight of up to 5 steps
  2. If you want a more extended flight, you need a concrete pad under the whole structure. 
  3. You may either build the brick risers up from ground level, or you can lay a 100mm concrete footing at each tread’s back of built-up compacted hardcore before you lay the slab and build the next one on it. 
  4. With brick steps parallel to the brick wall, the risers’ bricks should correspond to the bricks in the existing wall. 
  5. The risers must be toothed in or anchored to the existing wall to make them more secure.

Front garden rockery with outside staircase made of sandstone and concrete pavement

How to anchor garden stairs to an existing wall

Do you want to create a retaining wall, having a makeover with different levels to an existing wall in your outdoor space? Here’s how!

  1. To create free-standing steps next to a brick wall, you’ll need to build them with concrete and brick and anchor them to the wall to make them secure. 
  2. You may also use logs to support a single step on a gentle slope or even arrange them at intervals on a long incline.
  3. To anchor the steps safely, you’ll need to put in an adjoining brick in every third course of the low walls to support them to the existing wall’s brickwork. To do this, you should cut out half a brick from the existing wall, insert half of the adjoining brick and then mortar this securely in its place. 
  4. You have to ensure you take out all the relevant half-bricks from the existing wall before building any steps. Below is a guide to help you out!

Step 1

  1. Using your drill, make 10mm holes into the joints around the half of the brick you’re removing. 
  2. Drill down the brick’s centre.

Step 2

Take out the half-brick using a cold chisel and club hammer.

Step 3

You are now ready to build your steps and support walls up to the level of the cavity. 

  1. Spread mortar on the wall’s top and into the cavity.
  2. Fit half of the adjoining brick into it and tap it in place with the trowel handle.
  3. Continue building the rest of that bricks course and lay the tread.

A beautiful block retaining wall in grey colour with integrated staircase into a garden
Not all of us are lucky enough to have an outdoor space that is all on the same level. And although there is nothing wrong with a gently sloping garden, if the incline is too steep, it becomes almost impossible to use effectively. Knowing how to build steps can allow you to transform the functionality and enjoyment of a garden. Keep in mind that, as with all garden design ideas, safety is essential. Your stairs need to be secure to use and comfortable. For the best results, follow our instructions to prepare your ground, measuring and building your new stairway to heaven, or at least your house door! 

Find out next: How to clean cement paths.

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