How to build steps into a slope
Transforming a slope from an unattractive spot that's difficult to tend or mow into a set of functional steps not only simplifies property access, but also beautifies the area, potentially increasing property values.
Steps running along a slope can feature a wide variety of fill material from different coloured pebbles or mulch, to stepping stones, brick or sand. After you take measurements and gather supplies, it should only take a day or two to build the steps.
Preparing to build
- Push one garden stake into the ground at the top of the slope and one at the base.
- Hook the end of your tape measure on the top stake where it meets the ground.
Push one garden stake into the ground at the top of the slope and one at the base. Hook the end of your tape measure on the top stake where it meets the ground. Extend the tape and walk it to the bottom stake. Hold the tape measure against the stake.
Tilt the tape measure up and down while holding a level until it rests level horizontally. Note the length on the tape measure, called the run. Mark where the levelled tape measure meets the bottom stake. Measure how high off the ground the mark is, called the rise.
Divide the rise by 6 and subtract 1 to find the number of steps to build. Divide the run by the number of steps to calculate the depth of each step.
Purchase three landscaping timbers per step, two for "tiebacks" and one for your "step timber." Purchase eight galvanised spikes and two angle braces for each step.
Building the steps
- Arrange three timbers into a "U" shape.
- Drive a spike into each hole with a sledgehammer.
Arrange three timbers into a "U" shape. Drill a 1 cm (3/8 inch) hole at each corner through the front of the step timber and into the end of each tieback, to 25 cm (10 inches) deep. Drive a spike into each hole with a sledgehammer. Place a brace onto both inside corners and secure them with lag bolts. Repeat the procedure to make as many steps as needed.
Dig 1.2 m (4 feet) back into the base of the slope with a shovel, going 15 cm (6 inches) deep and 1.2 m (4 feet) wide. Set one of the "U" shaped units into the space with the step timber facing out.
Adjust the soil as needed to make the step timber level. Stack your second step unit over the first. Drill two evenly spaced holes down through the tiebacks and one near each corner through the step timbers. Drive a spike through each hole.
Set the next step unit over the first two. Push the step backwards into the slope by the amount of depth determined in Step 3 of Section 1. Repeat Step 3 of this section to secure the step. Continue until all of the steps have been placed and secured.
Fill in the space inside the "U" shapes of the steps with the displaced soil. Pack the soil down in the 5 cm (2 inches) in front of each step. Fill in the 5 cm (2 inches) with sand, pebbles, bricks, mulch or any other fill you prefer.
- "How to Build Paths, Steps & Footbridges"; Peter Jeswald; 2005
- University of Minnesota SULIS: Building timber landscape steps
- Place maintenance free plants, such as hostas or phlox, next to the steps while the soil is loose to create a more attractive set of steps.