DIY - Carve rustic steps that curve on a hillside

Carving rustic stone steps out of hillside with flagstone.

I’m finally getting around to posting the progress pictures of my rustic stone steps that I carved out of our hillside. They curve around a black walnut tree and are in between the tree and my greenhouse. The steps continue as a path that leads to my Studio Gardens and art studio.

Before I added the steps, I had to walk around the tree and down a hill that was grass, which meant it was slippery when wet. The area where I added the steps was always neglected, as the lawnmower didn’t fit through there and it would occasionally get hacked with the weed eater. I had Johnson Grass growing up in-between sunflowers because the bird feeder is in that tree.

Here’s what it looked like before the steps. What a weedy mess!

small area between greenhouse and black walnut tree before stone steps

So, here we go!

I started with a small trailer full of this flat sandstone that we got wholesale from a quarry in Kentucky. Sadly, they’re out of business now. I’d sure like to have some more of this stone.

I want to state for the record, this is the only help I received at all for the construction of these rustic stone steps! My husband and son helped load the trailer with the rock that was being stored across the lake on a palette. I dug, tugged, pulled, strained and sweated my but off for this entire project by myself. I’m quite proud of it and even more proud that I can say I built it by myself.

trailer full of flagstone to be used for rustic stone steps and path

I picked out the largest and thickest pieces for the steps. I was looking for 2″ or more in thickness so they would be sturdy.

These were the first two steps that I put down. I basically put the stone where I wanted it (thinking this would be the top of the stairs) and started digging until the stone laid level. This meant I had to dig from the back of the stone – where your heel is when standing on the stone when walking down. I really had no idea what I was doing, so I made it up as I went along.

first two steps in place

It turned out that these first two steps would eventually become the middle of the stairway as I didn’t like the grassy hill that I still had to walk up before getting to mostly flat ground.

I didn’t take a photo of every single step I put in, but it was helpful to be able to look at them to see the steps at a different perspective (sort of). So here is just the third step in working down.

3 steps in place

I will say these stones are pretty heavy – I had to use a hand truck (dolly) to move some of them – remember the trailer with the stone is at the bottom of the hill – oy. It took what seemed forever to finish this project, not to mention it was the end of July and sweltering hot. That always makes me move at a snail’s pace.

I wanted to give you and idea of the slope of the hill that I’m dealing with. Not the worst, but could be dangerous for people to come down. I have my art studio down there and I plan to have open studios so I needed a safer route down the hill.

the slope of the hill in front of greenhouse

This second photo taken from atop the hill shows you the lake that you can then roll into after you fall… can you say lawsuit? (yikes)

view of area I'm adding rustic stone steps

Back to the stones… here is a close up detail photo of the stones. I left a comfortable 2 or 3 inches or so for the “step down”. I’m short (5’1″) so I didn’t want to be falling down the stairs. This is a nice and comfortable stride to take downwards – for me at least.

I was sort of landscaping as I went along by adding a few plants in that I had divided and adding mulch. The succulents were there already in a retaining wall style planter that you can no longer see.


Later as the steps progressed,  I had to use a trowel to dig out more dirt so that every time it rained I wouldn’t have muddy steps. I ended up finding small stones out of the batch that I would add under the large stone to block off the dirt – a riser if you will. The smaller stone also acted as support for the step – a happy accident.

detailed view of the small riser stones propping up large stepping stones

I look down at what all I’ve still got to do… oy. Plus, I’m planning to continue on with the stones to make a path around the greenhouse that will lead to Studio Gardens, koi pond and the entrance to my art studio. Lots of work still ahead. I’ll post about the path with more photos in another blog post.

looking down from steps I've already put inI kept at it, digging more dirt out and laying down the stones. I put the dirt in the bucket to go dump somewhere else. Six steps in at this point.looking up at the rustic steps

The curve I planned is really becoming apparent now. I’m getting pretty excited at this point because I’m really liking how it’s looking.

looking down at rustic steps I've added so far

I found it encouraging to step back to look at how it looks from afar at different angles. You can see a peek at the area I call Studio Gardens to the left.

taking a step back to look at how it looks from afar

More work and I’m getting closer… the triangle shaped stone is the last one that is part of the steps. It’s fairly level there and the path to Studio Gardens can begin with this stone.

adding more stones for more steps

close up photo of the top of the rustic stone stairs

You may notice above there are a few more stone steps above the ones I started with. I eventually added eight more steps above the original “top” of the stairs.

adding landing steps

It’s like putting together a puzzle to see which pieces fit the best together.

Below, is the photo where I’m trying to decide exactly how far I wanted to keep going. My goal was to have it to where a lawn mower could drive right over it for easier upkeep. (*I’m now laughing because nothing is easy upkeep that I create!!)laying out the stone for the top of the landing

Here’s the final lay out with the stones dug in.

finished steps without mulch

It was nearly dark but I had to mulch the top to be satisfied and get a photo.

mulched top of rustic stone steps

The following day… The rustic stone steps are now complete! Yay! Of course the work doesn’t stop there. More planting and mulching… it goes on and on.

looking up at the finished rustic stone steps

mulched rustic stone steps

And Hey! Here is Zoey, my studio dog, using the new rustic stone steps!

Zoey, my dog using the new rustic stone steps

side view of rustic stone steps made of flagstoneSo here are the steps almost a year later. It was May 2015 and mid to late spring and I had not quite finished mulching everything last year and the weeds came on with a vengeance! In early spring I had moved a clematis, now growing up the side of the greenhouse. My hostas are up as well as coneflower, mint under the tree, sedum covering the retaining blocks and the dark purple foliage is Pirella.

Rustic stone steps the next spring

Below is just a few months later in June.

Rustic stone steps with coneflowers leading to Studio Gardens

And finally, I just took this photo today and it’s August 5th a year later from when I first made the steps.

Update: I plan to put links to the steps on this page to see how it’s aging. Click here to see one. I even have the steps in a video here. (part 3 video)

Looking at summer flowers and plantings around rustic stone steps

Come back and see the next project, the pathway to my koi pond and Studio Gardens.

UPDATE: 3/29/2020

So it’s been several years since I put in the steps and I can happily say they are holding up just great. I love them just as much today as when I first did them. The only thing I would’ve done differently would be to have used some weed fabric not only to control the weeds along the sides and under the step, but also to control erosion. Since the dirt under the step is open in lots of places (even if just a crack between the rocks), I’ve found that heavy rains have sometimes made dirt come out. Not much since I have a lot of clay, but some. Also, that dirt has been host to many a weeds and unwanted flowers and tree seedlings.

Leave me comment if you’ve done this or were inspired by my path, I’d love to hear from you.

Learn more about me on the ‘About’ page in the menu at the top. I’m an artist – a painter mostly and an avid gardener. I paint a variety of subjects including birds, koi fish, my gardens, ponds and flowers as well as anything having to do with nature especially trees and tropical scenes. I also enjoy painting abstracts.

If you would like to keep up with what I’m doing, I have a newsletter e-mailed about once a month that gives you special status for invitations, birthday greeting and more. I’d love for you to add your email to my Friends and Collectors list!

paintings by Jaime Haney

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