Stone retaining walls are a beautiful landscaping feature perfect for a weekend project.  As a homeowner project these walls should be 3 feet high or less.  When you are building a stone retaining wall over 3 feet high, consult a professional. 

This project enhances the beauty and function of your stone retaining wall by adding steps. The steps shown here are for a 32" high wall. 


Each step should be approximately 8" high, which means you can hand pick stones that are 8 inches thick as shown, or build up thinner stones.

The most important thing to remember when working on a stone retaining wall or these steps is to start out with a level, solid base. You will probably put more effort into your "footing" or base than the wall itself. If you start out right, the whole job is faster and easier.

Depending on your geographic location, your "footing" may have to be quite deep to prevent frost heave. Check your local building code to see how deep the frost line is in your area.  Dig to that depth (minimum of 6 inches) and place a layer of washed crushed stone up to ground level.  Only use washed crushed stone, not pea gravel, crushed run, or round stones of any kind. This is very important because we want this footer to be stable once in place.   Next, level the top of your crushed stone footer.

The art of being a stone mason is mostly selecting the right stone for the right spot. It is trial and error for both the novice and the professional. Use a hammer and chisel to shape some of the stones for a closer fit. Your job is to find the stone that comes the closest and modify it slightly with hammer and chisel to more perfectly fit each spot. Stone masons also use shims (small slivers of stone) to fill in voids where two stones meet.  This does two things, it makes the stone structure stable and solid, and fills in voids to make the appearance more suitable.


The drawing to the right is a top view.  The landing area in the middle of the steps should be a minimum of 24 inches wide for a small project where room is a concern, to 36 inches wide for the largest size you should consider.

The bottom two steps, and the landing are built up like a normal set of steps. The top two steps are cut out of the upper ground above the retaining wall. They are in essence a small retaining wall themselves holding back the dirt.


To locate suitable stone for this project you should be able to look under landscaping supplies in the phone book. If the suppliers you call do not carry landscaping wall stone, ask for the names of some that do.

This project is designed to stimulate your thinking rather than show you exactly how your steps will look. For example, your ground conditions might need only one step above the landing instead of two. We are expecting you to modify this concept to fit your conditions and stone wall..

Another project page will show you in more detail how to build a stone retaining wall.