Porch Deck and Patio

Poured Concrete Pathways

Outdoor Projects

Poured Concrete Pathways

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BLACK+DECKER B+D Contributor 120 Projects

If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at creating with concrete, an outdoor walkway is a great project to start with. The basic elements and construction steps of a walkway are similar to those of a poured concrete patio or other landscape slab, but the smaller scale of a walkway makes it a much more manageable project for first-timers. Placing the wet concrete goes faster and you can easily reach the center of the surface for finishing from either side of the walkway.

Like a patio slab, a poured concrete walkway also makes a good foundation for mortared surface materials, such as pavers, stone, and tile. If that’s your goal, be sure to account for the thickness of the surface material when planning and laying out the walkway height. A coarse broomed or scratched finish on the concrete will help create a strong bond with the mortar bed of the surface material.

The walkway in this project is a four-inch-thick by 26-inch-wide concrete slab with a relatively fine broom finish for providing slip resistance in wet weather. It consists of two straight, 12-foot-long runs connected by a 90-degree elbow. After curing, the walkway can be left bare for a classic, low-maintenance surface, or it can be colored with a permanent acid stain, and can be sealed or left unsealed, as desired. When planning your walkway project, consult your city’s building department for recommendations and construction requirements.

Sidewalk Options

Walkway option 1

Straight slope: Set the concrete form lower on one side of the walkway so the finished surface is flat and slopes downward at a rate of 1⁄4" per foot. Always slope the surface away from the house foundation or, when not near the house, toward the area best suited to accept water runoff.

Walkway option 2

Crowned slope: When a walkway does not run near the house foundation, you have the option of crowning the surface so it slopes down to both sides. To make the crown, construct a curved screed board by cutting a 2 × 2 and 2 × 4 long enough to rest on both sides of the concrete form. Sandwich the boards together with a 1⁄4"-thick spacer at each end, and then fasten the assembly with 4" wood or deck screws driven at the center and the ends. Use the board to screed the concrete.

Walkway option 3

As an alternative to the wire mesh reinforcement used in the following project, you can reinforce a walkway slab with metal rebar (check with the local building code requirements). For a 3-ft.-wide walkway, lay two sections of #3 rebar spaced evenly inside the concrete form. Bend the rebar as needed to follow curves or angles. Overlap pieces by 12" and tie them together with tie wire. Use wire bolsters to suspend the bar in the middle of the slab’s thickness.

How to Pour a Concrete Pathway

  1. Walkway 01

    Lay out the precise edges of the finished walkway using stakes (or batterboards) and mason’s string (see pages 38 to 39 for additional help with setting up and using layout strings). Where possible, set stakes 12" or so outside of the walkway edges so they’re out of the way. Make sure any 90° corners are square using the 3-4-5 measuring technique. Level the strings, and then lower the strings on one side of the layout to create a downward slope of 1⁄4" per foot (if the walkway will be crowned instead of sloped to one side, keep all strings level with one another: see page 39). Begin the excavation by cutting away the sod or other plantings 6" beyond the layout lines on all sides of the site.

  2. Walkway 02

    Excavate the site for a 6"-thick gravel sub-base, plus any sub-grade (below ground level) portion of the slab, as desired. Measure the depth with a story pole against the high-side layout strings, and then use a slope gauge to grade the slope. Tamp the soil thoroughly with a plate compactor.

  3. Walkway 03

    Cover the site with a 4" layer of compactable gravel, and then tamp it thoroughly with a plate compactor. Add 4" or more of gravel and screed the surface flat, checking with a slope gauge to set the proper grade. Compact the gravel so the top surface is 4" below the finished walkway height. Reset the layout strings at the precise height of the finished walkway.

  4. Walkway 04

    Build the concrete form with straight 2 × 4 lumber so the inside faces of the form are aligned with the strings. Fasten the form boards together with 3 1⁄2" screws. Drive 2 × 4 stakes for reinforcement behind butt joints. Align the form with the layout strings, and then drive stakes at each corner and every 2 to 3 ft. in between. Fasten the form to the stakes so the top inside corners of the form boards are just touching the layout strings. The tops of the stakes should be just below the tops of the form.

  5. Walkway 05

    Add curved strips made from hardboard or lauan to create curved corners, if desired. Secure curved strips by screwing them to wood stakes. Recheck the gravel bed inside the concrete form, making sure it is smooth and properly sloped.

  6. Walkway 06

    Lay reinforcing wire mesh over the gravel base, keeping the edges 1 to 2" from the insides of the form. Overlap the mesh strips by 6" (one square) and tie them together with tie wire. Prop up the mesh on 2" wire bolsters (“chairs”) placed every few feet and tied to the mesh with wire. Install isolation board (see page 37) where the walkway adjoins other slabs or structures. When you’re ready for the concrete pour, coat the insides of the form with a release agent or vegetable oil.

  7. Walkway 07

    Place the concrete, starting at the far end of the walkway. Distribute it around the form (don’t throw it) with a shovel. As you fill, stab into the concrete with the shovel, and tap a hammer against the back sides of the form to eliminate air pockets. Continue until the form is evenly filled, slightly above the tops of the form.

  8. Walkway 08

    Immediately screed the surface with a straight 2 × 4: Two people pull the board backward in a side-to-side sawing motion, with the board resting on top of the form. As you work, shovel in extra concrete to fill low spots or remove concrete from high spots, and re-screed. The goal is to create a flat surface that’s level with the top of the form.

  9. Walkway 09

    Option: Cut an isolation board and glue it to the existing concrete structures at the point where they meet the new sidewalk. Steps, foundation walls, driveways, and old sidewalk sections  are examples of structures you’ll need  to isolate from the new concrete.

  10. Walkway 10

    Float the concrete surface with a magnesium float, working back and forth in broad arching strokes. Tip up the leading edge of the tool slightly to prevent gouging. Stop floating once the surface is relatively smooth and has a wet sheen. Be careful not to over-float, indicated by water pooling on the surface. Allow the bleed water to disappear and the concrete to harden sufficiently.

  11. Walkway 11

    Use an edger to shape the side edges of the walkway along the wood form. Carefully run the edger back and forth along the form to create a smooth, rounded corner, lifting the leading edge of the tool slightly to prevent gouging.

  12. Walkway 12

    Mark the locations of the control joints onto the top edges  of the form boards, spacing the joints 11⁄2 times the width of  the walkway.

  13. Walkway 13

    Cut the control joints with a 1" groover guided by a straight 2 × 4 held (or fastened) across the form at the marked locations. Make several light passes back and forth until the groove reaches full depth, lifting the leading edge of the tool  to prevent gouging. Remove the guide board once each joint  is complete. Smooth out the tool marks with a trowel or float.

  14. Walkway 14

    Create a nonslip surface with a broom. Starting at the far side edge of the walkway, steadily drag a broom backward over the surface in a straight line, using a single pulling motion. Repeat in single, parallel passes (with minimal or no overlap), and rinse off the broom bristles after each pass. The stiffer and coarser the broom, the rougher the texture will be.

  15. Walkway 15

    Cure the concrete by misting the walkway with water, and then covering it with clear polyethylene sheeting. Smooth out any air pockets (which can cause discoloration), and weight down the sheeting along the edges. Mist the surface and reapply the plastic daily for a few days.