Paths built with concrete, stone or pavers are expensive
and labor intensive. They require a lot of digging,
hauling of tons of materials and the disposal
of tons of soil. If you're looking for an easier path, consider a
wooden walkway, especially for wet or sloped sites. Building
with wood is far less backbreaking. You'll have just a few
holes to dig, and you'll be hauling wood instead of stone. It's
much cheaper, too. The walkway shown, topped with cedar
decking, cost around $400. (With treated wood decking, it
would have cost less.) A wooden walkway also goes
together much faster; this 40-ft. path took two of us two
days to build. But enough chitchat—here's how to build a
walkway of your own!
Figure A: Anatomy of a Boardwalk
Figure A: Anatomy of a Boardwalk
Anchor each section of boardwalk with 4x4 posts. Overhang the decking enough to create room for curves.
Plan your walkway
1 of 1
Photo 1: Lay out the path
Mark one side of the walkway with hardboard siding, then
screw it to stakes to hold the shape. Mark the path with marking
This walkway design works best for a gradually curving or
straight path—whatever length you need it to be. Generally,
if it's possible for you (or some kid) to pump your way up
the proposed walkway route on a bicycle, you can build this
project there. If the path has a steep slope in the middle and
you're skilled enough to build deck stairs, end your walkway
at the top and bottom of the hill and bridge the hill with
steps. If you just want a straight path, your job is simple. Just
follow our instructions and skip all the business about
curves. Place stakes at both ends and sides of the path,
spaced 30 in. apart. Next, string a line and mark your postholes
every 8 ft. Then frame up each section using the same
steps we show for a curved path.
This is true plan-as-you-go construction. Layout and construction
start at one end of the boardwalk and proceed to the
other. You determine the length and the number of level
changes needed as you go. There's no hard-and-fast materials
list or cutting list; you'll do a fair amount of shooting from the
hip. Start by picking up a 16-ft. length of hardboard siding
and laying out the path. If you can't find hardboard, screw
together strips of any 1/2-in. sheet good. Then you'll be able
to make up a preliminary materials list and get started.
Rip the 12-in. siding into two 6-in.-wide pieces and get
some help to bend it to form the shape of your path (Photo 1).
If you need longer lengths, overlap the siding a few feet and
screw the pieces together to ensure a smooth curve. Only lay
out one side of the walkway for this step. Start at the downhill
end at the highest sloped side of your pathway, screwing
the siding to stakes to hold the shape. Avoid tight curves
if possible; gradual ones will simplify construction. When
you're satisfied, mark the inside of the form with marking
paint and then pull it free. Store the siding indoors or moisture
may ruin it. You'll need it later.
This is a foot-traffic-only design—no Harleys or golf carts,
please! For that reason, the footings are only 2 ft. deep, and
the posts rest solely on gravel.
Buy the materials
This walkway is made completely from treated 2x6 framing
and 4x4 posts capped with 5/4x6 cedar decking, but you can
use treated or composite decking if you choose. After you
establish the length and shape of the walkway, it's time to
put together a rudimentary materials list. Because every site
is different, we can't provide a precise materials list. We can
only give you a rough idea of what to get on your first trip to
the lumberyard. We recommend spanning 8 ft. or less with
every section even if you have longer runs that don't require
steps. The truth is that you'll be constantly adjusting the
length of each section, and you'll just have to try to use odd
lengths of framing material as wisely as you can. But to get
started, for every 8 lin. ft. of walkway, pick up:
- one 4x4 x 10-ft. (treated) post
- three 2x6 x 10-ft. (treated) boards
- eight 5/4x6 x 8-ft. deck boards
- two 2x6 joist hangers
- one 60-lb. bag of pea gravel
You'll also need a box of screws or nails for joist hangers
and special 3-1/2-in. construction screws to anchor the
framing to the posts. We used the GRK brand, but you can
use whatever construction screw is available at your home
center or lumberyard. If you can't find any, it's OK to tack
things together with 3-in. deck screws and then go back later
and install two 3/8 x 3-1/2-in. lag screws wherever side and
end joists rest at each post. And pick up decking fasteners.
If you're using synthetic decking, use whatever type is recommended.
If you use wood, we recommend 2-1/2-in. stainless-steel finishing screws. They're easy to drive and last
forever, and the small heads will be almost invisible when
Start at the bottom
1 of 4
Photo 2: Mark the first joist
Establish the length of the first section by keeping the joist
level and within 3 in. of the paint line. Mark the post positions
and cut the side joist to length.
2 of 4
Photo 3: Dig postholes
Mark the posthole using the joist as your guide. Set aside the
joist and dig 2-ft.-deep postholes, add 6 in. of gravel, then rest
the uncut posts in the holes.
3 of 4
Photo 4: Level the joist
Level the joist to mark each post height and cut the posts
to length. Level and screw the side joist to the posts with
two 3-1/2-in. construction screws.
4 of 4
Photo 5: Mark the next joist
Rest the next stepped side joist on the 4x4 spacer over the
first section's side joist. Then adjust the position and cut it to
length, allowing for a 1-3/4-in. overlap. Mark and cut the joist and
assemble as before.
Use a 4x4 block to support one end of the first 10-ft. 2x6 side
joist. Shift the joist up and down the hill until it's level and
spaced no more than 3 or 4 in. away from the paint line—anywhere (Photo 2). It's OK to dig the uphill end of the board
into the hill a few inches to make the section as long as possible.
But don't go above the top or your decking will be in
the dirt. The uphill end of the board will define one end of
the section; the 4x4 defines the other end. Cut the side joist
to length and then replace it to mark the post locations.
Stake posthole centers about 2 in. in from the board sides
and 3 in. away from ends. Then move the joist aside and dig
2-ft.-deep postholes (Photo 3).
Dump about 6 in. of gravel into each hole and place the first
post in the hole to mark the cutting height. (Rough-cut long
posts shorter to make them easier to work with.) Remove the
post, cut it to length and then fill around the post and screw
on the side joist. Then level the side joist and use it as a guide
for marking and then cutting the uphill post (Photo 4). Screw
the side joist to the posts and then start the next section.
Work your way up the hill using the same 4x4 block and
leveling and spacing techniques. But when you cut the
downhill end of each side joist, leave a 1-3/4-in. overlap and
toe-screw this end into place (Photo 5). Finish framing this
entire side of the walkway before beginning the other.
Finish the framing
1 of 3
Photo 6: Add the end joists
Install the end joists, estimating their placement to achieve
equal angles with the side rims. Mark and dig the footings.
Then set each post and end joist.
2 of 3
Photo 7: Add the other side joist
Cut and attach each side joist for each section before
continuing to the next level.
3 of 3
Photo 8: Add center joists
Support the middle joists with joist hangers after centering
and tacking them into place.
Start on the other side of the walkway by cutting a 27-in.-long end joist for each step. Then use the joists to set each post location (Photo 6). At both ends
of the walkway, set the posts so
they're square with the opposite side
joist (Photo 6). On the others, position
the posts so the angle between the
end joist and the two side joists is
roughly the same. You can just “eyeball
it” to compare the angles. They
don't have to match perfectly, just
close. Then dig each hole and cut
and set the posts and end joists as
you did on the other side. Then cut
and screw the side joists to the posts
and end joists (Photo 7). Finish up
each section by adding the center
joists and anchoring them with 2x6
joist hangers (Photo 8).
Install the decking
1 of 1
Photo 9: Add the decking
Space the decking, tapering the gap as needed,
then screw the boards to the joists.
Cut the 8-ft. decking into 4-ft.
lengths. Screw one board to each
riser at level changes (Photo 9). The
first board should overhang the riser
by 1 in. and overhang equally at both
ends. Then dry-fit the other boards,
spacing them as needed to handle
the curve. You'll have to play with
this for a bit on each section. Most of
the time you'll be able to simply
open up the decking gaps at one side
a bit more than at the other (see
“Decking Tight Curves,” below). Once
you're satisfied, screw the boards
down. You may have to taper-cut the
last filler piece at the step to even
everything out. Don't beat yourself
up striving for perfection. You'll be
the only one who'll notice small variations
in the size of the gaps.
Cut the curves
1 of 2
Photo 10: Mark curves for cutting
Mark the curves on decking using the hardboard siding.
Hold the siding in place with stakes or blocks or by hand.
2 of 2
Photo 11: Cut the opposite side
Transfer the curve to the other side by making a series of
marks 36 in. from the other side. Connect the marks with the
siding to establish the curve, then scribe and cut.
Shape the curves by bending the siding
and scribing against it. Do one
section and one side at a time. Try to
keep the curve 1 to 3 in. away from
the joist below. Use blocks or grab a
helper to hand-hold the curve while
you scribe the first section. Cut off
the ends with a circular saw for gradual
curves or a jigsaw for tighter
ones. At each step, you'll need to
remove the riser and the last deck
board or two so you can cut them
individually (Photo 11). Drive stakes
against the cutoff ends of the first
section. Screw the siding against
them to form an even, flowing curve,
then anchor the siding onto the next section with blocks while you trace the curve (Photo 10). Cut
those ends off and repeat the process along the entire side.
When one side is complete, make a series of 36-in. marks
on the other side. (Marking every other deck board is
enough.) Then use the siding to “connect the dots” to scribe
the cutting line on the other side. The last step is to cut the
curves. Now your walkway is ready for finishing.
Decking Tight Curves
If it takes huge tapered gaps to follow a curve, the best-looking
solution is to custom-rip each board. But this will require a lot of
extra time. Start by laying out the decking in a “fanlike” fashion.
Overlap all the decking equally at one end with the edges flush
at the other. You'll have to tinker with the overlapped ends until
all the overlaps are nearly equal, then scribe the tapers and cut
each board. It'll look best if you belt-sand the cut edges to eliminate
saw marks and then rout the edges with a round-over bit
(we used a 3/8-in. bit) to match the profile on the other side.