How-to Buy Flagstone

How-to Buy Flagstone is all about choosing the right materials for your specific project. These early decisions can make the whole process easier, or cause you major grief. You may not want to spend the 10 minutes of your time reading this, but I can guarantee you it will save your hours working with the flagstone you are buying. 

To better understand the difficulties when you buy flagstone, let's take a quick look at buying something you are familiar with.

Let's look at buying a car.

If you go out to buy a car, you usually buy based on benefits and features of that particular car.

The benefits and features should fill your needs before your wants, depending on your budget.

You know what features you need, and you know why you need them.

For example:

You need your car to be fuel efficient because you have a limited budget, but you may want  your car to have a high end sound system.

In most industries, salespeople are highly skilled and trained in asking the right questions. They can then determine your needs, and your budget in order to sell you the right product. (Let's forget about up-selling and playing on your wants for this article.)

Buying stone should be no different, but unfortunately it is. Laying flagstones is much easier when you have the right product.

There are two main problems that you need to understand that lead to people ending up with the wrong materials for the job.


The First Problem

People selling the stones often have limited knowledge about the benefits and features of the stones they sell, and how to estimate your needs. Benefits and features of a stone? Huh? Yes. Although there are not near as many as a car would have, there are still important things to know that we will cover here.

This module will give you more knowledge about what kind of stone you may need. As far as helping with estimating your landscaping materials, we can help you with that too in another section called Estimating Materials.

Keep this link to the Buying Flagstone section handy when you are ready to use it. If you need other products like edging, gravel, polymeric sand etc., you may want to check out the full module.


The Second Problem

Most homeowners know what they want or like for flagstone work, but have no idea what they need. Most people are inspired when they see pictures of some beautiful flagstone work which will feed their wants or desires. Just like cars, they may lack the money to purchase, or the skills to build the Mercedes. You may have to settle for the Taurus or Cavalier. That's OK, they are still reliable and look good.

So Dream Yard can help you with this problem too, by first showing you what your needs are in relation to the specific project you are working on. We can then show you some advanced tips and techniques in working with stones that can help you build the Mercedes if you so choose.

Keep in mind that uncut natural flagstone is not perfect. That is why you are using it in the first place. The character of flagstone gives a charm and elegance all on its own. You will have to allow for some tolerance when selecting your materials, so we have some basic guidelines for you to use to help you with your shopping.

 

What thickness of stone do you need?

We are dealing with dry-laid construction, so the minimum thickness should be
1 3/4 inches for a patio, and 2 to 3 inches for a stepping stone path. It is possible to have overkill, and we don't want that either as it will drive up your cost.

Why?

  • The risk of damaging dry laid patio stones increases with thinner stones. Stones can easily be damaged or cracked if something is dropped on them.
  • Thicker stones are heavier and more stable when building a walkway or patio. (Remember I talked about the stones in the introduction example about being easily dislodged).
  • Thicker stones can be set using a rubber mallet or dead blow hammer with less risk of cracking them when you strike the stones.
  • They stand less of a chance of becoming dislodged. This is especially true with the fill in pieces for gaps which should be 4 to 6 inches thick. In the introduction to this module we had an example picture. Do you think that the stones they used were the right size, or too small for that project? Remember the smaller the stone, the thicker it should be.

What type of stone do you need?

Decide on the, shape, size, and the composition of the stone that will work the best for your particular project. Pick stones that you can handle by yourself if you are doing this alone. Pick stones that you can work with using your stone tools. Lastly, try to choose stones that have some character to them.

Why?

  • Considering the shape of the stones is important because you have to fit them all together in a big puzzle. Triangles, squares, and rectangular pieces will interlock tightly together when placed or trimmed right.
  • Round pieces will not allow you to close the gaps between the stones as easily, but work beautifully for a stepping stone pathway.
  • The surface of the stone must also be a practical choice. Make sure the stone does not splinter, chip or become slippery when wet.
  • Mixing all kinds of shapes may be challenging, but it gives a lot more character to the surface when done right.
  • Pick the right size stones that you can handle and place yourself. Stone slab steps can easily weight 300 to 500 lbs. The larger the slab, the faster the work can go. The downside to this is, setting large slabs requires two experienced workers to be done efficiently.
  • You may have been wondering why we mentioned composition? The geological differences in stone types will make some stones easier to work with than others. They all break, crack, shatter and split in different ways depending on how they were formed. This means they may not do what you want them to do when using stone tools.
  • Certain types of sedimentary rocks can be quite brittle, making them more difficult to work with using chisels and hammers. You may also consider cutting the stones with proper stone blades.

Here are a few shopping tips for you.

  • Bring a hammer and chisel with you to the stone yard and experiment with shaping a few stones from the scrap pile before making your choice. (If they will let you.)
  • Bring a tape measure with you to measure the variance in thickness of the stones. If the sign says 2 inch flagstone and they range from 1 to 3 inches, this will make your job more challenging. You will also want to stay away from pallets that have too many borderline pieces on the thickness you need for your project.
  • Bring a camera. You may want to take some pictures of the stones to compare them to what other suppliers are offering.

Inspect the quality of stones you purchase

Inspect the pallets or individual stones to ensure they are consistent in thickness, and the surface variations are within allowable tolerances.

Why?

  • The pallets are only as good as the people stacking them. These are not manufactured products, so quality control is an issue with some suppliers. You may have to pay a little more up front for quality materials, but it will be worth it in the end.
  • Unlike a brick patio, flagstone patios require you to constantly be adjusting your bedding sand or crushed rock base to allow for the different thicknesses of the stones. The more consistent the stones, the less adjusting, and the more time you will save.
  • Surface variation tolerances should be no more than 1/4 inch or they become a tripping hazard. Pallets that have an excessive amount of rough, broken, tapered edges and high ridges should be avoided. You will have to use your own judgement on what is excessive or not. Remember these are natural stones so don't expect too much.
  • Stones that are warped, twisted, concave, convex, and wedge shaped are all going to create challenges when you are matching them up to the stones around them. It is easy to stray off course with your overall grade with just one of these stones if you aren't careful. Use your judgement on what are an excessive amount of these more challenging stones to work with when selecting your stones.

    You will always have some of these, and there are ways to work with these stones we will get into with advanced tips on laying stones in the next section.

Other Quality Indicators

The condition of the pallets is sometimes a good indicator of stone quality. Broken or damaged pallets are often handled more roughly, which in turn means more broken or damaged stones. Look at the damaged and broken pieces on the ground around the pallet for evidence of how they are handled.

Neatly stacked pallets are easier to inspect, and are more consistent in quality. Messy pallets often have “junk stone” or filler pieces hidden in the middle of the pallet.

Suppliers that use good quality pallets make life much easier for me when I have to move them around using equipment with forks. Nobody wants to waste time re-stacking pallets that are damaged or broken. The more the product is moved, the more it is damaged.

This doesn't mean you can't purchase these products, but you should be aware of the increased risk of a lower quality. There is nothing wrong with asking for a discount for pallets with visible damage or that have fallen over. Rather than spending a couple of hours labor to clean up the mess and re-stack a pallet, they may be willing to reduce the price.

Hopefully you can see the value in buying the right materials from this information? Flagstone patio laying is a very time consuming process and these are just a few of the ways you can make things easier for yourself.       

Let's move onto some advanced tips about How-to Install Flagstone.


Table of Contents: Advanced Flagstone Tips

Introduction: Advanced Flagstone Tips

A. How to Buy Flagstone

B. How to Install Flagstone


Go to Dream Yard Home Page from How-to Buy Flagstone

Follow Me on Pinterest


Hot new release of our time and money saving e-book

How to avoid the biggest mistakes made by DIYers, designers, and landscaping companies.