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STONE WALLS #6DOWNLOAD. Dry stone walls have been created for thousands of years and, if done well, will look as if they have been in place for at least that long. Yet anyone can learn how to lay a dry stone wall, insists Richard Ingles, a master craftsman who has built these structures in the UK for more than four decades.
(Ingles began dry stone walling on his father’s farm as a boy— and quickly realized he had an affinity for it.). If you want to create something of beauty and permanence, however, the skill can take many years to master, says Ingles, who kindly agreed to walk us through the steps of dry stone walling.
How do you cap a dry stone wall?
Is a dry stone wall the right element for your landscape? Read on for everything you need to know:. Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer for Gardenista. As the name suggests, these walls are made of nothing more than dry stone. There is no mortar and the structure is made strong and stable with nothing but the careful placement of stones.
Some dry stone walls in Europe have been dated to the beginning of the Neolithic age (circa 7,000 B.C.), an era when animals became domesticated and barriers were developed to keep them from wandering off.
In upland areas, this ancient craft has left its mark on rural landscapes. In recent years, photographer Mariana Cook traveled around the world to capture images of stone walls (including those of Malta’s Hagar Qim Temple, built in the 4th century B.C.); her photos are collected in Stone Walls: Personal Boundaries ($42.25 on Amazon).
How do you build a dry stone wall?
In America, in areas with rocky subsoils, English, Scottish, and Irish immigrants brought the skills to lay dry stone walls with them. Stone walls are prevalent in New England, where receding glaciers deposited rocks in the landscape.
Styles vary slightly in different areas too, because of the different stone formations. But the procedure for building a stone wall is the same almost everywhere. There are no foundations for dry stone walls (unless there’s a very unstable subsoil).
First, remove turf and then lay a base of large stones. The higher the wall the wider the base will be as the wall tapers in slightly from the base upwards and inwards. Then each course needs to be built up, as carefully graded stones sit harmoniously together.
In the Cotswolds where a oolitic limestone is used, it will perish sooner, perhaps after 100 years. In other regions such as Cumbria where there is granite, the time frame will be much longer because the stone is harder and more durable.
How much does a dry stone wall cost?
If there are slopes then a slightly different technique is used with some courses running at a right angle level with the terrain.
- More expensive than other options, the price of building a dry stone wall starts at about £40 per linear meter (or roughly $20 per foot).
- But the beauty of the walls —and the contemporary resurgence of traditional skills—has created a surge in demand for this craft at the moment.
- N.B.: See other wall and fence options:.
- Hardscaping 101: Pony Walls.
- Design Guide for Fences: Heights, Styles, and Costs.
- Hardscaping 101: Woven Fences.
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What is a dry stone wall?
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What is the history of dry stone walls?
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How long will a dry stone wall last?
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Line the Trench
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Build the Wall
Sort Your Rock
This step makes it easier to find the right rock that you need. Sort your rocks into smaller piles based on size. If you have children, this is a good job for them. There are 5 types of stones you’ll use to build your wall.
Face stones are the large stones that make up the majority of your construction. Hearting stones are used to fill the interior and gaps in the wall. Capstones are the ones you use to complete the top of the wall. You’ll use footing stones at the base of the wall. These should be the largest rocks. Finally, through, or tie, stones are long stones that extend from one side of the wall to the other.
Build the First Course
Lay down your stone in two rows in the trench. Each row should be flush with the sides of the trench. If you have a gap in the middle, no worries, you’ll fill that area next. Use stones that are similar in height to make building easier when you move on to the next courses.
Have you stacked firewood? Think of laying stone as stacking firewood. When you look at a stack of cordwood you see the short ends of the wood. The same thing applies to the bottom courses of your freestanding stone wall.
Fill the interior gap and any gaps in the face of the wall with hearting stones. Note that hearting stones are NOT gravel, they should be larger than that.
Build the Next Courses
Next, lay the second course. Start with face stones on top of the two previous roes and then every few feet lay a through stone, also called a tie stone. These stones should extend across the width of your wall and are essential for stability.
As you go, make sure that you alternate joints so that you don’t have edges overlapping with the course below. This weakens your structure. When you use rocks that are different sizes you naturally avoid overlapping. Tap the stones in place using a mallet. Fill any gaps and in between the rows with hearting again.
Continue building your courses, fill with hearting stones as you go. Keep each course as level as you can. You should also be checking to make sure the face of the wall is even. You don’t want any distinct bulges. The wall can become more narrow as it gets taller, but it shouldn’t get wider at the top.
Don’t get all caught up in wondering which rock is the perfect fit. You can easily turn the project into a never-ending cycle. Grab a rock and go.
If you need to reshape a rock, use a sledgehammer and chisel to knock off a corner. Remember to wear eye protection as pieces of rock tend to shoot off in all directions.
On the final course, carefully select some flat stones for the top of the wall. The flat stones cover the fill rock and add a finished look to the wall. They also create more stability.
Finish Off the Wall
After you set your capstones, go back and examine your wall. You might have gaps and holes in your wall that you missed while building. No problem, just take some more of your hearting rocks and stuff them in those holes.
You did it – you built a beautiful and sturdy freestanding stone wall! Just remember you’re never done.
Like any fence, stone walls require upkeep and maintenance. Make it a habit to walk around your wall every so often and check for fallen rocks. Animals or children can cause rocks to fall down. A tree limb may fall on the wall. Replace any missing capstones.
Look down and check on your foundation. Is it weathering well and still firm? You can always tap rocks more firmly in place or add hearting where things are looking loose.
A Note on Safety
Remember to be safe when building your freestanding stone wall. Stone is heavy and can do some real damage if a large one was to fall on an unclad foot. Where solid work boots to protect your feet.
Wear gloves to protect your hands. I prefer to wear leather gloves but they do sometimes interfere with dexterity. Some people prefer nitrile gloves because they grip well, but they wear out quickly when working with stones.
Wear long pants and shirt sleeves to save your skin from abrasions.
Eye protection is vital. Pieces of stone can chip off and fly into the air. Eye protection is especially important when you are cutting or hammering rock to change its look or size.
The Last Word
Working with stone is satisfying because it gives you a great return on your investment and can last for generations. I find building freestanding stone walls particularly gratifying because they go up quickly and add a nostalgic look to a garden.
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