Drystack Stone Walls – An Ancient Craft

Golden Wall 3

You see them all over Europe, New England, the ruins of Central and South America – walls made of stone with no mortar which were built hundreds if not thousands of years ago.  This should be enough to tell you that a well made drystack stone wall, in addition to being gorgeous and intriguing, can absolutely stand the test of time.

But building this way is not quick or easy – in fact, the quality of a dry-stack wall is directly proportional to the amount of time spent putting it together.  While it is possible to simply stack the stones as they come off the truck, piecing them together like a puzzle, the results of a hastily built wall are unsightly if not also unreliable.  The walls that attract the eye are ones that were made using the basic principles of stone stacking:  level courses, even face and top, tight joints, no continuous vertical lines, and a consistent and balanced arrangement of large and small pieces.

These qualities can only be achieved little by little, piece by piece, done by a craftsman who is conscious of how every step he takes will effect the final outcome.  Dry-stacking is not done in a random fashion.  It is all about working in layers, each one made to be as solid as possible and well arranged, relative to the layers below.

In terms of structural integrity, it is important to note that what you see is not always what you get.  A lot of what gives a wall its strength and endurance is hidden away from view because a well made drystack wall has long stones stretching across the width of the structure and stacked behind what is seen as the face.  In other words, the wall must be made solidly of stone as opposed to being a shallow facade that is backfilled with gravel.

The capping can be either made of carefully chosen and shaped wall stones (as shown in the photo to the right), or a pre-shaped slab cap that is perfectly linear and ready to be installed.  The first option tends to take quite a bit longer than the latter, not only because it is difficult to find suitable pieces for this, but also because the builder has to meticulously work up to the finish height using the stones available.

The end result is visually striking.  And there is something extra satisfying about having a hand-crafted, all natural work of art that will last for centuries to come.

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by Mark Shepherd   www.ShepherdStoneworks.com

(206) 618-0558

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