Dry laid stone masonry

  My first experiences in building with stone were as a landscaper. The projects were usually  simple garden walls or loosely fitted flagstone patios or walks. The walls were usually a foot high, packed from behind with soil and had little if any strength to retain much of anything. The patios and walks were rarely level and often had soil or screenings brushed between the stones. The elements would soon have their way and the structural integrity of these projects rarely stood the test of time. I soon realized that everything I was doing was wrong and that if my work was going to last I needed to do things differently. I poured over books and made changes when the opportunity arose. I learned so much from building these simple projects and it sparked a passion for stone masonry, that for me, has stood the test of time.

   I love the freedom that building dry structures has to offer. Walls curve gracefully and effortlessly with a fluidity that is rarely seen in a mortared wall. Flagstone walks and patios have an earthy organic quality that softens the hard edges that are inherent to stone. The labor of building these structures has its own flow as well and the rhythm of the work is easily found. Simply put, I love dry masonry and learning to master the craft takes years. 

    Dry stone masonry has ancient roots all over the world and the stone masons that are serious about their craft are deeply passionate about the techniques used to construct these beautiful structures. Unlike the rigid, unyielding masonry structures we often see here in the states, dry stone structures are built to flex with the seasons and are built with strict guidelines to ensure a long life. There are many examples all over the world of ancient dry structures still standing today because they share many of the same building techniques.

    The Brits are masters at building stone walls or "walling" as they call it. It is not uncommon to see an enclosed courtyard surrounded by six foot high freestanding dry stacked walls without a trace of mortar. Brittish walls and most other freestanding dry walls slope inward from each side at a specific angle and are usually capped by thin, vertical  stones they call "copes". The copes can be unshaped and raw or each one can be beautifully tooled with a radius on the top.

      In most countries where dry masonry is practiced, every part of a properly built wall, from the base to the cap, is built to rigorous standards and adherence to techniques that are learned through a long apprenticeship. My apprenticeship has been through trial and error but I use many of these techniques and with each wall I build, add new techniques and designs. It's in my nature  to explore and try new things and dry masonry offers a lifetime of opportunity for my restless mind.

Dry laid blend of local and various quarried stone

Dry laid blend of local and various quarried stone

Dry laid blend of river rock

Dry laid blend of river rock


Solving problems creatively with stone

     I guess it goes without saying that stone is my favorite building material. Stone is not only durable,  practical and beautiful but it's also incredibly versatile. Stone can be used to build bridges, houses, walls and fireplaces, often without the use of mortar. Stone can be carved or stacked to create sculpture or fitted together to construct mosaics. In the hands of a true craftsman stone becomes malleable and can be and do anything.

     Stone can also be a great problem solver. Take water damage for instance, water is incredibly powerful and can cause damage to a home or property that is very expensive to fix. Clients often ask if I can use stone to help with water issues and the answer is usually yes! When a job is in the design stages, water flow is the the first thing that I address. I look at downspouts, the slope of the lot and the grade at the foundation to start. I approach fixing the problem first then I address the best installation techniques for the job and then the design aesthetics. I always push for creative or interesting design features.

     A frequent problem is water that flows towards a house or water that stands after it has rained. Building codes require that the area around the house have "negative grade", in other words the soil should slope away from the structure. This can be tricky if the house sits on a property that has a natural slope that drains towards the house. A stone wall or series of retaining walls can divert or slow down water flow significantly, not to mention add beautiful accents for landscaping. A stone patio will shed water away from the immediate area and adds usable space for entertaining. Walls and patios together can create an "outdoor room" that is both functional and beautiful and also adds property value.

      Sometimes a client will ask that an area that experiences water erosion be addressed. A "dry creek bed is often the solution. I've built streams with tightly fitted pebbles that sweep across the property with snaking curves to direct the water. If significant slope is present I might build a dry creek built to mimic a mountain steam complete with boulders and dry waterfalls. I try to use an installation technique and a design that "fits" the problem and the over all look of the project. 

    Solving problems can be as fun and creative as building any other stone structure. I love the challenge of making a task that might on the surface seem totally function into something interesting and beautiful.