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.