The Beginnings of Our Stone Wall.

David's picture

Finally, we were able to start working on the walls. It seems like all the digging and backfilling was all just prep work. Sure the foundation is the most important part of the building, but it's all underground. There's not much to look at. But now we are getting to the most exciting part of the construction ... the walls!

First off, I would like to tell you I changed my mind about using mortar in the walls. I thought it would be better in that it would be quicker and add more stability to the wall, but because clay/sand mortar isn't something that's normally used up here in the north, it may end up being detrimental to the walls. So I figured dry stacking would be best. Once the stones are set, gravity will hold it all together. I still plan on using mortar, but only for finishing. After the entire walls are up, I'll go back and mortar the exterior of the stones to keep out drafts and bugs. The interior side of the stones will also have mortar, but I'll add perlite for it's insulating value. In the end I can determine how well the mortar holds up throughout the winter, without putting the structure at risk.

So far, we have gone out three times to harvest stones. It's probably gotten us, I'd say, half way there so I can see us going for three more runs. For the first run we looked for the best stones we could find. Judging from most of the stone walls I ever saw, I figured we should be getting the flattest, brick-like stones we could find. I also figured wedge shaped stones would be good too. And lastly I felt it would be best to get stones that were roughly half the width of the stone wall (6-8 inches). I just figured they would stack better and have less gaps. So away we went. It took us a good 2 hours to get a decent enough load to start us out.

The next day I started laying them and realized all my figuring wasn't really panning out. I ended up with a decent enough wall. It was nice and straight, pretty well level, and I really didn't have too hard a time putting the together. But by the end I felt I spent way too much time for what I ended up with. Plus, it seemed as thought it was missing something. Well, I determined it was missing large stones. The wall didn't feel right without a couple of large stones to really anchor it down. So, when Patricia got off of work, away we went for our second run.

This run was the quickest so far. I told Patricia all I was going to get were large stones. Ones that could span the whole 14" width of the wall. I also told her not to worry about getting the flattest stones. Any, as long as they weren't roundish, would work. With the first portion of the wall I had quickly realized if all my stones weren't flat, then it was the flat ones that I had a harder time fitting. You'd think they would be easier. And maybe they are. If so, then I just couldn't find the knack for it. So away we went again. The stones turned out about right for the pickin'. It seemed the stones I picked this time were just light enough for me to pick up and lug to the truck. Any bigger and I had to leave them. So that day I got the big ones and Patricia stocked up on the medium to small chinker sized stones. We tore through it that day. I bet we didn't spend anymore than a half hour loading up the truck.

Setting these larger stones were the ticket. One stone took up more space and seemed a whole lot firmer when set. And then all the smaller stones were set in between them. I did have to be more choosey when trying to find a smaller stone to fit within the pocket of larger stones, but it seems there is always that perfect stone. I just have to find it, and then find out how it fits. I must admit there were a few spots that took a lot of stone searching and shifting to get a good fit. There was one pocket that took us a good 30-45 minutes to find a stone for. Patricia would go to the pile and bring me a couple of stones at a time. She even ended up taking a measuring tape to hopefully find some usable stones. Then, low and behold, there was a stone off to the side, away from the stone pile, that she brought and it fit right in. Then the next four or five stones took only a few minutes. This is how the wall is treating us. It has some good spots and then, some bad spots.

The latest run was a little of both the previous runs. We had all day, so we didn't really rush. We picked some small stones, and a few larger stones. I didn't want to get too many large stones because now that we are above the first course, it's kinda tricky placing such a wide stone. And with this last batch of stones we were able to finish up the second course. Two more courses, and I think we'll be at about the right height to start cobbing.

Along with the stone wall, I had to include the door threshold, piping for the electrical and the rocket stove. I plan to have the rocket stove placed level with the interior floor, and because it is partially built into the wall, I had to leave room in the stone wall. The piping I had originally overlooked, and ended up having to remove a few stones to set the pipe in. The threshold took some time. The door frame will be bolted directly to the stone threshold so I need to make sure it isn't going to move. I set two large stones underneath it. Both happened to be pretty well flat at the top, were damn near level to each other when set, and were right even with the exterior grade. I don't think I could have gotten better than that. The threshold stone on the other hand was not so accommodating. It didn't quite sit as flat as I had hoped, so here I used some mortar. I made up a couple of buckets of sand/clay mortar and went to work getting it sturdy and solid. I picked some small stones to fit underneath the threshold and mortared them in. I also added some mortar around all of the lower stones including the foundation gravel. I figured this would help lock it all in. I'm pretty confident in my handy work, and it should hold up nicely. Also, in addition to the stone threshold, the cob walls will also be supporting the door frame.

Well, I still have a bit more stone that will get me started on the third course, but we'll be getting another load soon. I originally figured dry stacking would be more time consuming than using mortar, but now I can see I was wrong. Using mortar I would still need to find a half decent stone to fit into each pocket, and making mortar is not something I can just whip up. I found that finely ground clay will give me a consistency closer to that of cement mortar, than using granular clay. Thankfully I had some down time prior to building the stone wall, where I spent half the day grinding out clay. At the time I wasn't sure what I was going to even use the powdered clay for, but luckily I did it anyway. Half a day of grinding gave me a little over 3/4 of a bucket. Which would, in turn, make about 3 buckets of mortar. I don't think I'd be where I am today if I had gone that route.

Here are some pics of our progress.


Rick's picture

How or what are you going to bolt your door frame too? Or will it have a frame? I think on ours, we were going to stick a wood post on each side of the opening to give them something to fasten too.

By Rick
David's picture

Yeah we were planning on having a door frame made up of 4x6 cedar beams. But now that you mentioned the wood posts, maybe I can scrounge around for some dead trees. That would save us a good hunk of change. I'd have to devise a way to provide a good seal around the door when it's closed. Hmm, something to ponder.


By David