Stone Wall Completed!

David's picture

Whew! Now that was a puzzle. Every stone had a home, and I had to find each one. There were a couple of rules I had to adhere to, and I learned a few do's and don'ts along the way as well. I couldn't tell you just how much stone we used in the wall, but I can tell you we went out four times to get stones. Of course we never really 'filled' the truck bed when we went out. If we had, we probably could have gotten all our stone in two trips. Stacking the stone took longer than expected (typical for pretty much all types of construction), but I think the timing was necessary.

It would have been nice to have used stones that were more geometrical in shape. Flat sides and sharp angles would have made it much easier to stack and I'm sure it would have made tighter joints as well. But field stone is what we had so that's what we used. Although it was tricky to stack, field stone does have a lot more variation in colour and, of course, shape. This gave the stone wall a more cottage'y look to it. We like the look of it.

Dry stacking. *sigh* I have no idea if this was a better idea than using grout. My common horse sense tells me that I made the right choice, but only time will tell. Dry stacking consisted of handling a dozen or so stones, rotating each of them this way and that, making sure there was no wobble when set, ensuring the top of the stone was not slanted towards the edge of the wall, and resting on at least three other stones. This was done to place each stone. Sometimes I'd get lucky with my first stone, sometimes I'd get unlucky and have to go through 20+ stones before finding the right one.

Using mortared joints would have consisted of driving out to load up buckets of sand, grinding out clay to a powdery consistency, mixing buckets of mortar, finding a stone that looks close enough to fit in each pocket, setting the stone, and then coming back and brushing the grout smooth after it dried a bit. I did use a bit of it to reinforce the threshold stone, and will use more to fill in around the pipes where they enter the stone wall.

At first I planned on using mortar. Being how I've done neither of these two methods, I figured less skill was needed to use mortar and that it would also take less time. I ended up not using it though, because I wasn't absolutely sure how it would stand up to the winters. A nice winter day could melt some snow. The water could wick into the grout and then freeze overnight. Could this happen? Would it cause the grout to blow out, weakening the wall? I don't know, and wasn't about to risk the stability of the whole building on grout failure. I would have felt safer if I was maybe using cement mortar, but I would have needed a lot of money to buy it. Also, it's not really a 'green' type of material.

So, I went dry stack. I felt it would probably take longer, but looking back, I'm not so sure it did. I don't know if any of you have made raw clay into powder, but I have and it's pretty time consuming. Plus, I'd also have to go and harvest sand as well. Maybe dry stacking did take longer. If it did, it wasn't by much I'm sure. I also don't have to worry about freezing water playing havoc on my walls (I hope). I can't see how, anyway. Gravity and the combined weight of the wall will hold it all together.

We made sure the stones were stable, slanting inwards, and touching as many neighboring stones as possible. Because the stones are irregularly shaped, there were a number of gaps, which we filled with gravel. I'm not sure if it was necessary though. I just figured if there was any settling, the small stones would help, and it would help keep critters from burrowing inside. Later we'll be mortaring the exterior and interior of the stone. The outside will get a simple sand/clay mortar to fill in all the gaps and form a wind, water and critter proof barrier. The inside will get a perlite/clay mortar to fill in all the gaps and provide insulation. We can then see if the winter has any effect on the grout without it affecting the walls structural integrity, as well as getting a good idea on how much perlite insulates.

Dry stacking is something that takes patience. I ran into a number of places where after trying to fit the 30th some-odd stone into a single pocket, I had to take a break and do something else. And when I came back, somehow the perfect stone was easily found. Also, be wary of the attraction to use larger stones. Sure they consume a large portion of the wall all in one shot, but they still need to be turned and flipped to find it's home. Finding a home for one of those behemoths takes a great amount of effort.

In conclusion, we feel the wall turned out great. We had liked it to be just a bit higher, but are satisfied with it's current height. To go higher would have required to widen the base of the stone wall. Dry stacking tends to require a slight tapering causing the width to decrease as you build higher. But the wall is strong and sturdy. Throughout it's construction I made it a point to stand on the stones, ensuring they didn't move under my weight. And now, 'dun-ta-da-dunnn', it's time to get cobing. Here are a few pictures of the stone wall.


Criddles's picture

WOW!!!!! That looks really cool and to know that you put every rock there by hand is just amazing. They look as if that is the only place they were supposed to fit!!

Im sure you gained big muscles doing this hard labor too =)

By Criddles
David's picture

Thanks! I smashed a few fingers and stubbed a couple of toes, but I didn't get big muscles. I think my brain had more exercise than my body during this task.

By David