Although one of the most
durable and attractive types of wall to look at,
building a stone wall involves hard work. And it certainly helps to live in an
area that has a lot of free stones available. Otherwise you will have to
purchase the stones at a garden center or building supply store. Shop around
for the best price as prices can vary by a wide margin.
A stone wall can add beauty and functionality to your yard and garden.
Stone is one the oldest
building materials ever used. It is attractive,
functional, and very durable.
The typical stone wall is made of large stones forming
the backbone with many smaller stones used as a filler material.
A stone chisel and sledge-hammer can be used to split a stone. Heavy-duty sledgehammers by Fiskars will get the job done as efficiently as possible.
The wall consists of several layers of large
stones placed together somewhat like a puzzle, arranged above and behind one another. Smaller rocks
are placed in between to act as a filler. Bonding Stones are long, flat stones.
They span the walls along its full width and are placed at regular intervals in the wall.
Instead of mortar, the wall is held together with gravity and friction, both
of which are free! Each stone's weight pushes steadily down against the stones below
which keeps the wall from falling down. Each stone should be placed so that it rests on a flat,
strong bed and overlaps two or more stones below it. The pattern of the large
stones will be similar to brickwork. To make the most effective use of gravity
as a bonding agent, the front of the wall and either end is sloped toward the center
of the wall at a rate of about 1 inch per foot of height.
If you are building a low wall (less than
three feet high), a shallow trench will do just fine. But a wall that is higher than
three feet will need a footer trench dug to a depth that is below the frost line.
If you have never built a stone wall before, in the interest of safety it is suggested
that you limit your first stone wall to a height of three feet. The width of
the wall at the base should be two-thirds the height of the wall.
Cutting Stones For A Proper Fit
You can trim a stone to the proper shape and size with a stone mason's hammer.
A stone chisel and sledge-hammer can be used to split a stone. Leather gloves
and safety goggles are strongly recommended in order to avoid injury.
Mark a line on a stone with a grease pencil where you want it to break
into two pieces. Using a sledgehammer and chisel, score the stone along the line. To break the stone, place the chisel on the scored line and hit it hard with
Most types of flag- stone are pre-marked and scored on both
sides of the stone. Place the stone on a 2" x 4" plank with the scored line
one inch beyond the edge of board. Tap the stone with a hammer to break
To assist you with checking the wall's slope,
fashion a gauge by nailing three 1" x 2" planks together to form a
90 degree triangle. The height of the gauge should be equal to the height of the
wall and the base of the gauge (for the slope) should be 1" per foot of height.
Outline the wall using stakes and a string.
The trench should be 6 inches deep for a three foot wall. Place bonding stones
at either end of the trench. Be sure to use the heaviest stones on the lower
rows of stone. Then place another bonding stone every four feet along the
length of the wall.
Strive to make the first layer of stones as level as
possible. Orient the flattest side of each stone upward. The best looking side
of the stone should face the side of the wall. Fill the center of the wall with smaller
Use the guide string and slope gauge as guides
to assist with laying the second layer of stones. The second layer should be set in somewhat from the first
layer with the large stones tilted slightly toward the center. Alternate the vertical joints and
remember to place your bonding stones every four feet.
As you build the layers of your wall, keep
selecting the stones that fit together tightly and look the neatest. Use
smaller stones to level up the larger ones and fill in the cracks.
Save the flattest stones (capstones) for
placement on the top layer of the wall. The capstones should span the entire width of the wall.
Use mortar to set the top layer of capstones to ensure many years of beauty
and utility from your wall.
In rocky areas of the country, you may be able to find all of the stones you will
need for free. Most farmers and landowners are more than happy to allow you to
haul them away! Search for stones with a flat top, a solid base, and at
least one straight, flat side. Corner stones should have at least two flat sides that meet at a right angle.
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