How to build a dry stone wall

Dry stone walling is an ancient craft that can take years of practice to do with any real speed and perfection. For professional dry stone wallers, a wall can be build with incredible speed, but for the rest of us there will be a lot of trial and error involved.

Provided you take your time and are not over ambitious, you should be able to produce an attractive and stable wall without too much effort. Just be advised that your hands and forearms will suffer if you over do it in the beginning!

Dry stone wall
Building Your Wall

Even though dry stone walls may lack the straight lines and vertical faces of a traditional brick wall, the base of your dry stone wall should still be laid to a straight line, and ideally on a well prepared footing

Mark out the area to be excavated for the footing using a garden line and pegs, then excavate a trench about 8 inches deep. Just ensure that the bottom of the trench is as flat as possible as you will be laying the foundation stones on it.

Choose large flat stones for each end of the trench, and infill with other large ones to form a firm base for the rest of the wall. Just don’t forget to put aside enough large flat stones to cap the wall, and also to act as tie stones!

Your foundation stones should not actually touch. Space them out about 1 inch apart, although this will of course vary. Fill the spaces in between with gravel, which will aid drainage as well as providing a firm base.

Dry stone wall
Lay the subsequent stones carefully, choosing a suitable size for each one, and trimming them down with a club hammer and cold chisel if necessary. Wherever possible, place two smaller stones over a large one and a large stone over two smaller ones.

Each time you have laid a couple of courses, lay a large stone across the full width of the wall every yard or so along. Such stones are called tie stones or bond stones, because they help to tie or bond the dry stone wall together.

Try to slope the stones towards the centre so that they form a shallow ‘V’ shape. You can use small fragments of stone to adjust the angle or to make an uneven stone more stable. Inevitably there will be cracks and crevices, but these can also be filled with rubble or small stones

The appearance of a dry stone wall is affected by the type of stone used. Whenever possible, try to use locally sourced stone as this will provide a far more authentic and natural look!

Building a dry stone wall
Batter Gauge

Your wall should also slope inwards towards the top, and the best way to ensure a fairly even angle is to make a Batter Gauge.

Simply nail three battens of scrap wood together to give a slope of about 1 in 12. When you use the gauge, place a spirit level against it to check that it is vertical.

Cap Stones

Use large, flat stones for the capping at the top. If these are heavy, do not attempt to lift them by yourself. Obtain suitable help and, if necessary, use rollers on a board.

Raising Heavy Stones

Don't struggle trying to lift heavy stones to a height as this can easily cause a substantial injury. Use a strong plank on a stable support and then use a crowbar to move the stone onto rollers – lengths of steel pipe are suitable for this. This can still be hazardous work to do on your own, so always have a helper in case you lose control and drop the stone. That way there is someone around who can run off and phone an ambulance for you should you require one.

How High?

Unless you need a wall to keep animals in or out, don't try to build anything too high on your first attempt. A dry stone wall of about 3 ft is more than adequate for most purposes.

If you just want to make an attractive boundary wall then 2ft high may even be enough!

Just remember that extra height means extra costs, effort and time. For stability, the height of the dry stone wall should be about the same as the width at the base.

For related articles click onto the following links:

No comments: