How to Build a Dry Stone Wall

Learn how to build a dry stone wall including choosing stones, equipment, layout, ends and corners.


| October/November 1991



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Building stone walls is gratifying, and the product will last into future generations.


PHOTO: CLYDE H. SMITH

Learning how to build a dry stone wall takes a little bit of time, muscle and some trial and error, but the beauty that results from building with natural stone and your own two hands is second to none.

If you stop and think about it, it seems that, written word aside, the most enduring monuments to man's creativity and hard work are built of stone. The Pyramids, in Egypt, the Great Walls of China and Peru, temples most everywhere from Latin America to India, the castles of Europe, and the mile upon mile of stone walls running through our own New England countryside were all laid by hand and without a speck of mortar.

They endure in part because rock is as near a definition of "forever" as exists. But more important is their main construction ingredient — gravity. In a properly built stone wall each rock sits square on the ones below it, and so long as gravity keeps pulling, that wall is going to stay put.

So, here's how to go out and build a really permanent monument to yourself. Do it right — square, plumb, and well-tied throughout — and the wall will be standing long after you and I and all our other accomplishments and failings are forgotten.

First, get a pair of well-fitting steel-toed boots with ankle-, or better yet, calf-length uppers made from stiff, thick leather. Next, buy a pair of horsehide work gloves or a pair molded of rubber with grit imbedded into the palm and fingers. These gloves work well when gripping stones, and the boots will keep your toes from getting dented when you drop a boulder on your foot — which is bound to happen at one time or another. Finally, be sure you have the needed time and ambition.

There is no such thing as a half-built stone wall. It's either a wall or a stone pile. And to get from one to the other takes a lot of lifting — a cubic foot of rock weighs the better part of a hundred pounds.

craiginoxford
9/7/2011 12:31:06 PM

While making / repairing our stone walls that surround our property here in Ct. we built basically two walls running parralel with each other about a foot apart and filled the middle void with the smaller rocks, stones and then pebbles to strengthen it up, after that we used big, flat rocks to "Cap" the wall.. once the wall is filled and capped it doesnt budge. it also helps that some of the stones used in the wall were too heavy to move by hand so they were pushed or pulled into place by strapping them to my truck or pulled into place with a 2 ton come along. others we used rollers and 6 to 8 foot solid steel pry bars and alot of curse words... lol we still have about 300 feet left to rebuild.. whew! Im tired just thinking about it.






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