Building a Dry Stone Wall
Dry stone walls are built without mortar, which has many advantages and saves a lot of work. Unlike mortared stone walls, a dry stone wall will flex as the ground beneath it shifts, eliminating the need for a foundation. Because no mortar is drying as you work, you can work at your own pace, and no mistake is permanent. Sort stones into groups according to their functions before you start. Look for bondstones-those with a solid base, flat top, and one or more straight sides. Corners require stones with two sides that meet at 90 degrees. Save the flattest stones for the wall cap.
LAY OUT AND DIG A TRENCH FOR THE WALL
Stretch a mason's line between stakes to mark each edge of the wall. Sprinkle powdered chalk or sand over the lines to mark the wall's path on the ground. Dig a trench about 8 inches deep within the marked outlines. Place a 4-inch layer of gravel in the trench. The gravel will drain water away from the finished wall. Tamp the gravel and use a level to make sure the bed is flat and even.
LAY THE FRONT FACE OF THE FIRST COURSE
Begin the first course by placing a long stone, called a bondstone, across each end of the trench. Then lay the front face of the first course, placing bondstones every 4 to 6 feet. Because the top and bottom of a stone are seldom parallel, arrange the stones so any resulting slope declines toward the middle of the wall. Lay the rear face along the back edge of the trench. Fill the spaces between the two faces of the wall with small stones or rubble.
LAY THE SECOND COURSE
Start the next course by laying a long stone at a right angle to the bondstone below it. Work your way down the wall one face at a time. Lay the stones so the space between two stones is always spanned by another stone. Lay bondstones every 4 to 6 feet, varying the positions from course to course. Constantly check the batter with your batter gauge and a level. Reposition stones as needed to get a plumb reading. Continue to build the wall, checking the batter after every few courses. Pick the flattest, broadest stones for the top course. Slope the top stones slightly outward by propping them up on small stones. The slope helps drain water away from the top of the wall.
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Skill Level: Intermediate
Time: 4 hours
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- 4d (1 1/2-inch) common nails