Stone Wall Design and Specifications

Stone walls lace the landscape of New England and many places throughout the world.  These dry stone structures (dry meaning built without mortar) define fields and properties, retain slopes, support bridges, buildings, and much more.  They are functional and beautiful and are a continuing part of our history and landscape.

Throughout much of the 20th Century and often continuing today, these historic stone walls, foundations, and structures are being replaced with concrete.  In most cases these concrete structures have a much shorter design life than the original dry stone structure.   Sometimes attempts are made to preserve the appearance of stone using veneers or cultured “fake” stone products.  Often failing after a relatively short time, these measures are often more costly than the historically correct alternative of dry stone construction.  This process of replacing historic structures with concrete is ongoing, and beautiful historic stonework, is being replaced by under-performing modern materials rather than being properly repaired or rebuilt.

Like all aspects of construction dry stone walls and structures need a proper design and a skilled installer.  A dry stone wall’s strength and durability depend upon how it is assembled and the stone selected.  Make sure that the dimensions, foundations, and material selections have all been made to facilitate correct construction.  The Stone Trust provides design consulting services for dry stone walls and structures.  Call (802) 490-9607  or email brian.post@thestonetrust.org for more information.

Click here to get free download of:
Standard Specifications for Dry Stone Retaining Walls

When it comes to building, make sure to specify that the work is done by Certified Wallers.  Just like using a licensed plumber or electrician, using a certified waller helps to assure a good finished product.  The importance of using a skilled and certified waller cannot be over emphasized.  It is often difference between having a wall that will last less than 1 year or over 150 years.

Traditionally, walling was a separate craft and profession from masonry.  While today, many masons do dry stone work, it is vital that they know and understand how dry stone walls and structures work.  All too often dry stone work is done by masons who’s knowledge base is from doing veneer and other modern masonry practices.  The resulting walls soon structurally fail, (often within months) and visually don’t match the historic stonework.  Avoid these problems by using certified wallers.  You can let certified wallers know about your project using our free Project Referral Service.  You can also find local certified wallers on our Find a Stone Wall Contractor page.   The interactive map and listings by state make it easy.

The best way to improve your ability to design dry stone walls is to take a hands-on dry stone wall building workshop.  The Stone Trust offers 1 and 2 day workshops for all skill levels.  Taking a workshop will get you to see and evaluate walls as you never thought possible.  Landscape Architects receive LACES credits for attending workshops at The Stone Trust.  Check out our upcoming workshops here.

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    Dry stone retaining wall specifications:
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    This 11 page document is available for download as a PDF and as a word (.doc) file.  This is the most detailed specification document for dry stone walls that is freely available.  It is an invaluable document for anyone designing dry stone walls and/or structures.

    Standard TypicalStone Wall Construction Detail
    Typical Dry Stone Retaining Wall Construction Details

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