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.

Check out our upcoming events:

    2016 March Contractors Workshop group picture
    Contractors Workshop: One Day Indoor
    Friday, March 31, 2017

    This workshop is perfect for the landscape contractor interested in starting to build dry stone walls, or expand that line of work. In addition to the hands on building of a wall, there will be discussions of good work practices, pricing walls, proper foundations, etc. Level 1 for beginners, and Level 2 for experienced wallers.


    Level 1 dry stone wall workshop group photo
    Introductory Workshop: One Day Indoor
    Saturday, April 8, 2017

    This workshop is perfect for the homeowner or enthusiast looking to start learning about how to build dry stone walls. If you are looking to learn more before starting to build a wall at home or trying to educate yourself before hiring someone else to build a wall. This is the workshop for you. It is great introduction for landscapers who are looking to get into dry stone walling. Over the course of the day each participant will build about 25 sq. ft. of wall (one side), using natural round fieldstone. Participants will learn all the basic rules of structural walling that can be applied to any type of stone and project.


    Dry Stone Retaining Wall Course
    Retaining Wall Workshop: One Day Outdoor
    Saturday, April 8, 2017

    Here in the North East, many of the walls people are building are retaining walls. While all the principals of a free standing wall apply there are additional rules and methods to follow when building retaining walls. The focus needs to be on a sound structure that will last for generations. The stone may be round field stone or flatter ledge stone. The rules and principals learned here can be applied to all retaining walls whether hand-built or built with large stones and equipment.


    Stone Shaping Course 2016 group photo at The Stone Trust
    Stone Shaping Workshop: One Day Outdoor
    Sunday, April 9, 2017

    This workshop will spend the day learning about how to shape stones for use in dry stone walls. Participants will be introduced to a variety of stone types, and how to work with them. Both hand and power tools will be demonstrated and used. The stone shaping will focus on efficient practices, learning how to look at a stone and judge how to shape it, as well as proper use and care of tools. Stone types worked will likely include, granite, slate, local quarried schist, gneiss ‘field stone’ and more. Participants are encouraged to bring samples of their local stone to practice shaping, as well as any tools they would like to learn how to better use.


    Indoor Dry Stone Wall Workshop at The Stone Trust
    Introductory Workshop: One Day Indoor
    Sunday, April 9th, 2017

    This workshop is perfect for the homeowner or enthusiast looking to start learning about how to build dry stone walls. If you are looking to learn more before starting to build a wall at home or trying to educate yourself before hiring someone else to build a wall. This is the workshop for you. It is great introduction for landscapers who are looking to get into dry stone walling. Over the course of the day each participant will build about 25 sq. ft. of wall (one side), using natural round fieldstone. Participants will learn all the basic rules of structural walling that can be applied to any type of stone and project.


    two day level 1 - 9
    Introductory Workshop: One Day Outdoor
    Saturday, May 6, 2017

    This workshop is perfect for the homeowner or enthusiast looking to start learning about how to build dry stone walls. If you are looking to learn more before starting to build a wall at home or trying to educate yourself before hiring someone else to build a wall. This is the workshop for you. It is great introduction for landscapers who are looking to get into dry stone walling.

    Over the course of the day each participant will build about 25 sq. ft. of wall (one side), using flat ledge stone. Participants will learn all the basic rules of structural walling that can be applied to any type of stone and project. The different type of stone used is the primary difference between this workshop and the indoor introductory workshops.


    Women's dry stack stone wall workshop
    Women’s Introductory Workshop: One Day Indoor
    Saturday, May 6th, 2017

    A chance to learn from the women in North America who are DSWA Certifed Instructors! At The Stone Trust, all of our women’s only workshops are taught by women wallers. This workshop will have the only 3 women in North America who are certified dry stone wall instructors teaching!

    This workshop is an excellent introduction to dry stone walling for the homeowner, landscaper/gardener, or hobbyist. Over the course of the day each participant will build about 25 sq ft of wall (one side), using natural round fieldstone. You will learn all the basic rules of structural walling that can be applied to any type of stone and project.


    Women's dry stack stone wall workshop
    Women’s Level 2 Retaining Wall Workshop: One Day Outdoor
    Sunday, May 7th, 2017

    This workshop will have the only 3 women in North America who are certified dry stone wall instructors teaching! This workshop is intended as a follow up to the level 1 workshop the day before. The curriculum is still being written, but the aim is to delve into topics that there was not time for at a Level 1 workshop. Stay tuned for more details!


    Wallers learning to use batter frames and string lines for building dry stone walls, dry stack walls, and dry laid walls.
    Batter Frames and String Lines: One Day Indoor
    Sunday, May 7th, 2017

    This workshop will spend the day learning about how to shape stones for use in dry stone walls. Participants will be introduced to a variety of stone types, and how to work with them. Both hand and power tools will be demonstrated and used. The stone shaping will focus on efficient practices, learning how to look at a stone and judge how to shape it, as well as proper use and care of tools. Stone types worked will likely include, granite, slate, local quarried schist, gneiss ‘field stone’ and more. Participants are encouraged to bring samples of their local stone to practice shaping, as well as any tools they would like to learn how to better use.


    Seth Harris instructing the 2016 Test Prep workshop
    Spring 2017 Test Preparation Workshop: One Day Indoor
    Friday, May 19, 2017

    Prepare for your certification test! This workshop is perfect those planning to test on Monday. Learn tips and techniques to help you pass your test, all while practicing on the stone walls used for the tests. A must-take workshop for those planning to go for the difficult Level 2 test. Take this workshop and receive a discount on a Saturday or Sunday Pre-test, before testing on Monday.

    Seth Harris is a Level 2 certified waller and certified instructor. He has been a test site coordinator at The Stone Trust on several occasions and is well versed in what it takes to pass a test. There is nothing better than a day of tips from the pros! In addition to dry stone walling Seth is also an accomplished fine woodworker, blacksmith, excavator and more. He is the owner of Foxchair Mountain Craftsmen in Springfield VT.


Dry stone retaining wall specifications:
Free Download!

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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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