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 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:

    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 Level 1 & 2, Dry Stone Walling Highlight Course
    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. This workshop is all about learning to shape stone. Hammer, split, trim, and cut.

    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 is all about how to build and use guides for dry stone walling. We will show you different methods and materials to build batter frames for a variety of situations. Participants will split up into small groups to practice various techniques. Learn tips and tricks for correctly using string lines and how to prevent common errors. Learn how to determine the appropriate dimensions for the walls, correct batter angle, and what to do for special features and unusual circumstances.

    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.

    Come to the first Dry Stone Stairs workshop at The Stone Trust
    Steps and Stairs Workshop – Dry Stone: One Day Outdoor
    Friday, May 19, 2017

    This workshop will teach everything you need to know in order to build strong and long lasting dry stone steps. Participants will divide up to work on building several sets of new stairs in the Master Feature Park. There will be variation in materials and methods. Learn about using equipment for moving large stones as well as techniques for moving large stones by hand. Layout, dimensions, sourcing stones, understanding how to set the elevations with a story pole, shaping the steps, and integrating them into walls will all be included.

    Spring 2-Day Outdoor Workshop
    Saturday & Sunday, May 20 & 21, 2017

    This workshop is perfect for the homeowner, landscaper, mason, or enthusiast looking to start learning about how to build dry stone walls, or to improve your skills.

    Over the course of the two days each participant will build about 35 sq. ft. of wall (one side), using either round field stone, flat ledge stone, or a mixture. Level 1 participants will learn all the basics of structural walling, plus so much more. Level 2 participants will work on building a wall end, also known as a cheek end. The knowledge taught in this workshop can be applied to any type of stone and dry stone walling project.

    Irish Feiden Wall Workshop: One Day Outdoor
    Saturday, May 20, 2017

    Irish Feiden Wall, also known as an Irish Family walling is a style that involve a mix of vertically and horizontally placed stones in a variety of sizes to create a distinctive pattern with stones referred to as “children, mothers, fathers” based on their size and location in the wall, suggesting who might have placed them. This type of wall is common in the Aran Islands and places in Western Ireland, but little known elsewhere. Traditionally built with the limestone of that region which is roughly level bedded, we will be adding our own twist to this style of wall, using a mix of our locally available round glacial till and level bedded schist. This workshop will rebuild and improve on the 40 ft section of Feiden wall in the master features park.

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    Slate Carving Workshops
    Saturday, May 20 and/or Sunday May 21, 2017

    This workshop introduces you to slate carving techniques using hand chisels and mallets. The workshop will focus on having participants carve pieces of slate that will become permanent signs in our master feature park. This will primarily be done using a raised letter method. You will be guided through the drawing, composition, and spacing of your letter forms and learn to translate your inscription into a carving. No previous experience with drawing or carving necessary.

    Scottish Galloway Wall Workshop: One Day Outdoor
    Sunday, May 21, 2017

    Galloway walls feature a single stack of large stones on top of a double stack of small stones. While it may seem counter intuitive it is a very strong and fast way to build. Galloway walls are very applicable when there is a wide variety of stone sizes to build with and a lot of large stones. Many of the historic pasture walls in Northern New England were Galloway or Single Stack walls. This workshop will give you an opportunity learn this type of walling.

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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