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4.90 Level 3 Certification Test

Dry stone fence, rock wall, stone wall, DSWA Passing Level 3 part A Wall
Dry stone fence, rock wall, stone wall, DSWA Passing Level 3 part A Wall

4.90 Level 3 Certification Test Overview

This test is in two parts which must be applied for and paid for separately. Candidates must hold a Level II / Intermediate certificate before applying for Level III /Advanced Certificate. Part A must be marked and passed before appling for Part B (Timed test – Retaining Wall).

Part A:

Candidates must build 54 square feet of curved wall plus an additional 54 square feet incorporating one of the features below.   The wall must be at least 4 feet high.  Part A is not a timed test, it is built on the candidates own time and therefore must be built to a very high standard.  Previous test candidates estimate that it takes 100 to 120 hours to build both features (2 ½ to 3 weeks).

Test candidates must confirm that the test features are the unaided work of the candidate.  The features will be marked by Examiners on the next test day.  The candidate must pay the application and fee to the Stone Trust prior to beginning work on their features.  The candidate must then submit at least 3 photos of each feature showing work in progress.  The features must be completed at least 6 weeks prior to the next test day, at which time the features will be examined.

Part A is marked out of 40.  Each feature must score at least a 13.5 for a total of 27.
It is common for one of the features to pass and the other to fail.  If this happens Part A must be reapplied for in full.  However the feature that passed does not necessarily need to be rebuilt, though it will be re-examined.

The 2nd feature must be one of these three options:

1) 54 square feet of high wall
2) 54 square feet of wall incorporating a lunky
3) 54 square feet of wall on ground with a slope of 20 degrees or more

Part B

Once a candidate has successfully passed Part A they can then move on to Part B which is a timed test building a retaining wall.  Part B must be taken within one year of passing Part A or the candidate will have to re-apply from the beginning.  If a candidate fails Part A, they must re-apply for this section, submitting the relevant fee each time, before moving on to Part B.

Part B consists of stripping down and rebuilding 49 square feet of retaining wall (measured on the face) in a 7-hour time period under the presence of examiners.  The wall must be at least 4 feet high to the bottom of the copes, and should retain backfill to the bottom of the copes.  The wall must be built straight without bulges or hollows.  The Stone Trust Center currently has test stints for this level.  Both sections are outside and tests are rain or shine events, so candidates should prepare accordingly.

Part B is scored out of 90 with 60 being the minimum passing score.  Each section of the wall must also meet a minimum mark to pass.  If a candidate fails Part B, there is no restriction on the number of times they could reapply for this section within the year since passing Part A, providing the relevant fee is submitted with each application.


Specs for Curve wall:

• Very smooth even curve to the wall on both sides
• Smooth even batter on both sides (the batter must be the same on both sides)
• A common mistake is for the wall to bulge above throughstones
• Very tightly built wall with very few wide joints
• Cope stone must fit tightly around curve

Specs for the Lunkie:

• The minimum hole size is 20” x 20”
• The wall ends that form the sides must be very well tied back.
• At least one through stone (tie stone) is needed on each side of the lunkie hole.
• The size of the lunky is not subtracted from the square footage of the wall.
• The lintel may not protrude
• Lintels must be strong, sit well, and have good bearing area on the supporting stones

Specs for the High wall:

• The minimum height is 6’ to the top of the copes
• Must include at least two courses of throughstones
• 1:8 batter is recommended, base width of wall must allow for this
• Even batter achieved on both sides
• Excellent line and straightness in needed

Specs for the 20-degree sloped wall:

• Stones and courses must be set level
• Foundation stone must be stepped and entirely below ground surface
• Through stones must all be an equal height above the ground
• No running joints
• Cope stones generally should be set vertically

General Information About Certification:

The Stone Trust provides access, to and administers, the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain (DSWA-GB) certifications at its Training Center in Dummerston VT, and occasional other sites in the USA.  The certification consists of four levels, each applied for and tested separately:  Initial (Level I), Intermediate (Level II), Advanced (Level III), and Master Craftsman (Level IV).

The certifications are designed to ensure that dry stone wallers achieve the highest standards of craftsmanship for their experience and training level.  The difference in standards for dry stone walling between good and bad work is significant.  Hiring certified wallers provides a basis of quality work.

The DSWA’s certifications have become the world wide standard for evaluating wallers’ proficiency and quality.  The certifications began in the early 1970’s in Great Britain as a way to evaluate a waller’s skill, promote correct structural techniques, and help clients determine the capabilities of prospective wallers.

The Stone Trust administers all four levels of certification.  Certification tests are hands-on demonstrations of the wallers’ capabilities.  At each level the test walls are evaluated and scored by certified DSWA examiners.  Registration for each test must be submitted 6 weeks prior to the test date.  Tests are available to all individuals, amateurs and professionals alike.

Certification tests are rigorous and challenging at all levels.  All test candidates should be familiar with the correct structural techniques involved with building a dry stone wall.  Test candidates must start at Level I, and progressively work their way up.  Even very talented wallers typically take at least 4 years to over a decade to reach Master Craftsman.

Nearly all wallers will need to prepare for certification by taking workshop courses, pre-tests, and practicing on their own.

Benefits of becoming DSWA-GB certified:

  • Gives you a known standard for your quality of work
  • Provides clients, general contractors, and employers assurance of your capabilities
  • Gives you professional credentials
  • Improves your structural skills
  • Increases your speed and efficiency building
  • Distinguishes you from the competition
  • Increases your earning potential
  • Qualifies you for projects requiring certified wallers

Critical Information:

You will need to bring all the tools for shaping stone that you want use.  Most candidates find a having a selection of carbide hammers and chisels necessary for passing Level III.  Do not bring power tools (diamond saws, hammer drills, grinders, etc) to the timed test.

It is highly recommended that you label your tools with your name!

You will need to build and set up your own batter frames as part of the test.  You will need to bring your own material to make a frame(s) (wood, rebar etc.  You will also need to bring any tools needed to assemble your frame (Drill, screws, nails, etc)  You may also want line pins for tying into the existing wall.

After you register online you must also fill out the DSWA Test Application Form available here.  This form is in addition to the online sign up and must be completed.  This is required in order for you to take your test.

Print out the form and fill out all parts highlighted yellow (remember to select test level and sign at the bottom).  You can then either scan the form and email it to or you can mail a paper copy to:

Attn: Brian Post
The Stone Trust
197 Baker Rd
Springfield VT 05156

Detailed info will also be emailed to you once you register including what to bring and directions.

Certification quick guide:

  • Call us for information and to discuss options for testing BEFORE registering.
  • 2 part test
  • Very demanding test
  • Must be able to show very high quality work and work very fast
  • Must have already Passed Level II Certification to apply for Part A
  • Must have already passed Part A to apply for part B

Time lapse video of a 4.90 Level 3 Certification Test:

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Photos from 4.90 Level 3 Certification Tests:

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