Level I – Initial DSWA Certification

Each candidate will strip down and rebuild 27 sq. ft. of free standing wall, within a seven and a half hour period.  27 sq ft is roughly equal to a wall 4 feet 6 inches tall and 6 feet long.  (The square footage is measured on one face.)  The test is done in the presence of the Examiner to meet minimum Level I requirements.

The emphasis of the test is placed on basic demonstration of the correct structural techniques of dry stone walling.  In order to pass the wall must be completed within the 7.5 hour time requirement.  A candidate must obtain the minimum mark in each section and an overall mark of at least 50 out of 100 to receive certification.

The stone trust provides batter frames that are set up for Level I tests.  You must provide your own string lines and other tools.  During the test there is minimal time for shaping stone.  The stone is fairly hard and has already been selected for appropriate shapes and sizes.  There is also additional stone available if needed.  Most candidates find that having one hammer is sufficient, and do relatively little or no hammering.

Click Here for Upcoming Test Dates and Registration

Tips for Success:

  • Know the requirements
  • Arrive at least ½ hour early to settle in (examiners can answer questions before test starts)
  • This is not to be your highest quality work, it is the work you can produce in 7.5 hours
  • Sort the material as you strip out (generally not more than 30 min)
  • Strip out the wall so there are equal amounts of stone on both sides
  • Though stones should be on by ½ the allowed time (3.5 hours)
  • Sort face stones by size, keep copes, hearting, and throughs separated.


Passing Level I completed test wall. Click here to view the mark sheet for this test.
Passing Level I completed test wall.  Click here to view the mark sheet for this test.


Outlined below is the general process of taking the test, from beginning to end:

  • Stripping out
    • Relatively quick process (roughly 20-30 min) of taking apart the existing test wall and sorting the stone.  NO THROWING STONES!  (examiners are looking for safe practices). The better the stone is sorted the easier rebuilding will be.
    • Spread out stone as much as possible.
    • Leave a safe walk way, clear of lose stone, on both sides of the wall for examiners access.
    • Building stone (face stones) and hearting should be laid out on both sides of the wall.
  • Preparing and laying foundations
    • Use the biggest available stones
    • Set the foundation stones length wise into the wall, or so that they are at least 2/3 the width of the wall.
    • The foundation stones should fit tightly together
    • The foundation stones should be well-hearted (packed)
    • The foundation stones should not move when walked on
    • The marks for foundation stones are higher than any other part of the test.
  • Building and packing the first lift
    • Continued use of largest remaining stones set lengthwise into the wall
    • Span all joints in the previous course (no running joints)
    • Keep stones level and in courses if possible.
    • Wall must be thoroughly hearted
  • Throughstones
    • Placed mid height in the wall
    • Spaced 3 feet apart on center
    • May stick out 2-3” on each side of the wall
    • Throughstones must be hearted under tightly: no light should shine through
    • Place throughstones carefully to avoid creating running joints.
  • Building and Packing second lift
    • Built the same as the first lift but with smaller stones
    • Gradual reduction in size of stone
    • Definite level finish at cover-band/cope height.
  • Coverband and cope
    • Coverband is optional
    • A coverband is a course of flat stones that span the width of the wall set on top of the second lift and below the copes.  (It is like a second course of throughstones)
    • Heart tightly under coverbands so they sit firmly and light is not visible underneath
    • Copes stones (set vertically) should sit solidly (not propped up on pins)
    • Copes should be tight together and should not move when pushed.
  • Batter, line, and straightness for entire wall
    • Overall wall should maintain an even face free of bulges and hollows
    • String lines should be used correctly (keep strings level)
    • Top should be even
  • General approach and safety
    • Safe handling of heavy stones
    • Safe use of hammer/tools
    • Keeping a clear work space along both sides of wall
    • Appropriate work gear (boots, safety glasses)
    • Observance of The Stone Trust policies
    • If unsafe practices are used, especially if others are endangered, the test candidate will fail and may be stopped part way through the test.
    • Under most conditions you will be working immediately next to another test candidate
    • Examiners will take note if one candidate is affecting the other’s work (if you are being held up by another’s work pace, the examiners may provide additional instructions or time)
Test wall in progress at the center
Test wall in progress at the center

Level 1 test in progress - section stripped out and ready to rebuild
Level 1 test in progress – section stripped out and ready to rebuild

Level 1 dry stone wall test in progress outdoors
Level 1 dry stone wall test in progress outdoors