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Jumping the Level 2 Hurdle: Reprise #3–Foundations, Runners, and Imagination

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.

But in practice there is.

—  Jan van de Snepscheut


The base of the Level 2 test wall is shy of 3′ wide, but for round numbers let’s call it 3 feet. Let’s add 2 feet of real estate on each side, and add 3 feet to that. That total is approximately 7 feet!

The 2 feet of real estate on each side is part of your own “Occupy Wallhead ” movement ~ You own that space! Keep material out of there!!! (unless it is a few  small crumpets of hearting) Those should not cause one to trip nor prevent easy access to the controlled order of  arranged material. The sole exceptions that could possibly be made for violating the “Occupy Wallhead” movement are two-fold: 1)Initially for ONLY a VERY FEW of the massive foundation stones which are safely leaned up away onto other material, and waiting placement, and 2)a bucket or two of hearting placed near without impeding your travel.

After the batter frame is up and mason line is attached, you will have a nice visual of some earth that may need removal. The soil may be deposited—bucketed away nearby out of the way.

Level 2 Pre-test: Setting through stones
Level 2 Pre-test: Setting through stones

One of the first things apparent in a feature such as a wallhead is long stones. The longest “runners” are in the foundation along the building line. Similarly, the single “return “or “crossing” pieces across the end width are long and wide. On top of these crossing pieces it is preferable to have two pieces, as opposed to three. If using three, securely wedge the middle piece so that it is completely immobilized. NOTE: An examiner is likely to tug on it and attempt to pull it out.

Having the foundation stones “keyed in” a few inches below grade is desirable. The very first stones set must be those next to the batter frame at the wallhead. This is the theme: You are to run and complete course by course, always with the new course starting right at the batter frame and working away from it.  I think of the wallhead as a high wave rolling away. It is moving towards crashing into an unsupported open space, that space being the run of open wall it will be sistered into.

Level 2 Pre-test: Setting foundations
Level 2 Pre-test: Setting foundations

Conversely, consider an opposite line, opposing, if you will imagine.  It will be a zig-zag line. Picture it starting 3-4 ‘ away from the wallhead. This point starts on the ground along the building line,where the second or third runner ends. From that point it zigs and zags up the runners set above. The zig and zag climbs against the wave, going back towards the batter frame. As we build up, the runner lengths will, with some exceptions, become shorter.

These are two imaginations in my practice. Your practice in imagination is as important. For example, in dismantling consider that much pairing in the previous build has already been done. Those adjacent stones of similar height should remain close to each other. This pays off on large material and the energetic burn is diminished. Similarly, watching a veteran waller place a cradled chest full of 5 or 6 stones on top of the wall and then swiftly shuffle and reshuffle them all around—this one there, no, that one there—to cover every joint: an eye-opener—fast leveraging of time—brilliant !

Big marks are allocated for the foundation score. This is the one chance to get a stone very level with at least one of its neighbors, when practical. Funky shapes can be dug down into the earth to leave a level top, planing out with a neighbor to build on.

by Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy is a Stone Trust board member currently residing in Elberta, Michigan . He is a Certified Waller & Instructor with the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain and the Dry Stone Conservancy of the United States. He was immeasurably blessed by fortune to spend much of the last five years teaching and working in southern Vermont. In addition to some of the greatest people he has ever met, he observes that Vermont is also home to many of the best dry stone workers in the world.

Michael is a Professional Member of The Stone Trust. Certified as a DSWA-GB Level 3 Advanced Waller, he offers insights to those seeking to jump the Level 2 hurdle, identified as a Stone Trust strategic objective as we work to build the pipeline of walling professionals and support the creation of dignified, meaningful livelihoods in local and regional settings.