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Leaping the Level 2 Hurdle: Reprise #1–The Batter Frame


by Michael Murphy

For guided practice register for 3.40 Stringlines and Batter Frames workshop, April 18.

The batter frame may be made in various ways. Personal preference lets you lay it out either on plywood, on a wall, or on concrete with a chalk line or pencil. Economy grade spruce/pine/fir/ hemlock of rough dimension 1″X 3″ lath lumber is adequate. Select for straightness. Cut the leg feet level, place lower and upper cross members level, cut flush (or if you want to run “wild,” cut a few inches beyond to retain end-grain), and affix each overlap with 3 screws triangulated. Cut screw ends off if they go through both pieces of lath. NOTE: The top cross member is the height of the wall. This is to say the top of the two opposite faces of the wall. The bottom of the cope stones will rest there. Make hash marks on the legs and label them (Print BIG #’s w/Bold Marker) with the ascending number every 3-4″ on the lower section (both sides of both legs) and every 2″ past midway. Going upwards is fine.

Some wallers may choose to have a cross-member designed to hold a short torpedo or carpenter’s level on top. This can be designed to hold the level securely with a zip tie or wire through a hole drilled in wood. A level sitting on the cross frame reading “level” signifies one thing; the cross-frame member is level. We do indeed want this.

We also want the main batter frame legs to remain in perfect symmetrical opposition to each other. Adding a single (or double w/ spacer block at inside intersection) X brace will counter the racking forces the frame is exposed to in handling, twisting in erecting, being squished with heavy travel materials loaded on top.  If the lath is long enough, the legs can be screwed together way up high where they intersect.

Consider this as a highly personalized and custom element in your repertoire. The Stone Trust has seen some people bring beautifully customized batter frames to the venue. Some of these are adjustable for both wall height and different batter ratios. It is time well spent to build your batter frames solidly and accurately. You will need two batter frames to practice building a wallhead out in the open.

Practice putting up the batter frames—again and again. This is crucial. They should go up within ten minutes. Securing them to re-rod with zip ties, mason’s wire, factory “bar ties” (these are thin wire loops w/openings at each end to spin closed) w/ bar tie twister tool will also work. Once up, some wallers wrap many turns of mason’s line around the frame and re-rod to further reinforce. The goal is plumb legs and level cross members. If both are close, you can wedge stones and/or earth underneath where needed to attain plumb and level. Tamp securely into place with a hammer.

Most wallers will lay the wallhead foundation stones 4-8” away from the batter frame. This allows access for hands and material. In the end, the batter frames should be locked down like a Swiss bank vault. There is a likely chance they will be bumped, banged, stumbled into and the like.

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.

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.

But in practice there is.

—  Jan van de Snepscheut