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Level 2 Certification Tips for Success

Here at The Stone Trust we see a lot of level 2 test candidates struggle with passing.  Level 2 is a major step up from level 1, and for nearly all wallers requires a lot of preparation to pass.  Level 2 is considered a professional level test, wallers taking this test should be familiar will all aspects of building and using frames as well as building cheek ends.  In this post I am going to discuss some of the common trouble areas for Level 2, as well as sources of additional information.

Batter Frames:

We get more questions asked about batter frames than any other subject on the level 2 test.  You can assemble your frame prior to the clock starting for the test, but setting up the frame needs to be done on the clock.

The frame should be built to match the wall you are testing on, but not all the walls at The Stone Trust are the same size.  Wall stints are typically drawn out of a hat, and this happens about 1/2 hour before the clock starts.  Note that if the wall you are rebuilding is not a suitable width, you should improve it.  In general most of the walls at the stone trust have a base width of between 28 and 32 inches wide and are 54 to 66 inches tall with a batter in the ball park of 1:6.

If you are are taking the level 2 test the assumption is that you should be familiar with building frames, know what you like, and are capable of building them fast.   But I have seen this is often not the case, so here are some tips:

Weather you are building your frame out of wood or rebar, the frame needs to be built so it has the same batter on both sides, and it needs to be stiff so it cannot rack side to side.  For a wood frame this means using a diagonal!!!  Rebar frames are more difficult to prevent from racking, cutting a notch in the wood spanner that holds the rebars are the correct angles can help, as well as care when driving the rebar into the ground.  In general, because of this racking issue, I think the wood frame is better suited to the level 2 test but I have seen both be successful when used properly.


What if the wall your working on is tipping to one side?  Build your batter frame correctly so it has even batter on both sides.  DO NOT build a frame that is leaning.  Then build your wall so it meets the existing wall.  Remember you are trying to improve the existing wall just as you would on a job site.  I have seen walls that I could tell would fail within the 1st hour of the test because the frame was set up so badly.


A whole other set of challenges comes into play when setting up the frame.  Hear you have two options: Have the frame right at the end of the wall and build to it, or space the batter frame out from the wall and use a level to keep the cheek end vertical.  Both can work fine, practice with each and see what you like.  My preference and and that of many wallers is to build right to the frame.  But if you do this you need to make sure the frame is perfectly vertical and won’t move as you are building.  Also remember if you are building to the frame you want the inside of the frame boards to align with the wall faces so there is less wood blocking your sight of the end of the wall.  There is often limited space at the test facility so it often makes sense to have the frame right at the end of the wall.

When you put up the frame you need to make sure it is sturdy, inline with the wall, and perpendicular to the wall.  I often see testes struggle with keeping their frames vertical.  You need to anchor the bottom feet and the support the top to keep it from leaning.  Stakes pounded into the ground and tied to the frame work great to anchor the bottom.  Digging in the bottom of the frame or just bracing it with rocks work well too.  At the top you will need a diagonal going back to the ground, a board connected to a stake works well.  String can be used instead of the board, but that won’t keep the frame from tipping out.  In the barn many people connect to the ceiling or brace to wood post.  As long as the frame won’t lean as you tighten the string lines you will be all set.


Most wallers find it is most efficient to strip out the existing wall before setting up the frame.  Just make sure you don’t pile up materials where the frame needs to be set up.  Occasionally I see a waller set up the frame and then strip out.  In general this is not as efficient as the frame gets in the way of stripping out.

Use a level to check that the frame is vertical, and the batter is equal on both sides.  Other than that you should be able to set up the frame by eye.  You should aim to be able set up your frame in about 15 minutes.




String lines

You will be rebuilding the end of an existing wall for this test.  If you are not familiar with line pins, GET SOME, and comfortable using them.  You can wedge them between the stones in the existing wall and tie your string to them so you don’t have to set up a 2nd frame.  If you are building to a wall that is leaning using line pins will easily allow you to build into it.  Line pins are fast to use and you need every bit of speed you can get.  Line pins can be purchased from Trow and Holden (call, I don’t think they are listed on the website).  Flat bladed screw drivers, 6″ nails or even wood sticks can work in place of line pins (but if you are testing as a level 2 get the real ones, they are better).  Another alternative is to drive a piece of rebar down along each side of the existing wall.  However if there are stones bulging in the existing wall you won’t be able to get the rebar into the correct alignment.

At the frame end don’t take the time to tie knots!  Wrap the string line around the frame once and use quick clamps or large binder clips to keep it in place!    Remember to always keep your lines on the same edge (typically the inside edge) of each upright of your frame.

Keep your lines parallel and level (approximately).  As you move your lines up just measure off the ground to keep them approximately level (it does not have to be perfect). Then sight the string on the other side to the first one so they are parallel.  If you are using a line level and measuring your string placement to a 1/4″ you are probably taking way too long.  Bring lots of new string, don’t waste time trying to untangle an old piece!

Avoiding Running Joints

It is so common to end up with a running joint right at the back end of the runner stones.  Running joints in this location fail many wallers.  The way to avoid this happening is to plan ahead.    As soon as you have a tie stone on figure out what the next two runners will be on the course above.  Measure the lengths of the runners, and then build the course they will sit on so that there is no joint at the location where the runner stone will end.

Don’t let the coursing pitch out toward the wall end

Assuming you are using your string lines correctly (and building to them) you should not have this problem.  However if working with very irregular stones it can be an issue.  It is very important that the stones are sitting level and not on an angle that puts force sliding out to the end of the wall.

Heart Fast!

You don’t have time to be tremendously fussy with your hearting but it still needs to be solid.  Every time you place a face stone, put a piece of hearting in the void under it and a piece in the void between it and the face stone next to it.  The two pieces of hearting are often called pinning stones and work best when long pointy wedge shapes are used.  Once all the face stones on both sides of the course are on the wall and pinned in place, take handfuls of hearting stones (or a dump out of a bucket) and fill the central void. Then quickly shuffle the hearting stones round with your hands till they sit fairly tightly and securely.

Know how to Cope!

I have seen a number of wallers fail on the copes.  Many wallers in the USA have never coped a wall till they test.  Don’t let that be you.  At level 2 the copes need to be tight and secure.  The end cope should be big, heavy, and sitting securely.  The end cope cannot wobble.  Try to avoid pinnings under the end cope, it should just sit securely.  The rest of the copes should be firmly wedged with a large flat edge down.  Shards of wedged shape stone can (should) be pounded down between the copes as needed to keep them tight.  You should not be able to push a cope stone sideways off the wall when completed.

Tools and Shaping Stones

You should bring wood (or rebar) and screws and a driver for assembling your frame.  At least one level will be needed.   A 4′ and 2′ level are very useful, an 8″ level is also handy.  A tape measure is a key tool to have, as is string and line pins, and quick clamps.   A hand hammer or trimming hammer (3-4 pounds) is useful, as is a brick hammer (masons hammer).  A point and a tracing chisel can also be handy.  You do not need a sledge hammer or anything 6 pounds or heavier.  In general you will not be doing much shaping.  The stones at the test center are hard and difficult to shape.  You should plan shaping about 10% or less of the stones you use.  You don’t have time to do more.  If you are a waller that tends to shape every stone you build with you will have trouble with this test.  Practice building with very little shaping, let your eyes do the work.   Also avoid using a chisel or point except when absolutely needed.  Using a hammer alone is much faster.

Time Management

You have 7 hours on the clock for the test.  If you figure 30 min. to strip out and 15 min. to set up your frame, that leaves 6:45.  You want at least 30 min for copes, so that leaves 6:15 for building the wall.  Before you strip out the wall count how many courses are in the wall.  Lets say there are 12.  That would mean you have about 30 minutes per course.  Use that to judge how your progress is doing relative to the amount of time you have left.  For example: If your are 3 hours into the test and only have 2 courses built, you better pick up the pace!  I good rule of thumb is to have your through stones on by lunch.

Further Information:

More info from The Stone Trust:  Level 2 Certification  (Lots of basic information)

Andrew Louden’s Blog post: Dry Stone Walling Association Intermediate Certificate  (A key post to read written)

The DSWA Craftsmen Scheme Booklet: DSWA Booklet  (the actual requirements if the test and point allotments)

Book:  Dry Stone Walling a Practical Handbook by Sean Adcock, and others.  Available Here (everything a waller needs to know!)

Anyone taking the level 2 test should have read and be familiar with these resources!