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Master Class: Building For Success, Part 1

Master Class: Building for Success, Part 1
Sketches and Text by
Brian Post

Leaping the Level 2 Hurdle

The level 2 (intermediate) DSWA-GB certification test has proven to be quite difficult for many wallers who have passed level 1 (initial) certification. Level 2 aims to challenge your ability to make good choices, plan ahead, and build with correct line and batter. In addition, passing requires building to a higher structural standard and a finer level of fit and finish than is required at level 1.

In essence the 7-hour test is to rebuild a wall end (cheek end) including about 27 square feet of wall. For those not yet familiar with the test requirements, information is available at This article aims to build on the information already online, and should not be viewed as a complete guide, but rather as yet another reference to use as you prepare.

Whether you have been walling for one year or thirty years, you will need to prepare for this test by reading everything you can and practicing a lot if you expect to pass!

Making Good Choices

I receive innumerable questions about what is the best way to stack, or what is allowable in a level 2 test. Because the stones and conditions are different on every test, there is no specific recipe that will apply in all cases, so your judgment is important.

Your goal is to have the cheek end tied structurally across the wall and into the length of the wall. Every stone you set should be set with this in mind.

Cheek-End Building Configurations

There are three common configurations for building cheek ends. Depending on the stone you have you may build entirely in one, or combine configurations as you build.

Some builders are stuck with the perception that a good cheek end must be a two-runners-and-tie configuration (right). Given stones that do not lend to that configuration, a builder may make many compromises in structure and fit and finish in an attempt to achieve that, causing them to fail.

Other wallers build the entire wall end with an L configuration (below), ignoring the stones that lend themselves to use as tie stones, leading to a fail because the waller did not make good choices to tie the wall end together as well as it should have been with the stones they had.

Similarly, some people struggle because much of their best cheek end stone was used as wall stone in the wall, well away from the cheek end.

Cheek End Building Configurations -Two Runners and Tie
Two Runners and Tie
Cheek End Building Configurations -L-Configuration
Cheek End Building Configurations -Slab and Tie
Slab and Tie

Prioritizing Material

Every stone you set should be used to maximize the usefulness of the stone. Prioritize the stones that are hardest to find. The variability in material makes it very hard to judge a score from a photo or two. In order to know how well the choices were made, the judge has to be able to see the material and progress.

If a stone can be used for something that requires a more specific size or shape, it should be saved for that purpose unless it is abundantly clear that it will not be needed (usually that won’t be determined until part way through the build).

Another way to describe this might be as “good material management.” Stones should be prioritized as listed to the right.

Order of Stones

{1} Cheek End Stones | Tie Stones
{2} Cheek End Stones | Runners
{3} Cheek End Stones | Others
{4} Through Stones
{5} End Cope Stone
{6} Cope Stones
{7} Foundation Stones
{8} Wall Stones
{9} Shims & Pins
{10} Hearting

Planning Ahead

Planning ahead ties directly into making good choices.

As you are stripping out the old wall, you should immediately be identifying cheek end stones. Of those you should be identifying which stones are suitably long to be tie stones at various heights in the wall. Tie stones not only need to be just the right length, but also to have fairly square ends.

Runner stones generally are cheek end stones that due to size or shape are not the best tie stones. They may be too long, too short, lack two square ends, etc. When building in the runners and tie configuration, runner stones go in pairs, which need to be the same thickness, and when put next to each other cannot be wider than the width of the wall at that height. With some practice you can quickly plan out the best use of your cheek end stone before you start building (and don’t forget to determine your end cope!).

With a focus on structure, it is important that the points of contact between a cheek end stone and the ones above and below it be as close to the outer corners of the cheek end as possible. A smooth wall face and cheek end is also expected at level 2, so pay attention to the natural batter of each stone. Thus it becomes important to look at not just the major dimension of a cheek stone but also to pay attention to its irregularities and bulges.

Poor planning ahead will result in needing more shims, more shaping, more searching for stone you don’t have, poorer fit-and-finish, and poorer structure. All of those will reduce your score, and may prevent you from passing. At the same time, you can easily overplan and not have the time to build, so practice is needed!

Building for Success - Figure 2

When building it can be a bit impractical to try to plan out the full height of a cheek end, but it is quite possible to plan three or four courses. A quick glance at the remaining stones will give you an assessment of whether your building strategy will work with the stones you have.

A great example of this is deciding if you have suitable stone to place long stones behind the tie stones. Arguably this increases strength. However, you will have a major problem if you use stones best used as runners and ties for the upper portion of the cheek end (second lift).

Combined Cheek End Configurations
Solidly Built Level 2 Test Cheek End

Planning and Stone Shapes

Pay attention to the shapes of stones before you set them on the wall, and fix any problems before you pick them up. This is particularly true of bumps, lumps, and tapers, on the top and bottom of your cheek end stones.

With proper planning, you should know what is going on top of the cheek stone you are setting, so before you heave the stone up there fix any obvious problems. This can be a challenge to the inexperienced eye, so practice and train yourself. You always want contact near the outer corners of the cheek end, so rocks that taper even slightly outward will be hard to build on and will cause problems on the next course unless you have a very special piece to fit on top.

Keep the Cheek End Ahead of the Build

Building for Success - Figure 4

Because the cheek is the highest point category of your test you can now lay each course starting with the stones near the cheek, working away from it. This allows you the most options by the cheek, where it is most critical to build well. This way any odd bits of walling to make up weird spaces will be where you meet the existing wall, where anything less than perfect will count against you a little less.

The practical result of building this way is that the cheek end will usually be one to three courses higher than the rest of the wall you are building. This is intentional and is the most efficient way to build.

Wall Away from the Cheek

On a more detailed level of planning ahead, you should always know what cheek end stone will be going on next before placing the stones it will sit on. If you don’t know how long your next runner stone is, how will you prevent a running joint at its end? You would be relying on luck or on your ability to break a runner shorter, which (a) takes time, (b) may ruin it, (c) will reduce the structure of the wall end overall, as longer runners are much better.

The practical result of building this way is that the cheek end will usually be one to three courses higher than the rest of the wall you are building. This is intentional and is the most efficient way to build.

Building for Success - Figure 5