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Master Class: Building For Success, Part 2

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

Building with Correct Line and Batter

Line refers to the horizontal straightness of the wall. Batter refers to the angle of the faces of the wall from vertical. Many level 2 testers struggle immensely with getting the line and batter correct while working under the time pressure of the test.

The important goals to achieve:

The end face of the wall must be vertical.

Both sides of the wall must have the same amount of batter.

All wall stones must be “laid to the line”: there should not be dips and hollows in the face of the wall.

There are many configurations of batter frames and string lines that can be used to achieve this. While many an examiner or instructor will swear that their way is the best or easiest, there are advantages and disadvantages to the following different setups.

Frame Against Cheek End

Whatever setup you choose, you have to achieve the previously mentioned goals. So be sure your frame is set up accurately and securely, and then build to it!

Frame 2-3 Feet From Cheekend
Line Pins and 2nd Set of Bars

Common Errors With Frames

Not checking that the batter is equal on both sides of the frame once it is up … (A).
Not setting the frame in line with the wall … (B).
Setting the frame askew to the wall and then building to it … (C).
Forgetting to recheck the frame periodically to make sure it is still true.
Simply not building to the frame or string lines at all.

Unequal Batter
Frame Not In Line With Wall
Frame Askew

Building Into The Existing Wall

Chances are the wall you are building into won’t have a perfect batter or be perfectly straight. Your job is to build your test section correctly and then meld your last few stones into the existing wall as needed so that the line and batter over the majority of your build is straight and true and the only deviation is where it joins the existing wall. Don’t rebuild errors like a wall leaning to one side!

Shaping Stone

The ability to quickly and accurately shape stone will greatly improve your chances of passing level 2. While good choices and planning reduce the shaping needed, having the skill to take an inch or two off the end or side of a cheek end stone and remove high spots from the tops will greatly improve your chances.

While some people have passed with a very limited tool kit, I generally recommend having at least several hammers and a point. The tools in our Trow & Holden Basic Carbide Pack are a great place to start for level 2 candidates with the type of stones provided at The Stone Trust.

Stripping Out

All too often in stripping out, stones are carried too far from the wall. There is no reason that wall stone should ever be placed more than two or three steps from the wall. Spread your wall stone to either side and sort to the extent that is right for you. For many people sorting by thickness and placing the stones on edge so the best faces are facing toward the wall makes for the easiest rebuilding.

Never assume that the wall as built would pass or that it is a kit you can simply put back. It never goes back quite right, and your job is to improve what was there, not to build back errors. There is no value to laying out the cheek in the pattern it was built before. Instead sort the stones out by best use (e.g., what makes a good tie stone?). Remember that stones not in the cheek before may actually be good cheek stones and visa versa.

Stacking up cheek stones as you strip out only makes more work for yourself, and can create dangerously unstable piles. Spread these stones out so you can easily see them all.


From wobbly end copes, loose cope stones, and ragged top lines, many people have had copes contribute to, or cause their failing the test.

The end cope should be blocky and heavy, and placed so that it is not at risk of tipping off the wall. It must not wobble! Choose structure over exact dimensions. It is likely a better choice if the end cope is a bit lower or narrower than the other copes as long as it is steady and strong.

Good and Bad Cope Setting

The top line of the wall—made up by the tops of all the copes—should be even. Use a string line, or level and trim stones as needed to produce a smooth and even top. Wedge the stones as needed to locked them in place. Make sure that if pushed on perpendicular to the wall they can’t rock or tip off. Every point counts. The scoring of level 2 requires that each line of the score receive at least a 50 percent mark to pass. However, the total needed to achieve an overall pass is considerably more than the total of the minimum passing score of each line. It is quite common for test candidates to achieve the minimums in each category but miss the total mark needed to pass.

This is where having really good copes, really good placement of through stones, or something else easy to achieve can make the difference between passing and failing.

One Stone Is Out of Alignment

If you get into a situation where you have no choice but to use a stone that will create a bulge or hollow in your cheek end, make sure it is just that one stone. Don’t build other stones to that error. This is making the best of a bad situation. It is always much better to plan ahead and make good choices!

Practice, Practice, Practice

Before testing, a level 2 waller should plan to build about ten good cheek ends and at least four or five of them should be timed. In addition, a waller should have built at least fifty feet and ideally several hundred lineal feet of dry stone wall before attempting the test. This is a professional-level test and it is geared to those walling professionally at least part-time.

Workshops are tremendously valuable, but it should not be expected that workshops alone will get you enough experience to pass level 2. Whenever possible, work with other certified wallers, particularly those who are certified at or above your level. Even if it is just for a day or two you will learn a lot just by observing.

Checking for Plumb
Checking for Plumb

About Brian Post — Brian currently serves as the Education and Training Director at The Stone Trust. He is a DSWA-GB Certified Master Craftsman, Examiner, and Instructor. He is also a licensed Landscape Architect and owns LLC, a design/build firm specializing in dry stone projects.