Stone Wall Design and Specifications

Stone walls lace the landscape of New England and many places throughout the world.  These dry stone structures (dry meaning built without mortar) define fields and properties, retain slopes, support bridges, buildings, and much more.  They are functional and beautiful and are a continuing part of our history and landscape.

Throughout much of the 20th Century and often continuing today, these historic stone walls, foundations, and structures are being replaced with concrete.  In most cases these concrete structures have a much shorter design life than the original dry stone structure.   Sometimes attempts are made to preserve the appearance of stone using veneers or cultured “fake” stone products.  Often failing after a relatively short time, these measures are often more costly than the historically correct alternative of dry stone construction.  This process of replacing historic structures with concrete is ongoing, and beautiful historic stonework, is being replaced by under-performing modern materials rather than being properly repaired or rebuilt.

Like all aspects of construction dry stone walls and structures need a proper design and a skilled installer.  A dry stone wall’s strength and durability depend upon how it is assembled and the stone selected.  Make sure that the dimensions, foundations, and material selections have all been made to facilitate correct construction.  The Stone Trust provides design consulting services for dry stone walls and structures.  Call (802) 490-9607  or email brian.post@thestonetrust.org for more information.

Click here to get free download of:
Standard Specifications for Dry Stone Retaining Walls

When it comes to building, make sure to specify that the work is done by Certified Wallers.  Just like using a licensed plumber or electrician, using a certified waller helps to assure a good finished product.  The importance of using a skilled and certified waller cannot be over emphasized.  It is often difference between having a wall that will last less than 1 year or over 150 years.

Traditionally, walling was a separate craft and profession from masonry.  While today, many masons do dry stone work, it is vital that they know and understand how dry stone walls and structures work.  All too often dry stone work is done by masons who’s knowledge base is from doing veneer and other modern masonry practices.  The resulting walls soon structurally fail, (often within months) and visually don’t match the historic stonework.  Avoid these problems by using certified wallers.  You can let certified wallers know about your project using our free Project Referral Service.  You can also find local certified wallers on our Find a Stone Wall Contractor page.   The interactive map and listings by state make it easy.

The best way to improve your ability to design dry stone walls is to take a hands-on dry stone wall building workshop.  The Stone Trust offers 1 and 2 day workshops for all skill levels.  Taking a workshop will get you to see and evaluate walls as you never thought possible.  Landscape Architects receive LACES credits for attending workshops at The Stone Trust.  Check out our upcoming workshops here.

Check out our upcoming events:

    Eureka Rd Workshop Site
    June 23rd 2017 Site Prep Workshop at Eureka Rd. (Springfield VT)
    Friday June 23, 2017

    Set on a 200 acre property of field and forest, this is a fantastic location to learn the craft of dry stone walling. This is a site preparation workshop that is intended to be paired with the dry stone wall building workshop happening on the following two days. This workshop can also be taken independently of the weekend wall building workshop. In this workshop participants will learn the needed site preparation for building a wall. Participants will be lead through discussions of sourcing and selection stone to use, and preparing the foundation. For the better part of the day, participants will be learn from and working along side the instructors setting up batter frames and sorting stone for building.


    Walling Workshop Sept. 2014
    June 24-25 2017 stone wall workshop at Eureka Rd. (Springfield VT)
    Friday June 24 & 25, 2017

    Set on a 200 acre property of field and forest, this is a fantastic location to learn the craft of dry stone walling. This dry stone walling workshop will teach how to go about building a dry stone wall. It is intended to be taken as a stand alone workshop or can be paired with the site preparation workshop happening the day before. In this workshop participants will learn how build a traditional dry stone wall in a real world, field wall, setting. Learning how to make the best use of the available stone will be a key part of this workshop. Participants will be guided through setting foundation stones, working with guide strings, building the first lift, placing through stones, building the 2nd lift, and and setting cope stones.


    2011-09-21 17.39.26
    July 14th 2017 Site Prep Workshop at Eureka Rd. (Springfield VT)
    Friday July 14, 2017

    Set on a 200 acre property of field and forest, this is a fantastic location to learn the craft of dry stone walling. This is a site preparation workshop that is intended to be paired with the dry stone wall building workshop happening on the following two days. This workshop can also be taken independently of the weekend wall building workshop. In this workshop participants will learn the needed site preparation for building a wall. Participants will be lead through discussions of sourcing and selection stone to use, and preparing the foundation. For the better part of the day, participants will be learn from and working along side the instructors setting up batter frames and sorting stone for building.


    Walling Workshop Sept. 2014
    July 15-16, 2017 stone wall workshop at Eureka Rd. (Springfield VT)
    Saturday & Sunday, July 15-16, 2017

    Set on a 200 acre property of field and forest, this is a fantastic location to learn the craft of dry stone walling. This dry stone walling workshop will teach how to go about building a dry stone wall. It is intended to be taken as a stand alone workshop or can be paired with the site preparation workshop happening the day before. In this workshop participants will learn how build a traditional dry stone wall in a real world, field wall, setting. Learning how to make the best use of the available stone will be a key part of this workshop. Participants will be guided through setting foundation stones, working with guide strings, building the first lift, placing through stones, building the 2nd lift, and and setting cope stones.


    Dry Stone Retaining Wall Course
    Retaining Wall Workshop: One Day Outdoor (Eureka Rd, Springfield, VT)
    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    Here in the North East, many of the walls people are building are retaining walls. While all the principals of a free standing wall apply there are additional rules and methods to follow when building retaining walls. The focus needs to be on a sound structure that will last for generations. The stone may be round field stone or flatter ledge stone. The rules and principals learned here can be applied to all retaining walls whether hand-built or built with large stones and equipment.


    two day level 1 - 9
    Introductory Workshop: One Day Outdoor 8/12/17 (Eureka Rd, Springfield, VT)
    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    This workshop is perfect for the homeowner or enthusiast looking to start learning about how to build dry stone walls. If you are looking to learn more before starting to build a wall at home or trying to educate yourself before hiring someone else to build a wall. This is the workshop for you. It is great introduction for landscapers who are looking to get into dry stone walling.

    Over the course of the day each participant will build about 25 sq. ft. of wall (one side), using flat ledge stone. Participants will learn all the basic rules of structural walling that can be applied to any type of stone and project. The different type of stone used is the primary difference between this workshop and the indoor introductory workshops.


    Stone Shaping Course 2016 group photo at The Stone Trust
    Stone Shaping Workshop: One Day Outdoor (Eureka Rd, Springfield, VT)
    Sunday, August 13, 2017

    This workshop will spend the day learning about how to shape stones for use in dry stone walls. Participants will be introduced to a variety of stone types, and how to work with them. Both hand and power tools will be demonstrated and used. The stone shaping will focus on efficient practices, learning how to look at a stone and judge how to shape it, as well as proper use and care of tools. Typical types of stone will likely include, granite, slate, local quarried schist, gneiss ‘field stone’ and more. Participants are encouraged to bring samples of their local stone to practice shaping, as well as any tools they would like to learn how to better use.


    two day level 1 - 9
    Introductory Workshop: One Day Outdoor 8/13/17 (Eureka Rd, Springfield, VT)
    Sunday, August 13, 2017

    This workshop is perfect for the homeowner or enthusiast looking to start learning about how to build dry stone walls. If you are looking to learn more before starting to build a wall at home or trying to educate yourself before hiring someone else to build a wall. This is the workshop for you. It is great introduction for landscapers who are looking to get into dry stone walling.

    Over the course of the day each participant will build about 25 sq. ft. of wall (one side), using flat ledge stone. Participants will learn all the basic rules of structural walling that can be applied to any type of stone and project. The different type of stone used is the primary difference between this workshop and the indoor introductory workshops.


    Seth Harris instructing the 2016 Test Prep workshop
    Fall 2017 Test Preparation Workshop: One Day Indoor
    Friday, September 8, 2017

    Prepare for your certification test! This workshop is perfect those planning to test on Monday. Learn tips and techniques to help you pass your test, all while practicing on the stone walls used for the tests. A must-take workshop for those planning to go for the difficult Level 2 test. Take this workshop and receive a discount on a Saturday or Sunday Pre-test, before testing on Monday.

    Seth Harris is a Level 2 certified waller and certified instructor. He has been a test site coordinator at The Stone Trust on several occasions and is well versed in what it takes to pass a test. There is nothing better than a day of tips from the pros! In addition to dry stone walling Seth is also an accomplished fine woodworker, blacksmith, excavator and more. He is the owner of Foxchair Mountain Craftsmen in Springfield VT.


    Irregular field gathered flagging
    Introductory Patio Flagging and Flat-work: One Day Outdoor
    Friday, September 8, 2017

    Learn the fundamentals of patio construction in a fun, energetic, hands-on environment. While not strictly dry stone walling, flat-work is a common part of many projects. Doing a good job starts with a good foundation, and finishes with an attractive pattern of stone. This workshop will teach you how to have a workshop that stays flat and attractive for decades.


Dry stone retaining wall specifications:
Free Download!

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This 11 page document is available for download as a PDF and as a word (.doc) file.  This is the most detailed specification document for dry stone walls that is freely available.  It is an invaluable document for anyone designing dry stone walls and/or structures.

Standard TypicalStone Wall Construction Detail
Typical Dry Stone Retaining Wall Construction Details

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