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Test Guidance From An Experienced Examiner

Test Day In Action
Test Day In Action

Coming off a successful test day, member and Certified Master Craftsman and waller Michael Weitzner wrote up these valuable pointers on preparing for and executing a successful certification test.

Stripping out:

  • Aim to get it done in about half an hour.
  • As you strip out, sort your stone so that you can use the biggest pieces first.
  • Keep your stone within about six to eight feet from the base of the wall. you don’t want to walk further than you have to; that takes time and energy away from walling

One stone on two and two stones on one:

  • This is perhaps the most important basic rule of dry stone walling.
  • Use the biggest stones at the bottom of the wall and diminish in size as you go up – this will help to avoid one stone over three (1-over-3).
  • If you are faced with a situation in a test in which you have to use a stone that is a 1-over-3 and you have limited choices, break that stone into two smaller stones. (If at all possible, set it aside for a better use – could it be used as a cover stone or cheekend stone? – and ask for more stone).


  • Keep your joints tight; maximize contact between stone, not just side-to-side but also beneath.
  • Each stone should rest firmly on the two that are below it, without rocking.
  • Whenever possible, try to get your joints to sit near the middle of the sonte below the joint rather near one of its edges.
  • Be sure that you have shimmed under the back edges of face stones as needed to prevent them from rocking.


  • Always pin the joints between face stones from behind before hearting the middle of the wall.
  • Use the largest pieces of hearting that you can fit into the space you are packing.
  • Place your hearting as carefully as you place your face stones.
  • Heart as you go – don’t stack more than one course of stone without hearting. “Set a stone, pack a stone.”
  • Avoid overfilling the middle – you don’t want your hearting to be higher than the face stones.
  • Avoid setting hearting stones on edge; they should lie as flat as possible.
  • Never us face pinnings. If it can go in from the face, it can come out. Face pinning is different than shimming; well-placed shims extend well back into the wall and cannot be pulled out.

Frames and lines:

  • Set your batter frames correctly and carefully to ensure even batter on both sides of the wall.
  • In order to ensure that dimensions are consistent and true, always make sure that your batter frames are:
    • Perpendicular to the length of the wall.
    • Vertical.
    • Set so that they don’t move while you are working.
  • At a cheekend, consider setting your lines outside of your frames; that will allow you to sight along both line and frames and determine whether the placement of your face stones is accurate.
  • Keep your lines tight and horizontal.
  • Lines should never make contact with any stones on the wall.
  • Always build to the lines and check your work frequently. It’s easy to adjust a couple of recently-place stones but once you have built over them you are stuck with what you have built.
  • I strongly recommend the Stone Trust’s training courses on the use of frames and lines.

Top of the wall:

  • The top of the second lift should be built to a neat, crisp line, level form one side of the wall to the other.
  • Set cover stones on the wall and pack/shim them well. What examiners are looking for is a neat line underneath the cover stones, not on top of them (in fact, it’s fine if the top of the cover stones is very uneven) and NO daylight underneath the covers.
  • Cope stones: Set copes using a line. If you don’t know how to do this, please let the Stone Trust know. Examiners are looking for a neat line along the top of the cope stones. We also look for tight cope with the stones sitting upright.


  • Build your first lift so that there is a neat line at the top of the first lift, just like the line under the covers – you can then maneuver your through-stones into the best position without the difficulties that arise from having an uneven top.
  • Wherever possible, set your throughs so that they sit squarely over a joint and have ample room on either side for the next face stone to cover the next joint. If you have broad through-stone, plan the course on which they will sit so that you can keep to the one-on-two, two-on-one rule.
  • There should be no running joints next to through-stones.
  • It is acceptable to set the through-stones at a slight angle (i.e., slightly off perpendicular to the face of the wall) in order to place them correctly over joints on each side of the wall.
  • Pack, pack, pack your through-stones!


  • Plan out your cheekend before you start building it:
    • Use the biggest stones at the bottom.
    • Remember to set aside stone that allows you to tie back the cheekend into the body of the wall. Avoid using small face-stone in the body of the wall next to the cheekend.
    • Choose your end-cope when you are planning your work.
    • The stone in the existing cheekend might not be wonderful but the aim is to make the best of it. If you really don’t have enough, ask for more. (Note that examiners and site managers usually will provide additional stone ahead of time if it is clear that a cheekend is made with sub-standard marerial.)
  • Avoid small pinnings and 1-over-3.
  • Pack cheekend stones well; ideally the examiners will not see daylight between the stones.
  • No running joints in the face of the cheekend or in the body of the wall next to it.
  • Keep it vertical and square! Use your spirit level to set each course.

Traced Stones:

These are stones that have been set with their length along the face of the wall rather than perpendicular to the face of the wall. Next to a cheekend, where they are well-matched with appropriate partners, traced stones may be used to all the “runner”stones to be tied back well into the body of the wall. Elsewhere in the body of a wall, it is acceptable to use traced stones only very occasionally and subject to the following:

  • They must not be 1-over-3
  • They must extend into the body of the wall by at least one-third of the width of the wall at the height at which the stone is placed.
  • They must be opposite a large stone, i.e., there should not be a large space filled with hearting between the traced stone and its counterpart on the opposite face.

Appearance vs. Structure: Many us tend to set stones with what we think of as their nicest face on the face of the wall. Sometimes this can lead to improper placing of stone. The appearance of the face of each stone is of less importance than its role in the structure. A wall that looks good from a distance because it is full of beautiful faces can be riddled with structural flaws. A well-built wall with rough but consistent faces is also beautiful. Neatness of construction depends more on tightness, consistency and evenness of work, and the effective use of frames and lines, then it does on the individual face of stones.

Also, always remember to keep the ground where you are working tidy!