Posted on

Where do I Start?

Your Path for Success

Some of the most common questions we get boil down to what workshop should I take?  This article should help you make an informed decision.  If you still have questions though, please feel free to get in touch by email at, or phone at (802) 490-9607. Click here to see example paths for success when choosing workshops.

For nearly all people new to The Stone Trust taking an introductory course is the place to start.  This will teach you the fundamentals of building structurally sound dry stone work with efficient work practices.  Introductory courses are great for people who have little or no stonework experience.   They are also the place to start for people who have built walls on their own, but were not really sure if they were doing it right.  Landscapers or Masons who are have stonework experience, but little or no experience with dry stone walls or with building to the typical standards used by certified wallers would also be best placed to start with an introductory workshop.

If your are an experienced waller, and think may not need to take an introductory course here are some things to help you decide:

  • Have you worked with a Certified Dry Stone Waller for more than a week? If you have you have not than you should probably take an introductory workshop.
  • Read our How to wall page.  If the information there is just like how you build, you may not need an introductory course.  If there is anything new there, you should take an introductory workshop.
  • We have had masons and landscapers with 20+ years of experience tell us they learned more from an introductory workshop than they could possibly imagine.  It is well worth it for nearly everyone.
An introductory workshop underway in Dummerston

There are a variety of introductory workshops to choose from:

  • One day indoor:  Teaches the fundamentals of walling, does not get into stone shaping, or any other features.  Roundish glacial till field stone is predominate building material for the workshop
  • One Day Outdoor:  Same as the indoor, but the stone used may be flatter quarried stone or stone local to workshop location.
  • Two Day Outdoor:  This workshop teaches all the fundamentals in the one day, but a slightly slower pace.  Participants have more room and time to absorb and practice.  Most two day workshops are done rebuilding historic walls, so learning how to make the best of not always perfect stone is part of this workshop.  Shaping stones is also introduced.  Often there is also a more advanced option of building a cheek end (square wall end) run at the same time for participants who have already taken an introductory workshop.
  • Site preparation workshop: This one day workshop is often offered the day before a 2-day workshop.  It focuses on all of the lead up and set up needed for an efficient wall building.  It focuses on stone sorting, stone shaping, preparing the foundation, and setting up batter frames.
  • Contractors Workshop:  This is a variant of the 1 day indoor workshop which includes more discussion time on site management, foundations, using equipment and pricing.  This workshop is typically offered in March or April.
  • Women’s Workshop:  This is a variant of the 1 day indoor workshop just for women.  We have Kim Coggin and Jo Hodgson teaching, who are professional wallers and the 1st two women to become certified instructors in North America.  This workshop is amazing, informative, and an absolute blast.  Usually offered every spring.

1 day Introductory workshop time lapse video:

Experienced Hardscape Installer shares his thoughts after taking introductory contractor course:

Specialized Workshops

Once you have attended an introductory workshop you are ready for many of the other workshops we offer.  Some people also find it helpful to take more than one introductory workshop. Most one day introductory workshops are paired with a specialized workshop the day after so you have the option to get a greater learning experience within one trip.  Specialized workshops assume that you know the fundamentals of walling and are usually focused on some aspect or feature.

Specialized workshops include:

  • Retaining wall workshop: This one day course teaches how to adapt the fundamentals learned in the introductory course to building strong retaining walls.
  • Steps and stairs:  Learn how to build stairs and steps using a variety of stone types.
  • Flagging and patios:  Learn the proper techniques for flat work.  There is an emphasis on proper foundations, and multiple types of stone and bedding materials are used.
  • Batter frames and string lines: Many wallers struggle with how to efficiently set up guide lines and frames, this workshop will teach many ways of setting up guides for everything from with simple walls and complex features.  It may not seem glamorous, but participants repeatedly report this as being one of the most valuable workshops we offer.
  • Introduction to stone shaping:  Learn the basics of how to shape stones for dry stone walling using hammers, chisels, power tools and more.  A great way to get to test out which tools you like the best before you buy them.
  • Feature build workshop: these can be highly variable but are targeting the artist in each of us.  Often using differnt types of stones to build patters or sculptural shapes.
  • Galloway walls:  This traditional Scottish wall building style is ideal for dealing with lots of large stones, visually striking, and fast to build
  • Feidin walls:  A traditional wall building technique from western Ireland, uses a mix of horizontally and vertically placed stones.  Fast to build, and visually striking this style can be very strong.
  • Test preparation workshops: prepare for DSWA-GB certification test.
  • Bridge building workshop series: this series of workshops will teach all the preparation, shaping, and final construction of a dry stone arched bridge suitable for vehicular traffic.  Workshops in this series can be signed up for individually or in a set.

Note that some specialized workshops do have required prerequisite courses.

Certification:  Should I try to become Certified?

Certification is the fastest way to improve your skill as a waller.  The goal of passing a test will push you to strive for new skills and new working efficiencies in a way that no workshop or project can.  Testing, and becoming certified, will also open you up to a great network of certified wallers.  For most homeowners or hobbyists, attaining Level I (Initial) certification is a good goal.  A few workshops and some practice time will get you there.  For anyone thinking of doing walling for part of their income, Level II (Intermediate) should be the goal.  For folks looking to get most of their income from walling, or those who are looking for a particular challenge, gaining certification at Level III (Advanced) or Level IV (Master Craftsman) would be the ultimate goal.

If you are looking to make money from building walls, certification is invaluable.  Click here for more information on the value of certification

Sept 2016 Test Group

Example Paths for Success:

Check out the of the common tracks people take.  These tracks are typically done over several years.  If it all seems a bit complicated, start with an introductory course and we think you will be hooked!  From there you can take additional courses as you are able.

Homeowner or hobbyist starting with minimal, or no, experience:

  1. One day indoor introductory workshop
  2. Two Day course working on a cheek end
  3. Stone shaping
  4. Test Prep for Level 1
  5. Level 1 Certification

Depending on interest, also adding in:

  • Retaining wall workshop
  • Steps and stairs
  • Flagging
  • Feidin wall
  • Galloway wall

Landscaper or Mason starting with stonework experience, but not dry stone wall experience,

  1. Contractors workshop
  2. Test Prep for Level 1
  3. Level 1 Certification
  4. 2-day course working on a cheek end
  5. Retaining wall workshop
  6. Test Prep for Level 2
  7. Level 2 Certification test
    1. Many people have to re-take the Level 2 test to pass

Depending on interest, and projects also adding in:

  • Steps and stairs
  • Flagging
  • Stone Shaping
  • Feidin wall
  • Galloway wall
  • Bridge Series

Landscaper, Mason, or Waller who already has extensive dry stone walling AND has worked with certified wallers

  1. Test Prep for Level 1
  2. Level 1 Certification
  3. Test Prep for Level 2
  4. Level 2 Certification test
    1. possible re-taking of Level 2 test
  5. Level 3 certification when ready

Depending on interest, projects, and skills also adding in:

  • Retaining walls
  • Steps and stairs
  • Flagging
  • Stone Shaping
  • Feidin wall
  • Galloway wall
  • Bridge Series