3 easy steps for a dry-stone wall

July 29, 2015

A dry stone wall is built without mortar so how you put the materials together is very important for it to be stable. There is a very special technique to building a dry-stone wall. These tips will help.

3 easy steps for a dry-stone wall

1. The basics of dry-stone wall techniques

It's important that you lay the foundations for a dry-stone wall right as the whole structure depends on its stability. These tips will put you on the right track:

  • Mark out the area where the wall will sit, and dig to a depth of 20 to 30 centimetres. If the soil is soft or unstable, you may need to dig deeper.
  • Spread a base of cracked gravel, road base which is a mix of clay and gravel or aggregate in the excavation to fully anchor what are called the starter stones.
  • On rocky ground, the wall can be built directly on solid rock as long as sloping surfaces are made level.
  • Concrete footing reinforced with steel bars gives a strong base for you to build on.
  • Excavate to at least 40 centimetres deep to allow for a minimum depth of 30 centimetres of concrete.

2. Laying the stones

The technique of laying stones for your wall is an intricate operation that needs all your patience. The results are worth it though so keep these steps in mind for success:

  • Lay the largest stones with some rubble at the bottom of the wall. This way, they act as a base for the higher levels. As you lay the base stones in place, you should pound them well into the road base. Otherwise, make sure they are well supported by the concrete.
  • You should select stone that will fit closely into any gaps with the minimum amount of trimming.
  • Fill any gaps that appear in the stonework to minimize areas of potential collapse.
  • Place stones so that each major stone is fully supported by at least two others beneath it; stones should not be leaning out.
  • At regular inter­vals use large stones that span the width of the wall to bond the wall together.
  • The wall should be ‘battered’ or sloped inwards so that it is narrower at the top than the bottom. This guarantees it has stability.

3. Making a slope

Ready for some geometry and math? Read on for top tips on getting the slope of your dry-stone wall perfect:

  • Use a slope of between one in 10 and one in 25, corresponding to roughly 85 de­grees from the horizontal. The best way to ensure a consistent slope is to make a triangular template.
  • For a long, straight wall, set the corners at the correct angles and then stretch a taut string line be­tween the ends. This simple method gives you the correct shape of the face of the wall.
  • Complete the top of the wall with large, attractive stones that bond the two sides of the wall together. If you want, lay these in a bed of sand and cement to bind the whole structure together and allow the top to shed water.

Simple dry-stone walls

Dry-stone walling is an age-old building method with a distinct technique. These steps will help you build a stable and strong dry-stone wall for decorative or practical purposes.

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