Art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques

Watch a beginner and you can tell within two minutes if they've got a knack for it, says Richard Ingles. It takes a certain kind of eye-brain co-ordination, dry stone walling: you need to be able to look at a stone and know straight away whether it's the one you want. After that, it's mostly a question of doing the job: there are courses to go on, and after three years you should be able to go out on your own and make a living.

To build a wall, you first mark out your base line, then mount a wooden A-frame corresponding to the shape of the finished wall — always wider at the bottom than the top — at each end.

You stretch lengths of string between the frames to act as guidelines, and a plumb bob ensures the wall stays vertical.

How to build a dry stone wall

A dry stone wall is actually two separate but interlocking walls, tied at regular intervals by longer through or tie stones, and a middle filled with a mass of smaller rocks and pebbles. You begin building at the end, known as the quoin or cheekend.

This is perhaps the hardest bit, Ingles says: it has to be perfectly solid, square and upright, "everything tied in together".

art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques

The base stones, big and heavy, are laid in a shallow trench, and then off you go, building up layer by layer course by course, a waller would sayeach new stone bridging the joint between the two beneath it, like a brick wall. Most are pinned from behind with a smaller stone, so they sit solidly. And in a well-built wall, each stone will slope slightly downwards from the centre, to let the rainwater out. The tie stones go in every metre or so.

Then you lay large, flat stones on the top, and stand upright cope or coping, cap or capping stones along it: bigger, heavier ones at regular intervals, with smaller, lighter ones wedged in between. Finally, pebbles are hammered down between the cap stones, setting everything solidly in place. The waller's only tool is a sharp-edged hammer, used to dress stone when necessary. Wallers like to cut stones to shape as little as possible; in some parts of the country, the stone is too hard to dress anyway and must be used as is.

In the Cotswolds, where Ingles and his son Chris work, the sedimentary limestone is more amenable. Britain boasts a staggeringmiles of dry stone walls. A few are ancient, dating back to 3, BC. Most are field walls and went up in the early- to mids, in the wake of the enclosure acts. For a century they were well maintained; these days, farming lacks the resources. Neglected for long, soil gets in and seedlings follow: vegetation is the ruin of a drystone wall.Building with dry stone is one of the earliest skills developed by humans.

Dry stone walls are durable because they contain no mortar, but are held together by the weight of stone, and by the skill of the builder who selected and fitted the stones together.

Dry stone walling involves either stripping and rebuilding existing walls that have fallen into disrepair, or gapping — repairing gaps where the wall has collapsed. Fewer new walls are built, although foundations sometimes have to be relaid. Sort out the coping stones from the collapsed wall first and place them two to three metres from the wall.

Take out the main stones and put the top ones furthest from the wall. Keep the largest ones nearest the wall to aid building. Leave a gap of about 60cm alongside the wall for working.

Keep throughstones safe and separate. Set the frame s at the end s of the section you are working on and run guidelines along the wall. The foundations or footings should be set in a trench a few centimetres wider than the wall, dug down to a firm base. They could be as little as 3cm up to 30cm deep depending on soil type.

Stones should be steady and unable to slip. Avoid roundbacked stones that are hard to build on. The wall is built up in horizontal courses lines of stones of even height for ease of construction, strength and appearance. Use the biggest stones in the bottom of the wall and the smallest in the top. This produces a stronger wall and is easier to build. Place stones level or dipping outwards slightly and where possible with the long edge into the wall.

Hearting stones are important. Use solid angular stones. Place them carefully, almost as you would the face stones. Add hearting stones as you go, keeping them at or just below the level of the face stones. Make sure people follow the designated batter of the wall. Try to keep the face of the wall smooth — it discourages climbers.

Throughstones located at regular intervals straddle the wall, holding the two sides together to stop it bellying out and collapsing. Ensure that they pin all the stones below them. How many to use and where to put them depends on the regional style of wall and the type of stone. Coping stones straddle the wall in the same way as throughstones, holding the sides together and holding down and protecting the upper courses.

There are many types of coping, so follow the local style as far as possible. Keep the top of the coping even by using a line. Avoid wedging the stones to keep them steady. The wall head is a pillar which acts like a bookend to hold the wall up. It is the section least well supported and most prone to damage. Use the largest and most rectangular stones available.

Build in horizontal courses. Grade the courses so that the biggest stones are near the hillside, but keep the course as level as possible. Start from the bottom and work uphill.The Cyprus Institute was one of the 21 organizations who supported Cyprus' participation in the proposal.

The art of Dry stone walling.

The construction of drystone walls is a millennium-long tradition for many mountain communities in Cyprus and other Mediterranean countries. Apart from sustaining mountain agricultural and rural livelihoods, drystone terraces are vital for water retention and soil erosion control in sloping hillsides, as well as an important habitat for biodiversity.

These man-made structures are an integral part of cultural landscapes and their construction and maintenance relies on indigenous knowledge.

art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques

The abandonment of these cultural landscapes implies land degradation as well as detachment of the young generation from traditional land management practices and loss of indigenous knowledge. The Cyprus Institute is committed to promoting sustainable land management practices through integrated research initiatives, and strongly believes that the registration of drystone art in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity will facilitate the transfer of indigenous knowledge to the next generation, and will motivate local communities to better preserve these cultural landscape features.

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Dry Stone Walling in the 21st Century

EU e-Privacy Directive We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.Your browser is not supported by this application. Inscribed in The art of dry stone walling concerns the knowhow related to making stone constructions by stacking stones upon each other, without using any other materials except sometimes dry soil.

Dry stone structures are spread across most rural areas — mainly in steep terrains — both inside and outside inhabited spaces, though they are not unknown in urban areas.

The stability of the structures is ensured through the careful selection and placement of the stones, and dry-stone structures have shaped numerous, diverse landscapes, forming various modes of dwelling, farming and husbandry. Such structures testify to the methods and practices used by people from prehistory to today to organize their living and working space by optimizing local natural and human resources.

They play a vital role in preventing landslides, floods and avalanches, and in combating erosion and desertification of the land, enhancing biodiversity and creating adequate microclimatic conditions for agriculture. The bearers and practitioners include the rural communities where the element is deeply rooted, as well as professionals in the construction business. Dry stone structures are always made in perfect harmony with the environment and the technique exemplifies a harmonious relationship between human beings and nature.

The practice is passed down primarily through practical application adapted to the particular conditions of each place. Password forgotten? OK Password forgotten?The art of dry stone walling concerns the know-how related to making stone constructions by stacking stones upon each other, without using any joining material.

In a narrower sense, the art of dry-stone walling refers to building using broken stones with minimum alternation or no alteration at all. As a broader sense, the art of dry-stone walling may include stacking of stone plates and slabs, construction of buildings using the dressed stone, but without any joining material.

This art has been used along the Adriatic coast and in the Mount Dinara region of Croatia ever since the prehistory until today. The geographical spread of the dry-stone walling, its technical perfection and the importance for the community are related to the density of population and economic activities, as well as the method and means of transformation of the karst with the purpose of agricultural production. In the areas of bare karst, the dry-stone walling is an irreplaceable manual technique used for building of shelters, paths and obstacles, especially for the adjustment of stone terrains for agricultural activities.

The largest part of of the building process belongs to the first and, in terms of labour, the most intensive phases of occupying new plots of land — when building fences, cleaning the land from stone, making terraces, and simple stone shelters.

In a later phase of the exploitation of such locations, the art of dry-stone walling is used for maintenance and repair of buildings, storage of the surplus stone extracted from the land in land-processing, functional readjustments and similar. The most skilled bricklayers are recognised and appreciated in their communities, and the degree of their special and professional skills depends on the circumstances.

Art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques The art of dry stone walling concerns the know-how related to making stone constructions by stacking stones upon each other, without using any joining material.This section of our website is intended to inform homeowners and amateur wallers about the fundamental aspects of dry stone wall building.

How To Build Walls

There is no substitute for professional expertise. You can come and take workshops at The Stone Trust to gain experience. The Stone Trust can also provide design consulting for projects. Dry stone walling can seem complex at first, with all the different parts and terms. Fortunately the basic techniques needed to build a strong wall can be condensed down to five basic rules.

If you follow these rules, your wall will be strong and good looking. Dry stone construction is a separate construction technique and profession from masonry.

While there is overlap with masonry and other building trades, dry stone wallers have their own vocabulary and terminology.

art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques

Understanding this terminology will help you when reading the rest of this page. Foundation: This is what the wall is built on.

For field walls it is often the native soil with the turf removed. Landscape and garden walls may be built with a bed of crushed stone or gravel. The Foundation Stones are usually the largest stones in the wall, and may be partly or entirely below ground depending on the conditions in which the wall is being built.

First Lift: This refers to the lower portion of the wall, from the foundation to the level of the through stones. This includes the face stones, hearting and pinning. The first lift is made of larger stones than the second lift. Through stones: These are stones that extend through the wall, connecting the two sides. The purpose is to prevent the sides from separating and are absolutely crucial to building a sound wall structure.

Second Lift: This is the top half of the wall, between the through stones and the cope. Like the first lift the term is inclusive of the face stones, hearting, and pinning. The stones are typically smaller than those in the first lift. Cope: These are the top stones on the wall. There are numerous styles used for copes, but they all basically serve the purpose of adding additional height and capping of the wall in a structurally sound manner.

Hearting: This is the small stones used to fill in the gaps between the face stones in the wall. Hearting is scaled, like the face stone. Larger hearting is used near the bottom of the wall and smaller pieces near the top.

Pinning: Pinning stones are used to hold the face stones in place. They are very similar to hearting and could be considered a part of the hearting. But pinning stones are specifically chosen and placed to wedge the face stones in place, where hearting stones are only roughly placed to fill in gaps.

Dry-stone walls

Batter: Batter is the term used to describe the angle of the face of the wall. In other words the wall is narrower at the top than the bottom so the sides are angled inward.Dry stonesometimes called drystack or, in Scotland, drystaneis a building method by which structures are constructed from stones without any mortar to bind them together.

Dry stone construction is best known in the context of stone wallstraditionally used for the boundaries of fields and churchyardsor as retaining walls for terracing, but dry stone sculptures, buildings, bridges, and other structures also exist.

The art of dry stone walling was inscribed in on the UNESCO representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanityfor dry stone walls in countries such as FranceGreeceItalySloveniaCroatiaSwitzerland and Spain.

Some dry stone wall constructions in north-west Europe have been dated back to the Neolithic Age. Some Cornish hedges are believed by the Guild of Cornish Hedgers to date from BC, [3] although there appears to be little dating evidence. In County MayoIreland, an entire field system made from dry stone walls, since covered in peat, have been carbon-dated to BC.

The cyclopean walls of the acropolis of MycenaeGreece, have been dated to BC and those of Tiryns slightly earlier. In Belizethe Mayan ruins at Lubaantun illustrate use of dry stone construction in architecture of the 8th and 9th centuries AD. Great Zimbabwe in ZimbabweAfrica, is a large city "acropolis" complex, constructed from the 11th to the 15th centuries AD.

Terminology varies regionally. When used as field boundaries, dry stone structures often are known as dykes, particularly in Scotland. Dry stone walls are characteristic of upland areas of Britain and Ireland where rock outcrops naturally or large stones exist in quantity in the soil.

They are especially abundant in the West of Ireland, particularly Connemara. They may also be found throughout the Mediterraneanincluding retaining walls used for terracing.

Such constructions are common where large stones are plentiful for example, in The Burren or conditions are too harsh for hedges capable of retaining livestock to be grown as reliable field boundaries.

Many thousands of miles of such walls exist, most of them centuries old. In the United States they are common in areas with rocky soils, such as New EnglandNew YorkNew Jerseyand Pennsylvaniaand are a notable characteristic of the bluegrass region of central Kentucky as well as Virginiawhere they are usually referred to as rock fences or stone fencesand the Napa Valley in north central California.

The technique of construction was brought to America primarily by English and Scots-Irish immigrants. Similar walls also are found in the Swiss—Italian border region, where they are often used to enclose the open space under large natural boulders or outcrops. Sometimes also the dry stone terracing is apparent, often combined with parts of stone masonry house foundations and shed walls that are held together by a clay and pine needle "composite" mortar.

Some walls date back to the Liburnian era.


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