Building a Dry Stone Wall

Last December, my wife came across an ad on Craigslist for free fieldstone. On a whim, I decided to haul it home to build a wall. As is so often the case with DIY, it was easier to concieve than to execute. I finished my small wall only a few days ago. It took me nearly four months.

The steps for building a dry wall are fairly straightforward. The essence of it: stake out the wall line; dig a trench about eight inches deep and a bit wider than the planned wall; fill the trench with crushed gravel to form a base that will minimize shifting from frost heaves and settling; then stack rocks. The basic rule of rock stacking is to place one stone over sections where two stones come together, and two stones over sections where there is one stone. Cap the top with heavy, nice-looking stone. The overall pattern should be stable, level, and visually appealing.

That last part is the kicker. In my case, I had to contend with a three foot downhill slope in the front of the house and a one foot incline on the part that curves around the odd looking conifer at the corner, which is called a Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar. A flat wall would have been challenging enough, but the sloping ground added much complexity.

My goal was to place the stones in a cascading fashion so that they conformed to the slope of the land. That entailed placing some rocks, stepping back for a wider view from various angles, deciding it wasn’t quite right, tearing down parts that looked unnatural, choosing different rocks, then rebuilding the offending section. Then I’d build another small section and repeat the process. Over and over and over.  

I think the resulting wall looks nice, although I’m sure it would look nicer if a professional installed it. It might also be more structurally sound. Time will tell how well my amateur job holds up. I suspect I’ll know in about a year. That length of time will test the wall against the stress of changing temperatures, weather, and frost. The great part about a dry stone wall, though, is that there is no mortar. I can always adjust it. I like to think of it as a rock garden in the shape of a wall.