Sunday, December 16, 2007

How Long Will it Last?

My crudely stacked stone wall has been thoroughly dissed by two online personas I take to be Landscape Architects as dangerous and unstable. I have previous interaction with them so I have to take their criticisms with a certain amount of respect.


I have to wonder does my former reputation in that forum bring out a dark side in some or have Landscape Architects in general gotten so entwined in codes and laws and lawsuits and high end clients that they have forgotten the fundamental building blocks from which their craft began?

So being a little worried about my wall I wandered off into the ether again to read more about dry stacked stone walls.

From an article in Carolina Home and Garden, “Water always wins,” observes Archambault. “Mortared walls in the ground don’t last as well as dry stacked because of hydrostatic pressure.” Which led me to this beautiful stone mason's site in Asheville North Carolina, The Unturned Stone.

"Dry-stack walls can move with changes in the soil without coming apart, so don't need rigid foundations," from an article in the Seattle Times on building dry stack walls written by Phil Wood another Landscape Architect.

The book I read by David Reed another local Asheville stone mason at Circle of Stone and most of what I found online said a footing for a dry stacked wall was a simple gravel filled trench if a footing was needed at all. My wall has a 4" thick x 12" wide steel reinforced concrete footing with a slight back slope and one of those Landscape Architect personas thought it was "too thin to serve its purpose." He is from the Bay area in California so that may be an understandable view point for him.

Looking close at some of the pictures and the wall itself as it was pointed out by the other Landscape Architect persona who is from New England, the friggin motherland of dry stacked stone walls, there were two spots in the base of the wall on either end that did look a little scary, places were the bottom stones looked recessed and the stones above them were hanging over. But guess what I have tons of pictures of the wall from start to finish.

The second and third stones in the first course on the bottom left are the ones I'm looking at. They are in the same place now (the picture above is from today) as they were in the beginning. It was the same thing on the other side. That is just the nature of a rough rockpodge group of stones that are dry laid, some of them will project out further than the others. What is happening inside is what really matters.

This 18 to 20 inch thick, double stone wide, gravel filled, cement sitting bottom course is the basis of my wall. Each course after it followed the same recipe. Each stone was placed so that its weight pulled it towards the slope and so it felt locked in, resting comfortably and in good contact with the adjoining stones.

There were some flatter stones on this land or someone took the time to split the stones and make them flatter. I suppose I could have done that. Spent a lot more time shaping the stones themselves. Then I could have had a wall that looks more like them fancy store bought stone walls, all nice and rectangular if the stones indeed would have split that way.

But that's not what I got. I got the stones that were here and I let them fit themselves together in a method that has long been used to build walls that last for generations.

It might not look fancy enough or stable enough for internet Landscape Architects. And I don't claim to be a master stone mason. It possibly could all fall down. Last night it rained and it has snowed lightly all day. The ground is moist and it is headed for the teens. This wall and its new almost level back fill is about to be tested with its first big expansion freeze, but Lawdy when is it gonna thaw? This commin' week is lookin' to be brutal cold.

We'll just have to wait and see how long this wall will last.


Frances said...

If those walls around the old chimney are any indication, your wall should pass the test of time, too. Don't be discouraged after all your earnest work. If by chance the wall weakens, you know where to get more stone, anyway.

Deviant Deziner said...

Well Christopher,
What can one say ?
Stone wall building is a lesson in patience , amongst other things.
It take years and years of practice to achieve a certain level of aesthetics , and along with that time investment come technique , understanding and knowledge.

I've been around stone work all my life.
My great GF and grandfather were a stone masons, all my uncles were masons , I did stone masonry and sculpting for a living starting in my 20's and still have been known to pick up a chisel and mallet, though I prefer to watch the crew do that type of work these days.

I'd have to agree that a 4 inch thick footing for that amount of stone is rather wimpy, but time will tell.

It's hard to tell how tell how well a dry stack wall will wear the test of time without knowing or seeing how the stones were laid back into the earth.
Simply looking at the face of a dry laid stone wall doesn't give us viewers the whole story.
Often times it is what we don't see in a stone wall that makes the wall structurally safe and sound.

I think the overall look of the wall is quite appealing and nicely done.
There are a couple of dubious looking placed stones, but as I said above, it's hard to judge the wall based solely on its outward face.

I say keep on rock'n. That's how you become a good stone mason and artisan.
If someone told me my stone work was less than par it would motivate me to prove them wrong, thus hone my craft and strengthen my technique and personal conviction.
.. but that's just 'head strong bullish' me.

keep rock'in

Tracy said...

I just read the comments over on Garden Web, and as I read I kept thinking, "But its just a patio!" If your wall was holding up that entire side of the house, then okay, I might be a little nervous. Sure, you've worked hard and it would be a shame to see a finished patio go rolling down the hill, but at least it wouldn't be the entire cabin!

Anyway, I think you should continue with the same local rock for the internal wall. You'll want to be able to see some of your handiwork while you're taking refuge from the rain!

Tracy @ Outside

Christopher C. NC said...

Thanks for the encouragement everyone.

One of the other good things about a dry stacked wall is that if it does crumble a bit it will be much easier to rebuild or repair. And in this case even if this wall fails the core hillside itself isn't going to all come tumbling down.

I still have to do more capstone work on the top and I have planned all along to put small chinking stones into the face of the wall in some of the bigger gaps.

Practice, practice and learn by doing.

Patience is probably something I should work at by "Slowing Down" when I am building these walls and step back and look more often. That feeling of reward from progress is hard to beat though.

Head strong? Who me?

The inspector man returned my call and I do not need a permit or inspection as long as the walls are under four feet.

So this next wall should be an improvement.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Heft and stack those stones Christopher. Spring rains will probably tell the story. So what if you have a few eruptions. You can consider them learning experiences. We all learn from our mistakes. As Tracy said this isn't holding up your house.

Now on to this gardening topic. What are you going to plant in the cracks and crevices? I was just wondering.

Pam said...

Christopher, I don't know how to build a stone wall, but all I can say is that yours is absolutely breathtaking. It's gorgeous. And the fact that you did it from rocks that you carried to the wall - well, perhaps longterm stability is too much to ask regarding anything in our lives. You've built a wall! Perhaps that is the only important thing.

lisa said...

Yea, that thread over at GW was something else....I think it should be fine. (For all MY opinion is worth.) If not, your wall is one of the most attractive "mistakes" I've ever seen! (Heh...applies to a couple of my former boyfriends, too! ;-)

Blackswamp_Girl said...

I'm with Tracy... and Lisa... and Pam... :)

It looks beautiful to me.

C. C. said...

Having read your final (?) post in Feb 2018 and seeing a mention from a commenter about following your cabin-build, I had to try to find it and came across this post. Which makes me angry on your behalf. It reminds me of a friend who used to do stone work for Old Salem (an 18th century Moravian village/tourist attraction, for those who don't know). He knew what he was doing. But ALL DAY LONG tourists would stop him and tell him he was doing it wrong. I don't know how he managed not to chuck a rock at them.

Your wall is beautiful, btw, and looks sturdy and well-built.