Q&A / 

Fieldstone

Fieldstone is an interesting word. Its origin is based on an annual ritual that early farmers, and farmers today, had to perform each spring. After the snow would melt off the fields, there would be stones popping up through the soil where none had been the previous fall.

These rocks are forced up little by little each winter season through the soil by frost action, and every year some finally burst through like a little chick pops out of an egg. Since these stones were discovered in the fields, the farmers would call them fieldstone. See Mom, that college tuition paid off! When I went to college, I majored in geology, and learned all about frost and stones at that time.

It didn’t take farmers long to figure out what to do with these seemingly pesky stones. The first use of the stones was for foundations to the homes, barns and outbuildings as well as a fieldstone fireplace or two. But as more stones floated up to the surface, farmers discovered they were perfect for a fieldstone wall. I’m fortunate to have many of these ancient fieldstone walls on my land in New Hampshire. When constructed properly, these walls can last hundreds of years without any mortar between the stones or a foundation!

Travel to different parts of the USA and you’ll see a fieldstone home or two both in the country and even the city. I can take you to any number of homes in Cincinnati, OH, where fieldstones were used as the exterior skin of the home.

One of my own jobs incorporated a unique use of fieldstone. I built a splendid room addition for Matthew Motz on Clough Pike in eastern Cincinnati. Matt was an amazing man who loved simplicity and times gone by. He wanted the entire end wall of the basement family room as well as the wall above in his bedroom to be made from fieldstone. Suffice it to say it was drop-dead gorgeous.

The fieldstone for Matt’s interior walls was installed exactly how I would install a fieldstone veneer on the exterior of a home. A veneer is just that - a thin coating of something that you see as the final layer. You can build a solid stone wall if you want, and many older homes are constructed this way, but they are not very energy efficient. By adding a fieldstone veneer to a frame wall, or some other highly insulated masonry bearing wall, you get the look of a solid stone wall, but the efficiency of a well-insulated wall.

When you install a stone veneer, the stone needs only be 4 or 5-inches deep. You stack them on top of one another using varying amounts of mortar depending upon the look you want. Every 16 inches of vertical height of the wall, you need to install corrugated metal strips that are cemented into the rock wall and bent up onto the stud wall and nailed to the studs. These metal strips prevent the stone veneer from tipping over and falling to the ground. Believe me, it’s happened with stone and brick veneers in many locations.

Fieldstone construction is an art. Often the stone masons can be seen chipping away at the rocks to make dressed fieldstone so that each stone can fit perfectly adjacent to other stones. You can see this done on many a fieldstone retaining wall that’s made from coarse fossilized limestone. Rounded fieldstone will rarely be dressed. The masons simply look for different sizes of stone that work well together.

Natural fieldstone can be found throughout New England, the upper Midwest and in farming areas of the West. If you want to see it in its splendor, go on a day road trip out into the country and see if you can talk with a farmer. Ask if he can take you out to a field to see one of the beauties that’s sticking its nose out of the ground. This may seem extreme, but it could make for a very fun day. You just may luck out and meet a fascinating farmer that will be glad to take you on a small tour of his land and farm. Stranger things have happened!

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