Stone-wall construction is not as daunting as you might think. Sure the stones are heavy, but if you’re to build a stone wall that’s less than 24-inches tall, you may be able to accomplish the task with minimal help and minimal mechanical equipment. The stones for a wall can be just about anything. Here in New Hampshire, rounded granite boulders are used for walls. In the Midwest, flat pieces of limestone are commonly used. Whatever the local bedrock is made from will often suffice.
In Europe, it’s common to have a stone-wall building. Many hundreds of years ago, Europe depleted their vast forests, and the only abundant material to build with was stone and clay that was made into brick. Lumber is an expensive commodity in Europe, but stone is everywhere. The stone just needs to be quarried and transported to a job site.
On my property in New Hampshire, I have a dry-stone wall. This term means that the stones interlock with no mortar. It’s a very common practice used to build stone walls here in the Northeast. It’s also more affordable as a dry-stone wall can be erected faster than the same wall that uses cement mortar.
If you want to discover how to build a stone wall, all you have to do is look at some that are already in place. It’s a great idea to take photographs of many existing walls to see the scale of the rocks used, and how they interlock. Note how the bottom row of stone almost always is partially buried in the soil for stability. When you see how heavy each individual stone is, you can see why a dry wall will stay in place. It takes enormous effort to move the stones.
You can make an interior stone wall in your home with no problems. The most important thing is to have solid bearing. This means the stone must rest directly on a poured concrete slab that has a footing beneath it, or the stone can rest directly on a steel I-beam that’s been designed for the load.
I built a room addition for Matthew Motz in the mid-1980’s in Cincinnati, OH, that had a drop-dead gorgeous limestone wall that was inside the addition. This wall was the entire width of the room addition both in the basement family room and the master bedroom above that. In each wall was a large fireplace. I enjoyed several warm fires in front of these rustic stone walls.
If you decide to build a natural stone wall, even if it’s a stone garden wall, be sure to look at the texture of the stone, its color and ask about it’s durability for where it’s being used. Most rock is resistant to freezing, but you want to make sure. The last thing you want to do is go through hours of grueling work only to discover you selected the wrong stone.
Building a stone wall can be done faster than normal if you incorporate stone wall panels, but this is rarely done on residential work. Large commercial projects can use these prefabricated panels sometimes. You’ll also see a faux stone wall in certain situations where concrete is poured into forms that create a stone-like texture. This is very common on sound walls you might see on an expressway. These might qualify as stone panels, even though it’s not real stone.
You can incorporate stone into other elements in your yard. On the rear patio of our second home, I built a stone-wall fountain. This small fountain was part of a brick wall that transformed into a natural limestone fountain. It was the centerpiece of the patio, and got lots of compliments.
Stone wall construction can be hard on your hands and back, so always wear gloves and steel-toed boots. Don’t try to lift more than you can do without straining. It’s not worth blowing out a disc in your back to show you have some type of super powers. If you do decide to use stone wall mortar, don’t underestimate how heavy a wheelbarrow full of mortar weighs. It can be close to 500 pounds!
If you try to build a decorative stone wall, I urge you to try a small test wall first. Do a sample to get used to working with the stone. When you view the wall, always stand back as far as you would when normally looking at the wall. The appearance of the wall can be different when you stand back 50 feet as opposed to viewing it from 5 feet away.