Monday, February 24, 2014

Tips On Building A Dry Stack Stone Wall #2: Getting Stone

In the previous post we took a look at the need for erosion control in our project area
 and the tools that we would use in building our dry stack stone walls.

The posts to date in this continuing series are:
This series is directed to the owner builder rather than the professional stone mason.

Let's look now at the stone we are using, where it came from, 
and how we determined where to have it dumped,
so that it would be readily accessible but not in our way.

In the photo above we are well into our project
 and we have just gotten the last of our three 14.5 ton loads of stone.
I have created a pathway where I can easily use the hand trucks to carry stone
or roll it down the hill if they are too large for the hand truck.

I have had the stone dumped in the same spot for each load
 to minimize disruption to the area.

But first let's back up to when we first contemplated this project.
The above photo shows the area we wanted to terrace
 before we started with the first load of stone.
As luck would have it there was a quarry about 15 miles from our home 
that I had used when I was doing this work professionally some 15 years ago.

We drove over to the quarry one day to see if they were still in business, 
and to see if they had stone suitable for a dry stack wall.
This particular quarry produces gravel, riprap, and landscaping stone from basalt.

We were directed to the quarry supervisor who agreed to call us after blasting
 when he would have a good supply of the 6" x 30" random ruble stone we wanted.
He had worked with other stone masons so was familiar with our needs.
About a month later he called and we ordered our first truckload.
The quarry supervisor and dispatcher we worked with were great.

I highly recommend visiting your local quarry to get to know the people there,
see what they have and let them know your needs.

When looking over our project area, 
it became clear that the placement of the stone we would work with
 needed to be above the work area so that I could let gravity work with me. 
Some of the stones we would be using were in the 300lb.+/- range,
with just me working by myself with a hand truck.
Access from below was not an option anyway.
This area was easily accessible by the dual axle dump truck
 that would be making the delivery.

The driver who delivered the stone was also top notch 
and dumped the stone exactly where I asked.
I asked for him by name for the subsequent loads.
Not all drivers will or can carry these types of loads 
as the large stones tear up the beds of their trucks.

Keep in mind that when the truck dumps it's load 
what is on the bottom of the truck bed will come out in the part of the pile closest to the truck, 
and what is on the top will be in the back half of the pile away from the truck and on top.
 Generally the larger stones will be on the top and back because they are loaded last
 (the smaller stone will be loaded first to cushion the bed of the truck from the larger stones).

It can be daunting too see 14.5 T. of stone and know that they all have to be moved!!!
Please keep that in mind if you are planning any project with stone.
You don't want to create a nightmare with a huge pile of stone 
that becomes a liability should your circumstances change.
It is only an asset when the project is complete.

Whatever type of stone one choses to use there are trade offs.
Quarried stone is generally blasted out which can create cracks and fissures in the stone
 that can be exacerbated by the freeze thaw process in future years.
The stone can be scratched, marred or broken by the loading and unloading,
and it may take years for the stone to achieve a patina from oxidation.
There are also environmental concerns that may put off many people.

The other stone that is used locally is a sandstone with moss from about 50 mi. away
which is collected off the surface of the ground disturbing vast acres of the landscape.
This is much more expensive stone although the aged look of the moss can be quite attractive, 
unless the moss dies from the disruption.

I prefer the quarried stone for its location, cost, availability, 
and it keeps the environmental disruption localized to the quarry site.
The tradeoff is that hopefully the stone will provide many years of preventing erosion,
and stabilizing the soil in the project area,
 and providing habitat for numerous insects, reptiles, and small animals.

As soon as I can I start to spread the pile out and create avenues for access. 
I didn't have a lot of area to spread out for this project so I was very limited.

The first thing I do in sorting the stone is to create piles of ruble
 that have no value as face stones and will be used as the hearting - 
the stone fill hidden in the back of the wall which I use a lot of.

The trick here is to have the skill to look at a stone and see if it has a flat face
 (the part you see in a finished wall) 
and has enough length to extend into the wall behind that face. 
This is hard to explain and when we get to the post on actually building the wall
 we will look at this further, with examples.

I sort stones by size or shape, creating piles of say flat stones
 in one place and long rectangles in another.
Potential steps that are smooth on the top and thick and heavy are set aside.
If I select a stone that I think is what I am looking for but I find it won't work,
I don't just throw it back, I place it in the appropriate pile.
I also am making mental notes of what is where so I can go right to it when I need it.

With all the emphasis on sorting, the counterweight to that 
is not to pick up or move stone any more than you need to. 
It is backbreaking work, don't make it harder!

For this type of work a strong sense of geometry and organizational skills are important. 
You want to use each stone to fully utilize its best characteristics.
In building a stone wall I hope I'm taking the chaos of a pile of stone
 and creating order in the resulting wall.

In first tackling a new pile I find it best to use the stone that are most available 
and easily accessible first as you whittle the pile down and gain better access to the rest of the stone.
These stones may not be the ones you want for the wall section you are working on.
This means having a flexible work plan
 with different sections of wall to work on needing different types of stone.   
I try to use a stone to its best use and maximum potential.

Above I am working the pile down as I use the stone and spreading it out as I go.
If I had the room I would spend more time sorting and creating paths for the hand trucks.

Moving the large stones above is where the pry bar comes in handy,
and I am looking for places in the base of the wall for these monsters.
You don't want to try and lift them up into the wall.

For medium size to large stones try to avoid picking them up and walking with them.
Use the hand truck, pry bar, or move them along the ground.

As the pile gets smaller I can see stones better
 and I can get enough room to turn them over to look for the best face.
Of course the selection goes down.

In the photo above I am about half way through the project 
and I now have good access down the hill and to more areas where I can work on the various walls.
After more than about 50' from the pile to the work area,
it becomes increasingly difficult to look for stone and get them to the wall. 
It is best to plan your site well.

When carrying large stones on the hand truck proceed carefully going down hill
as you have no brakes and the hand truck can easily get out of control with the weight!

I like to get the area behind the walls filled in with earth as soon as I can
 to create a better, safer work area 
and to get the fill tamped in by working over the area.

In the next post we will start to build the walls and take a look at whether foundations are needed.

The posts to date in this continuing series are: