01 May 2014

The Art of Dry Stone Walls

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In the early years of my apprenticeship, in England, I was given to a waller to train for 1 year. This is the name that refers to people who know the ancient engineering principles and practices that make dry stone walls (walls without mortar). It has been known for centuries that mortarless walls are super strong flexible structures that are both attractive and practical. They have no bonding materials other than the skill of the stonemason linking every part of the wall intrinsically, relying on each and every stone for the bond. There are many of these structures around the world and they outlast all bonded structures such as mortared brickwork and concrete walls.

Dry stone retaining walls can eliminate erosion from slopes whilst letting water drain slowly and evenly through them, acting as large drains. Because of their ability to do this they are also useful in the irrigation of the terraces they form producing healthy plant environments, whether visually or practically. Arches and bridges, without mortar, have been around in Ireland and England for many hundreds of years and become more structurally sound over time because the sheer weight and bonding style causes them to tighten as they age.

Sometimes cattle, people or accidents will tear off parts of the wall and they are much easier to repair than concrete or mortared walls, simply because they have no shear factor. That is to say they cannot be broken of in large sections only individually, as loose stones. As a result, the repair of such damage is relatively simple and inexpensive, if done by a skilled waller.

Another attractive feature occurs with age. After a couple of year the aging process beautifies the look as if they have been around forever. Drywalls are also excellent vertical gardens which you can plant succulents and perennials into the cracks forming a beautiful vertical garden.

I have conducted many workshops demonstrating the art of Walling and I always seen the satisfaction in the eyes of the people who get it, ending up with a structure that will be there long after they are gone. Many of the people who take my courses are retired and not necessarily strong physically. However, it doesn’t require superhuman strength to make stone walls; it does require a certain sense regarding the use of your own body and its limits. More importantly an exploration into the physics and mechanics of lifting weighty objects and putting them gently into place. This aspect of building takes a short time to learn, but the techniques required to build a beautiful and stable wall takes a lifetime to fully understand the full capabilities of this ancient art.

This year we will be training people, through workshops, on drywall building skills. Please watch this post for more information on how to sign up and when we will be conducting these classes.



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