Stone Age: Simple Stone Projects
Working with stone is an age-old craft that is very satisfying. A stone project has a sense of immortality. Many stone buildings, walls, walks and fences are centuries old. Stone can be used around your own home to build long-lasting and beautiful projects such as patios, a garden walk, steps, a retaining wall, flowerbeds, or even a building. Stone blends in with almost any decor, from traditional to formal to rustic. Although the basic stonework used for these types of projects is fairly simple, the chore of working with stone is not easy. In fact, it can be backbreaking work. It’s important not to lift too much and to use your entire body, not your back, when lifting. It’s also important not to do too much in a day’s time, especially if your body isn’t used to heavy, physical labor.
Many old-time stone projects were made from stones picked up from fields, hillsides or creek beds, and the availability of stone on the property was usually the reason for the stone projects. Most homeowners these days will have to purchase stone for their projects. Several different types of stone are available including granite, limestone, marble, slate, flagstone, sandstone, gneiss and tap rock. Stone is also available as fieldstone, rubble stone or quarried stone. Fieldstone consists of rocks in their natural shape, and the wide variety of shapes and colors can add to informal stone projects.
Quarried stone is cut and shaped, and is used in more formal projects. Cut stone is slabbed at the quarry, but the face is left natural. A good example is slate or flagstone for patios or walks. Rubble stone is the pieces left over from blasting and cutting the cut stone. Ashlar stone pieces are cut on all sides to create a formal pattern. The face of ashlar is also cut or faceted in a decorative manner. This type of stone is seen on many churches and commercial buildings. Naturally the most expensive stone is ashlar, quarried stone; fieldstone and rubble (respectively) are the most economical.
Because of the cost of shipping, the choices of stone may be limited in some areas. It’s wise to visit local stone yards before you plan a project and determine the choices available. Stone is sold by the cubic yard. To figure the amount of stone you will need, figure the cubic volume in feet by multiplying the length times the width times the height. Then divide the cubic feet in the project by 27 to determine the cubic yards needed. If purchasing cut stone, add 10 percent for breakage and waste. With rubble stone, which is not graded but purchased by the bulk, you will need 25 percent more. In most instances you will have the stones delivered, but if transporting them yourself, do not overload your vehicle.
Regardless of building a wall, patio or walk, try to pick stones that have flat, fairly square sides. Round or cannon ball stones are hard to deal with. They don’t stay in place when dry laid, and are also hard to secure with mortar. Once the stones are delivered, sort them into piles of different sizes, shapes and colors. This will make designing your project easier.
Stonework requires only a few tools. You’ll need heavy leather gloves, goggles, a tape measure, a sharp bladed trowel, a stonemason’s hammer and chisel. For mortared projects, you’ll also need a wheelbarrow, mortar shovel and hoe, or powered mixer. For flat projects such as walks and patios, you need stakes and string. For walls you’ll need stakes, string, a level and a plumb bob.
Stone is laid either dry or mortared. Following are a few sample projects.
Dry-Laid Garden Walk
A dry-laid walk is one of the easiest projects. The walk can be created with cut stones for a formal pattern or with fieldstones for an informal pattern. Two construction methods can be used. The first method is to cut the turf to the shape of the individual stones, digging the soil down to level each stone and positioning them level with each other. The second method is to outline the walk with stakes and string, cut away the sod, place pressure-treated 2 x 4′s or landscaping timbers on either side, and place the stones down flat with the side timbers. Then fill in around the stones with sand.