Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hand Spans

Last Saturday and Sunday many hands got together to acquire more dry stone walling skills by building together a small double-arched dry stone bridge which I designed as a workshop project for heritage masonry instructor, John Scott's students at Algonquin College in Perth Ontario.

The exercise was fun as well as challenging. Decisions had to be made concerning the specific structure, the best proportions and shape for such a bridge to accommodate the many hands that would be working on it at one time, the actual size of the project, whether the kind of local random limestone material that had been provided (which was donated by Tackaberry Quarry) had enough variety of shapes and sizes to build such a structure, whether enough corner stones would be found in the mix and/or if not whether this rough bubbly type of limestone could be adequately shaped to provide enough good corner stones for the double set of vousoirs we would need.

We had to consider the time frame too, taking into account both the weather and whether the project suited the varying skill levels of participants ( some returning graduates, some first year traditional masonry students) The whole thing seemed like a great stretch; a great leap of faith. Though we would not be bridging any water, we would be bridging a big gap of uncertainty and apprehension. There was an element of risk . Not that there was any physical risk, but there was a healthy 'concern' for doing it right and having a successful structural, good-looking bridge as a finished project (rather than just giving ourselves the opportunity of improving our walling skills) and this kept us very focussed for the full two days.

Hands got bashed. They got muddy. They got wet and sweaty even in the gloves they were wearing. They got worn out carrying and gripping and hammering. They lifted heavy stones and struggled to place them precisely. They got pinched and scraped. They were called upon to fit securely thousands of hearting stones too. They were required to constantly feel the contours of spaces and cavities to interpret the proportions and send messages to our brains as to the shapes of the specific stones that were needed.

They got confident placing each rock in such a way that it didn't !

They acquired new skills to wedge vousoirs, pin interior vault stones and fit horizontal stones into the radiating angles of arch stones. They performed their tasks well. And then our hands celebrated by getting their arms to wave them excitedly at the camera.

My hands are tired now. They want to curl up and go to sleep.


  1. Awesome project John. Let's do it again tomorrow! Thanks for your passion, faith, and concern for Perth nightlife! Always a pleasure working with you.