Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hand Evaluations.

A Scotish farmer and a waller go out into a field on a cold morning to discuss some walls that need repairing. Their eyes and their hands look at the work that needs to be done. Their hands tell the story.

They point at the various gaps where the wall has fallen down. The length of the span that will have to be taken down either side of each gap is described in the arc of the wave of their hands. The pile of stones they will use to do the job is pointed to and considered. The route by which the stones will be brought to where they will be needed is conveyed by hand. The hands describe how they will do the work, and how difficult it will be, and in their gestures they try to comprehend how much it will all cost.

Then the hands warmup in the pockets of the coats of the men who now walk silently down the fence row until they need to speak again concerning more sections to be repaired.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Stone Poem

Photo by John Shaw-Rimmington
The stones are stored in winter, stowing
Amidst the cold of winter snowing
All froze and braced 'gainst fiercest blowing
And hard they lay but hardly knowing.

They're past, they're left in blankest bleakness
Neath draughts of blasts they lay there sleepless
As proud as they are cold and speechless
In frozen brooding heaps of gneisses.

All huddled they like rocks a-herding
And bound to each inert exerting
Locked deep within and never turning
Lines of stone in toneless wording.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

All the Wall's a Stage.

Simon Scott is an actor friend of Norman who lives in Creiff. He has often helped Norman in the past doing hearting. At the invitation of Norman he came along with us on Thursday to help us work and finish up the last stage of the wall Norman had been building at a country estate on and off over the last 3 months.

Speaking of the ' last stage' and 'working on the wall', Simon actually played the 'wall' in the Rose Theatre Company's production of Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night dream in London last year. The play was directed by Sir Peter Hall and Dame Judy Dench played Titania, queen of the fairies, which she first played with the same director in 1962..

Simon acted the part Snout, a talking wall which divided the two lovers in the play within the play.

In the same interlude it doth befall

That I one Snout, by name present a wall

And such a wall, as I would have you think,

That had in it a crannied hole or chinks.

There was a small celabration at the end of the project with drinks and snacks which many of the client's neighbours attended. Caroline made a special 'wall cake' and provided sparklers for the kids. A bottle was placed in the wall with a note commemorating the building of the wall in it.

Simon's final lines in the play were..

'Thus have I, wall, my part discharged so;

And being done, Wall away doth go.'

Simon might perhaps have recited this when from the property, where at, we did construct the wall, we then did make our final exit.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Turf top coping for dry stone walls is dug by hand.

Norman Haddow explained to me about how he cuts sod for the tops of the many walls he has built and repaired in Glen Lyon Scotland. We have been repairing a gap in a wall near Innerwick Village all day yesterday and tomorrow we hope to complete the repair and put the clumps of sod across the top of the dyke to hod the stones down. Later I hope to post the video of the completion of this project.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Discussion over walls.

The interesting thing about walling is that within the physical universe as we know it, (even reduced to the simplest of disciplines, that of humbly laying only stones upon stones so as to maximize their connectivity) there are fundamental disagreements amongst walling experts as to how it is to be done. You would think by now people would have reached a universal consensus discussing such things as basic to walling as...

- coursing versus non-coursing (random) and also diagonal patterns

- slight outward versus inward leaning of individual stones in a wall

- graduation of sizes of stones from top to bottom

- imperative requirement of throughstones

- type and depth of foundation

- existence and degree of batter

- shaping stones versus not shaping

- most practical style (flat or vertical) , and lean (or not) of coping

- specifications concerning the thickness and proper construction of dry stone retaining walls

Even accounting for variations of rock types and geography there are still many differences of opinion about how the science of walling is to be understood. Apparently even after thousands of years of fitting stones together we can't agree. All over this stoney planet there are so many examples of differing styles, and differing explanations for the principles at work, that 'breaking down' why certain piles of stone stones 'stay up' better than others, still remains very much a mystery.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Central Scotland AGM

Speaking of AGMs, I was asked back in September to speak at the Central Scotland Branch of the DSWA at their branch AGM which was held last Sunday afternoon. We had to drive 3 hours straight from the main AGM meeting of the DSWA to Perth to attend this branch meeting.

It was good to see some familiar faces and share with them some of the exciting things that have been happening in Canada since I spoke there last nearly three years ago. I was able to show photos of the recent dry stone wall festival we held last October in Ontario as well as pictures of similar events in Washington and California. DSWA secretary Kate Armstrong wrote me today to say that some of the members expressed an interest in arranging some sort of public event along the lines of Rocktoberfest next year or possibly in 2012.

The dry stone bridge built during Canada's first Rocktoberfest in 2004 at Port Hope Ontario

It is great to see how our organizations like ours in Canada, and the Stone Foundation and Marenakos in the States, can benefit from foundational walling knowledge provided by such organizations as the DSWA and then be able to put a new spin on it which then becomes the catalyst for new developments in promoting the craft back in Britain.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The light hand of the plowman and the waller

Welcome to 'Thinking With My Hands' -Where fingers can sometimes convey more than words.

Norman Haddow and I drove by a plowing match near Perth last Sunday. We stopped and watched for a while and I took several photos of a pair of horses pulling a plow. I marveled at the team in this video responded to the subtle messages sent through the reins from the man walking behind the plow. He held the leather lines in the baby fingers of each hand. 'Plowman's Pinky' is an expression used to describe the finger control used to guide the horses along the furrow in this traditional type of plowing. It is interesting to watch and to imagine how quiet and satisfying it must be to control large animals like these with such a subtle means of communication. It's also quite a contrast to hear all the tractors at the plowing match in the background buzzing like a bunch of wasps.

Above is a photo of Norman Haddow's hand. It is the hand of a full time dyker. Norman tells me the permanent curl in the baby finger is from holding the walling hammer too tightly over many years of shaping stones and breaking up hearting. Is this perhaps a wallers pinky? Norman told me it has been caused by 'trauma to the tendons'. He says he maybe learned a little too late in his career how important it is to 'Let the hammer do the work' .

His son Duncan once asked him what colour he thinks of when he's breaking stones.

Norman answered "Red".

Duncan said, "Try thinking blue or yellow".

The plowman and the waller work the field. They leave earth and stones in rows upon the land. Their hands take the material of the past and shape the future. In both strength and gentleness the horse and hammer learn their work. Their knowledge is received through hands which lightly hold them all day long.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The DSWA AGM meeting 'Held' last weekend.

The DSWA of UK has been an inspirational organization for many of us in North America. It has been the model for much of what we have been doing here in Canada for the last 9 years, as we have endevoured to 'uphold' their walling standards and techniques as well as inviting skilled British wallers to attend many of our DSWAC events. We have also kept a close association with them in terms of bringing over competent DSWA instructors to impliment their Craftsman Certification Scheme as a standard for all testing of wallers who come to us to get their intermediate and beginner levels of accreditation.

Two days ago Norman Haddow and I attended the DSWA annual general meeting in Otterburn near Newcastle in Northumbria. I had the priviledge of meeting up with some very good friends and a number of very talented wallers who arrived for the two day event from all over Britain. Each district had a display with pictures of the impressive activities that they had been involved with throughout this year. Among those attending was Lord and Lady Cavenedish. Lord Cavendish, who has been the president of the DSWA for the last three years opened the meeting with an address which for me encapsulated the level of co-operation and respect that could be seen amongst all those who attended. I have included some excerpts from that speech.

May I say how grateful my wife and I are to be invited here this afternoon: it is such a pleasure to be amongst you again.
What a privilege it is to be in this spectacular part of England. I would also like to thank most warmly the Northumberland Branch for hosting this week end.
Speaking of privileges, I feel it is a genuine honour to hold an office in this distinguished association.
As I enter my third year as your president, I reflect perhaps with a twinge of guilt, that I have had only pleasure and interest from this Association and no hassle at all.
This is not always the lot of Presidents who are supposed to stay in the background until something goes wrong. I can tell you I have had my fair share of things going wrong with other organizations...but not his one.
Nor is this a matter of chance. Experience teaches us that everything can and will go wrong unless there are people who labour tirelessly and with utter commitment to ensure that things go right.
I think therefore it is right to salute those who not just give their officers an easy ride but who make and keep the whole association healthy and bring a sense of vitality.
At the bottom of your program appear the words "Keeping walling alive"; how brilliantly that aspiration has been filled.
Perhaps very many people can take credit for this state of affairs; it goes without saying that we are hugely indebted to the retiring Chairman Richard Love.

In the year in which so much has happened and with memories of a wonderful International Convention still fresh in our minds, I would like to say a tremendous thank you to the permanent staff.
To Allison who has, I believe been absolutely central to the success of the association and personally a great help to me.
Supporting Allison and again pivotal to the smooth running of the office at Crooklands are Helen and Shirley.
Our warmest thanks to you both....
One final thought.
Remembering the participants at the convention who seemed to range from hands-on dry stone wallers to poets and philosophers, I thought Ii would Google dry stone walling poetry; nor was I disappointed. Perhaps you all know this rhyme by Pam Ayers:
It seems to have an element of self-parody and went like this:

I am a dry stone waller
All day I dry stone wall
Of all appalling callings
Dry stones walling's worst of all

I should like to close on a rather charming observation of the poet Alice Oswald who compared her writing to the process of dry stone walling:-

"...finding discreet blocks of words and jamming them together to make something."
The guest speaker for the Saturday meeting was Derek Proudlock, Southern Area Manager for Nothumberland National Park. His talk included an impressive analysis of the historical and structural elements of Hadrian's Wall, part of which goes through a section of this beautiful park.

Norman Haddow talks with Andy Loudon at the recent DSWA AGM dinner in Otterburn.
Andy has just returned from a three week visit to Canada

Later there was a special dinner to which some of the guests, like Sean Adcock and Brenda attended in very formal attire. Sean is the president of the North Wales branch of the DSWA and publishes an informatiuve quarterly magazine dealing with just about every aspect of dry stone walling around the world called Stonechat. I hope to do a special article about him and the magazine in an upcoming blog entry.

Monday, November 22, 2010

la Rock et la Science

Dry stone walling is not rocket science. It is a science however and it does involve rocks. In fact it is probably the most basic of sciences. It breaks down the concept of structure into the simplest elements the way the science of logic examines the process of reasoning. By analyzing how logic works and breaking it down so as to only allow well-defined statements, using inductive and deductive arguments, a basis is established for understanding the nature and structure of formal and symbolic logic.

By experimenting with heavy random-shaped three-dimensional objects and analyzing how they can be stacked and fit together best so as to make a durable, reasonably permanent structure, and then applying that knowledge, by building free-standing walls of stone, we are doing the same thing. (without using any mortar of course) We are understanding informal structure.

It's like we are enrolled in a kind of interactive hands-on science course, studying (at the most elementary level) the physicsof how the shape and size of random objects are affected by gravity and friction in their placement relative to each other. Where else but in dry stone walling can physics be broken down this way? By beginning to understand the workings of something this basic, for me at least, the universe seems more reliable, more predictable; not less magical or even less complex, but somehow just a little less intimidating, and a little more 'logical'.

By contrast, just imagine the scientific complexities engineers have to deal with in trying to formulate the physics of what happens when you introduce cement mortar to the mix.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Can't put my finger on it.

While the weather in Scotland (according to Norman Haddow's previous warning emails) had been very wet and cold leading up to my trip, the day before yesterday was beautiful sunny and warm here in Crieff. We had come this morning to a lovely farm property to work on the last section of a new garden wall near Auchterarder that he was finishing up, one which he had been been building on his own for several weeks . When we arrived early Friday the sun had started to separate the morning mist into layers and the light was catching both sides of the wall giving it a strange realer-than-life look to it.

I had the pleasure of working with Norman for the better part of that day at that site in ideal conditions. We put our hands to the task, comparing building methods, joking, discussing the plans for the rest of the two weeks I will be here in Scotland, and working for periods too in silence, just soaking in the pleasure of being alive. I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasnt a dream. It is at times like these you can't imagine there is anything better in life than simply building walls with stones. If there is, I can't put my finger on what it is.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Depressed and Yet Happy

Akira Inman is tightening up the brackets that hold the Platon down on the dry stone replica of the Scotish Blackhouse roof built in Grand Valley Ontario during our 2009 DSWAC Rocktoberfest.

This plastic sheeting is a described as a tough waterproof 'double dimpled' high density waterproof membrane that keeps soil away from house foundations. It provides the surface over the planking for us to build the wooden framing on and to then put the soil into so that we can plant the green material, probably chives, thyme and various Sedum. In this case the dimples create some friction for the roots to grab on to, and an air space between the roof and the membrane, to allow air between the damp soil and the wooden sheathing so that the wood doesn't rot.

By the end of last weekend , before I left for Scotland, we had finished applying the layers of membrane and box framing so that we are now ready for adding soil and green roof material. We were 'doubly pleased' to have got it done before the rain moved in.

It's funny about dimples. They are a depression that appears when one smiles. : )

Friday, November 19, 2010

Wall Hopping

My first day in Scotland involved some jumping around. Norman picked me up from the airport and we hopped off to see some very interesting walls including two horse jumps near Auchterarder that he built nearly ten years ago.

They were surprisingly still in very good condition. It's one thing for a wall to look good after it's been exposed to all the effects of time and weather, but quite another to be subjected to being jumped over by horses every day as well, and also crazy Canadians, every now and then. These jumps looked in mint condition. Now that's something.

I said to Norman that this was either a tribute to his wall making skills or an indication of the calibre of horses that were jumping the walls.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Meeting up with Norman

I'm off to Scotland to meet up with my friend and fellow waller, Norman Haddow, to work on some projects. He has warned me in a recent email that it's cold and wet and muddy where he is right now. (predictable Scottish weather) Like banging your head against a wall, it gives one a opportunity to feel incredibly good to stop doing it for the day, and come inside and get warm and dry again.

I am bringing a raincoat and gloves and overalls and a lot of changes of clothes. Several of my work pants are pretty well worn so that I probably wont have to bring them back when I hop over the pond again.

Speaking of hopping, here is a picture of I took of Norman in 2003, hopping over a wall. We had been driving around looking at some of the dry stone walls he had repaired the previous year when he noticed that one of the Ben Vorlich copes had disappeared from the new repair and needed replacing. She literally needed merely re-placing.

Norman had guessed right that the missing cope stone was still there, lying in the ground behind the wall, below where she had been knocked or perhaps yanked out of the wall. He jumped over the 'new wall to meet her' and after putting her back in place, hopped back over the wall. A quick fix, and we were on our way.

It all seemed not unlike the minor delay we air passengers experienced today sitting on the runway. The co-pilot radioed ground control about a missing contol, they found the 'new altimeter' and a flight technician speedily fastened it back in place.

A quick fix and we were on our way. Oh that everything were that simple.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Every foot taken by hand.

John Henry replaced the long wooden fence he had taken down on the neighbour's side with a long dry stone wall. He started the great Rappahannock wall as he calls it early in 2007 and called me in to help him get him 'over the hill' early in October of that same year.

It was like military assignment. He told me he needed reinforcements because the task was starting to look so daunting and he couldn't see how he was going to get it done without help. I told him it might have been a little less of a Marathon if he hadn't designed it to be so freakishly wide. He replied that he liked the proportions and wanted the wall to be different from any others in the area. We worked for seven days side by side on it together.

He recounted later that having us come and help him to give him a hand 'over the hump' turned out to be a clever strategic move, as John by then had acquired the momentum as well as the skill he needed to go on and finish the rest of the wall the next year. I forget how many feet the wall actually is in total, but you get some sense of the scale of it from the photo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Too much stone not to handle.

John Henry obviously loved stone and was beginning to get excited about what things he could do with it on his new property in Virginia. Having me build a dry stone wall for him was an option he began toying with.

He had one very old crumbled down dry stone wall there which I had admired when he first showed me around his the re-landscaped landscape. ( John had already done some major earthworks on the property)

I was really surprised and excited to see dry stone walls at all in this part of the country. I had known about and seen many of the dry stone walls of New England and Tennessee but had no idea how many there were in Virginia. It was amazing. They were all over Rappahannock county, beautiful old walls made of local stone and with lots of interesting styles and features. It seems strange that so few people seem to know about these walls and that to my knowledge no books have been written about them.

It wasn't long before John started really really appreciating the beauty of traditional looking dry stone walls as well. He wondered how much stone he would need to build the nearly eight hundred feet of wall he had decided to build along south side of his property. I told him we need a lot. A lot!

At first he was sure he could get it cheaply from somewhere locally but after realized there was not enough stone available except if he trucked it in from another state. He came up with another idea. He began digging again.

After several months of having an excavator full time on his own property he wrote to tell me he had uncovered and dislodged enough bedrock and loose stone material to do the job. It turned out he had not only enough to replace the 800 feet of fence but also two other massive stone projects on the property as well.

I kept getting cryptic email messages about how it was going.

It went something like this. - We have tons and tons of stones. We've started building a practice wall through the forest along the northern boundary of the property. I don't want to do the south wall until I get better at building.

The next letter went - The wall is coming along fine. It has started to get wide. I kind of like it.

Another letter left me wondering what was going on. - The wall is about 10 or 12 feet wide now in parts and is taking up a lot of material. It's a good thing I have lots of it.

I checked with him if he didn't mean 10 or 12 feet long?

"Nope , in fact it must be nearly 30 feet wide now along one part and I figure that I wont fill it in but sort of let it have a kind of rounded open area in the middle of the wall. The wall has a few of these enclosed areas now along its length.

I couldn't imagine what he was talking about.

Then he showed me pictures.
I was amazed.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Angle of repose

My first contact with John Henry was over the phone. He called out of the blue and was looking for perfectly rounded stones. He was calling me from Washington DC because he'd found the DSWAC on Google and figured being a Canadian organization we would know where there were big round glacial dinosaur egg stones for his wall he was building behind his house. I had actually that day come across a whole quarry pile of them, and had thought to myself ''well, I dont think I'll be using those in a wall any day soon." I told him about them.

To make a long story short, we we met up about two months later when he flew in to Toronto for a visit. We hand picked a truckload of the smoothest roundest ones we could find and he sent them back to the states. He told me he wasn't into flat stones or traditional battered walls. He focused on fitting these more rounded stones into pyramid shaped walls stacking them at the 'angle of repose'. ( The 'batter' or 'grade' that piled stones or dirt or sand settle at naturally. I had to admit his walls looked beautiful.

Most of his round stones came from rivers and oceans and later ( with my assistance) from glaciers ( the glaciers themselves, he pointed out seem to have favoured Canada and were too stingy to drag them all the way down to Washington where he needed them).

His garden in Washington DC (seen in the top picture) uses these bigger round stones, mostly glacier boulders from the Canadian Shield. The boulders weigh between quarter of a ton to more than a ton. John explains that "Frozen rivers (glaciers) can make much bigger stones round than rivers or oceans " which were all he had to work with in his area.

By contrast most of the stones in this beautiful semi-circle wall in Rappahannock County (above) which I photographed when I went there to do some stonework, he had built later on his newly purchased property. They were all under 50 lbs.

John has since 'got religion' as he explained it, and moved on to doing some magnificent steeper battered, more traditional dry laid work, using gritty random shaped local Blue Mountain stone. Apparently after having worked alone, and then with me for a while, he then got the bug to push the envelope even more and has gone on to some amazing stuff. I hope to have an opportunity to tell you about that, later this week.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Beyond Lego

Lego structures are fun to build. Part of the satisfaction comes from their fitting so well due to their regular patterned shapes and their snapping together so easily.

It would be quite another thing to have to build something with the very random-shaped plastic pieces in the picture above. The irregularity of each piece (certainly the fact that they would no longer snap together) would make it a difficult challenge to stack them together at all. For a dry stone waller, using these warped-shaped pieces would be closer to what it's like working with real stones.

Using these 'morphed' legos as representative of stone shapes, let's try to analyze what we can do with them.

Any attempt at wall building might better be accomplished by orienting the distorted plastic lego pieces on an angle or clustering similar shaped pieces together in less common curved patterns perhaps. Coursing along straight rows, in the typical lego fashion, might not be the way to go at all unless of course you filed them all down or melted them back to flat and boxy shapes again.

Thinking about having to build using this extreme kind of building material puts the emphasis on the fundamentals of 'what is structure'. Rather than reducing things to snap-together shapes or standard configurations, we have to force ourselves to think about how random three-dimensional objects can be arranged in order to build with them and why certain 'rules' don't always apply.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Jake Sandison

April 24th 2010

Fall 2010

Jake Sandison is a professor at Loyalist College in Belleville Ontario. He has taken two or three dry stone wall courses with me and is now an avid fan of building walls without mortar.

His main project is a folly he has been building on and off for the last two years in his back yard.

He writes...."This is a garden wall feature that is in the form of 2 "L" shaped walls, joined in the middle with an arched opening. It is west facing to block the prevailing winds (which we get a great deal of) from the garden plants. It is made from a variety of local fieldstone. The dimensions of: height, width and the various inside and outside lengths of both the long and short segments of the walls correspond to months and days of our family's (myself, my wife and 2 boys) birthdays and anniversary. It is truly a family wall. There is currently crushed brown limestone that continues the footprint of the wall to form a rectangle. I will bed flat stone into this limestone so that it looks like a foley perhaps...that this wall and arch is the remnant from an old building.
I am not overly happy with the cheek ends in the arch way opening... I was trying to do little to no shaping of the stone - but I am going to disassemble down to a course or two off the ground (just at the opening) and shape the stone all the way up (including the voissors and keystone). It may not look quite as natural...but I will sacrifice the look in this case for safety.

I think one of my next projects will be a stone school bus shelter for my boys out at the end of the driveway… I think I will be using limestone for that one"

Nov 2010

Jake emailed me a photo (above) of his nearly completed project yesterday. It just needs an arch and vertical coping. He goes on to tell the story of the amusing super-hero who is building the wall and despite evil foes ( not to mention old man winter ) he intends to complete it sometime in April 2011

"When we last left our hero... he had been battling his "arch" enemy, the evil Corporal Concrete and his sidekick, Private Pressure-Treated from the planet Fakescape. It has been a gruelling battle... if it wasn't for the assistance of Dr. Fieldstone... our hero might not have made it this far (strictly a "plutonic" relationship). He still has not been able to "cope" with the circumstances completely. However, it is a common "sediment" that Concrete and Pressure-treated will not prevail here and it would be "igneous" to think otherwise. With "heart" and determination, our "battered" hero will be the "keystone" to a "metamorphic" revolt against the powers of manufactured Fakescape everywhere. Tune in April 2011 for the season finale... check your local listings
The previous has been a sad example of just how long this winter is going to be for those of us who like to drystack stone... hang in there everyone."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Handling the essential.

Andy Goldsworthy wall in Palo Alto California. ( with sawn copes)

There is an expression that 'speed is of the essence'. In walling it means you may on a rare occasion, say on shaping a piece of thick coping, have to put down your hammer and chisel and get out the gas powered stone saw. Its not nice but sometimes you have to do it. It's noisy. It's dusty. It's hazardous and if you do too much of it you start to lose 'affinity' with the stone. To have to be in a position where you are having to resort to the saw a lot leaves a person numb to the 'essential' nuances and pleasures of working with your hands with stone. The essence of your work even if measured merely in productivity is not just an inverse function of how little time you had to do it in. Meanwhile the 'essence' of time or lack thereof, must not be replaced by the smell of gasoline. The French curiously enough seem to have sensed a bit of a connection here as their word for gas is essence.

One should not have to get in a mode where rushing is the only option. Walling is not only about economy of movement and maintaining quality of workmanship, it is about keeping your options open. As you get faster at walling you still maintain a diversity of choices and movement. To become more proficient at your craft and faster at it is certainly part of the pleasure. The whole thing becomes something like a dance. Sometimes it is a slow dance but other times when you're in the zone it is dazzlingly fast. It is efficiency, but the speed is not obtained out of desperation nor the effectiveness measured in compromise. If I am confronted by a stone that's not right, or that is giving me a problem, I may choose to fix things by bringing out my hammer (and chisel if necessary) and shaping it or breaking it up for hearting. I have the option too to think of it as a 'problem-solver' and put it aside and trust there is somewhere else later I can use it. Or I might not use it at all. The essential thing is appreciating what I do isn't all about speed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lego to the rescue.

Like the dry stone method, building walls or repairing walls with brightly coloured Lego might not be that crazy. It makes it possible to build with a certain amount of flare and flexibility. More importantly, if you have to, you can take your work down whenever someone in authority comes along and tells you it's in the wrong place or that it's a safety hazard.

Concrete cement is less useful. It smears, cracks and is more dangerous when it falls off . And if it doesn't fall off, it clings so hard to surfaces that to chip it off (to repair the damage it's done to brick and stone) is almost impossible. , Plus, if those in charge were really honest, compared to Legos, it is really much more of an aesthetic 'hazard'.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Re-moving a hazard

Some friends of mine have decided to move from their old place in the country to a newer place, but still in the country. Last year we built them a beautiful 40 foot wall, so when I heard they were moving I jokingly asked if they were going to take it with them. He wrote back to say.

"As a matter of fact, the wall is coming with us! Had a running argument
with the roads crew @ the county in the late summer that culminated in a
written demand to remove the "hazard" or they would have it removed at our
expense. By that time we had an idea that we would be moving, so we
decided to take the wall down and store it. A couple of young lads and I
stripped it down one day in September. Sometime in the next two weeks I
will be moving the stones to the new property. We will rebuild it next
year. Very discouraging work to take down such a beautiful wall (kept
thinking of the opening lines in that Clash tune: "Breaking rocks in the hot
sun/I fought the law and the law won"), but we're giving it a much better

It seems appropriate (and perhaps ironic) to post this moving wall story on the anniversary of the Berlin wall coming down Nov 9th 1989.

Monday, November 8, 2010

'Knuckle'-brained/cracker of an idea.

Where do crazy off-the-wall ideas come from?

Do they come from associations? Or do they come from disassociations?

Do they come from having a positive outlook, or a really critical mind?
Do they come from experimentation, or merely returning to the same predictable process?
Are they the result of maintaining and appreciating relationships, or just ignoring them?
Are creative ideas merely frivolous concepts unless they are utilized and exploited?
Are they any more likely to come to people who let things go than to those who hang on to hurt feelings and brood?
Are they gifts, inspirations that we are thankful for and acknowledge, or just something we steal from somewhere else and don't bother mentioning?
If ideas come from within, what effect does our own personality have on how they come out?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

White Magic

The famous white squirrel who has been a resident of Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto for many years was spotted at dawn admiring the new dry stone bell over by the park bench.

There was barely a 'footprint' left.

He couldn't believe his eyes when the wallers dutifully took down the beautiful structure only hours after members of the DSWAC had built it, the night of the Nuit Blanche event, just last October. Luckily white squirrels have magic powers, so Whitey McRedeyes reversed time and made them put it all back up.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Handy Tool

Have you ever wanted to build walls like a REAL dry stone waller?
Are you TIRED of trying to shape stones all the time with one of those heavy metal chisels and a clumsy clump hammer?
Well now you don't have to bother time-consuming, labour-intensive 'swinging and smashing' of stones by hand any more.
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Friday, November 5, 2010

Dry Stone Wall Festival Epilogue and Epi-Blog

Hi there,

I had a great time watching people from the association build the stone
walls, arches, the bridge and brick oven at Landon Bay over Thanksgiving
weekend. I blogged about it; see the link below, which includes a YouTube
video of the form removal - a terrific moment!
Jessica Ross

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Stones Being 'Handed' a Supporting Role

Welcome to Thinking With My Hands where a picture is worth a thousand hand-thoughts.

Stone is such a lovely medium. It not only stands alone as a highly practical and beautiful building material, when used in conjunction with other things such as glass, steel and concrete it compliments them and accentuates their good qualities. The contrast between stone and more modern elements of construction make for very interesting visual effects.

Unlike these materials however, most stonework completed on a site, at any stage of the rest of a construction project, exists as the 'final product', in that the plaster, steel or wood and most of the other elements of a building project or landscape installation require covering, painting, preserving or protecting in some way before everything is finished, and this by contrast is done usually quite near to the end of a project.

Stonework, on the other 'hand', will get bumped and knocked by contractors, fireplaces and benches will get used during construction, new walls will provide support for other less finished elements of the project, and outside dry stone retaining walls will provide the finished 'base' for plantings and other landscape features, which otherwise could not be introduced on site . Any number of decorative functions are accommodated and assimilated by stone, which then humbly goes on doing the job while these things get finished, and it still goes on looking good after everything is done too.

This dry stone platform was completed yesterday. It will be the base for a special steel sculpture which after being fabricated will be installed on top. The sculpture will need to be welded together on site, secured properly, and then touched up so that it looks good.

Afterwards people will come and admire the sculpture.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Canadian Dryscaping Award

Sam Bauman was flattered, and a little surprised to be notified he won this year's Dryscaping Award. Sam was awarded a cheque for the amount of 300 dollars from the DSWAC as the Canadian winner in this year's category - Dry Stone Sculpture - for his 'floating teardrop' submission. The details of the competition, which ends each year on Thanksgiving Weekend at Roctoberfest was posted on the website explaining that the work had to be a dry stone sculpture of material, of any size, made of any natural stone material. It must have been built and/or completed in 2009 or 2010. The dry stone art installation had to be permanent.

I had an opportunity to see this sculpture in person when Sam and I worked together near Cambridge early last spring. He invited me back for dinner one evening. His unusual teardrop limestone structure which he built last year was sitting in the back yard suspended on a disk attached to a strong iron bar. The half ton structure actually sways in the breeze. I was quite amazed to see how strong and permanent it is but also how 'dismantleable' ( is that a word) it is as well. Sam was pleased to show me how it came apart.

Sam's experience in walling has come through trial and error and with working with other skilled wallers. Taking the typical route of landscapers, Sam started a lawn maintenance company at 14, with a $500 oil burning lawn tractor. His goal was always to get hired by a landscaping firm, which happened during his co-op term through high school. After working for the company for his first couple years out of high school, he had an opportunity to start a company with Mark Schwarz, which was about 5 years ago.

Since then, they have been pushing themselves to do better designs and use better and more creative construction materials. Through this process they have been incorporating drystone walls into some of their designs, and the clients have always been in love with the finished project. He finds great pleasure in working with such a rigid and stubborn material, because as he says, "when it's shaped the way I want, I am usually quite pleased with the unique look that is created."