Friday, December 31, 2010

Have you thanked a wall today?

Almost everywhere in the world you can find well built dry stone retaining walls and natural dry-laid stone terraces holding back piles and piles of dirt day after day, effectively preventing all manner of material from coming crashing down on to public and private property causing disastrous results. Walls of stone do this important work without so much as a murmur of protest or any detectable shift in loyalty. Unfortunately for the most part these structural 'stone warriors' are completely ignored.

Last week Maddy and I were pleased to come across this local initiative - an imaginative gesture of gratitude in recognition of the many years of 'support' this hard-working dry-laid wall has been providing along this busy sidewalk in downtown Toronto.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Many hands make night work.

It's just about time to Ring in the New year.

Here's a ten minute look at the ten hour Bell building event that went on in Toronto last October.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hand Shakes

Old section of wall along Mississauga Road

Old section of wall along Balsam Lake Road

A curious feature of a few older dry stone walls built in this part of Canada involves the use of hand split cedar shakes. They have been found inside the walls in two areas particularly, one along Mississauga Road near Bellfountain (using rounder glacial fieldstone granite) and the other around Balsam Lake near Kirkfield (using mostly flatter limestone). Remnants of old wooden shakes are often discovered as these walls are taken apart to be rebuilt.

I have never heard any waller referring to cedar being used nowadays or anytime in the past nor have I read about this sort of thing in any walling books. The actual reason for their being in the wall is not exactly clear. Presumably they were used like through-stones but why? There definitely seems to have been enough throughstones available, particularly up at Balsam Lake, but there is more evidence of through-shakes being used rather than throughstones in any place where cedar shake walls are discovered.

As it is unclear why the shakes were used, it is difficult to know how sympathetically walls like these can be rebuilt.

Below is a photo of a reconstructed section of the Mississauga Road wall where the waller has tried to build the wall using new strips of cedar . Sadly this new wall has many small exterior pin and shim stones in it as well and doesn't adequately address the problem of why or how cedar shakes should be used in dry stone wall construction.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It's all in the 'hand' release.

Tanks, but we don't need 'brooms' anymore. However when these new cylindrical curling stones are released they do go 'Barrrroooom' !

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Handy Gift-Wrapping

Festive ribbons of stone 'gift-wrap' the countryside
They tie the landscape into tidy bundles, looping the terrain in holiday cheer
The walls create an ever present, ever distant present
They decorate the grateful fields along their borders and well beyond
Charming lines, flowing strands, set in place long ago by gifted hands
A linear design upon the land
A medley of melodies laid out in stone
A mosaic created to explore the undulations of the earth
A sculptural contour-map
A tidy vista enveloping all in a lyrical tapestry
A hilly motif of borders, hedges, fencerows held in place by time and friction
I see an ordered pattern in these random tracts of stones
Shaped and dressed
Fitted and aligned and stacked
Endless gifts of a smiling-piling benefactor
In preparation for some future celebration of nature.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

StoneMad Men

StoneMadMen takes a gritty look at stoneworkers and their quirky, disputably tight-fitting society as well as many of the building blocks of their culture dating back from neolithic crimes to the advent of various social blogging operations, highlighting blatant photo-self-promotion, practical masonry (and joking), drinking, status seeking, voyeurism (ie. stone-porn) hobnobbing, robo-phobia, luddite-bashing, greenism and 'anti-cementism'. Smoking dusty power tools, far more commonly used in stonework now than they were, are featured throughout the series; many characters talk about their merits (as well as those of the power tools they use ) and can be seen using modern and large equipment in the courses of wall construction.

In the pilot, representatives of the walling community across N A come to well-known stone buff Stirling Clips, looking for him to start a new website in the wake of having enjoyed so many previous symposiums and wanting to have a follow-Op for wallers and masons who couldn't get to every stone-studded event. This will lead to the formation of a web forum where Madmen (and unfortunately very few Madwomen) hangout and discuss what they do and don't like about each other's work. Various health issues are touched on including veneer-eal disease, lung cancer, proper safety wear, tooling techniques, job opportunities, and upcoming stone-related events.

The show presents a subculture in which men who are normally engaged to their own lovely work now frequently enter relationships with other masons over the internet. It also observes the stone masonry subculture as a resource for creativity, socializing, time-wasting and friction. Along with each of these examples there are hints of future structural tensions and website changes. Anxiety about standardization, feather and plug use (specifically in one episode), and talk of granite being harmful to health (because of its natural uranium content and its worrying radioactive level) and other daily news items are usually dismissed briefly and then completely ignored as they scroll off the bottom of the audiences screen.

Characters in the show see the stirrings of change in the stone industry itself, with the advent of computerized stone construction (videos are posted) and fret about different ad campaigns creeping in advocating various Non-Madman-made structures and products. The lead character (and Madminister) a well-loved stone diplomat and a chisel-toting Man's-man is the main Madbassador for true masonry, lauding the nostalgic value of older stonework and the market potential for keeping the show going and the need to keep everyone from fighting with each other.

Themes of alienation, social immobility and ruthlessness also underpin the tone of the show. Several of the characters walk narrow scaffolding planks as they contemplate their rather humble unorthadox beginnings and the critical bureaucratic stance they have taken amidst the newly formed group of impressionable young masons. Others are often in danger of being asked to clean up their act, pay their dues and stay on topic, or risk being removed from the foundation's next season. At times,the StoneMad Men who work with stones seem quite oblivious to their faults and quirky inconsistencies, which interestingly enough the audience picks up on as they sign in to catch each new episode of Stone-Mad Mania.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

They're called Earthgates on the moon!

A 'Moongate' we built two summers ago.

They're called Eathgates on the moon........

I wonder what an eclipse would look like through a dry stone 'earthgate' on the moon?

Monday, December 20, 2010

iMovie eClips

Inspired by the exciting news that tomorrow's winter solstice will coincide with the full eclipse of the moon, (something that apparently hasn't happened in nearly 500 years) I thought I would commemorate the event by trying my 'hand' at visualizing what a synchronization of the words 'Solstice' and 'Eclipse' might look like. After all, it seemed like they had enough of the same letters in them to attempt 'merging' the two words in a short animation.

These e-clips were created on Sketchup 7 and edited in iMovie.

As this seems a bit of a departure from 'thinking with my hands' and 'building with stones', I decided it would be appropriate to try to have the letters in both words be represented as monumental three-dimensional dry stone structures. The second half of the clip morphs back into the simpler black and white megaliths.

What do you think - crazy?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Stones are like words.

click > Language

In the same way we use words as building blocks to create our rich and textured language, we can use stones to create wonderful beautiful dry stone walls without necessarily being pedantic about it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I know it's stone, but it's a DRY stone.

People tend to think that all stones are pretty much all the same.
Cold, lifeless and hard, right?
There are as many different kinds of stone as there are weather conditions.

Stonework too is different.
In a similar way that our experience of the same temperature can be quite varied depending on other factors such as wind and humidity. Certain stonework can seem more 'extreme' than it is
depending on whether it is 'veneer freezing', too damp impervious or just merely glorified breeze-block.

The fact is stonework comes in a variety of concrete forms. The more ce-mented they are the more orna-mented stones are likely to be. And then stonework becomes more of a matter of fashion than friction.

To a waller or a skilled stonemason, bed-faced stones (layed at right angles to their bedding plane) will almost always look funny. But it's no laughing matter.

As with different types of humour for instance, you can have a 'slap-stick' style of construction
where 'wide cracks' can form and are about as appreciated as dumb 'wise cracks'

Or, you can have a much more attractive type where, like 'dry' humour,
the material is thoughtfully arranged without any gimmicky sticky set-up time
and where structurally, you just 'get it' and smile with the look of satisfaction.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I know I have stopped 'thinking with my hands' when ...

I stop trusting that the problem solver stones are really just that.
They become problems not solutions.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I know I have stopped 'thinking with my hands' when...

Design, build and photo – John S-R , Jan 2009

I slack off and do things or copy things that don't involve much risk.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I know I have stopped 'thinking with my hands' when...

I'm not sharing all the good stones in the pile with those working on the wall either side of me.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sweeping Curve

Jason Hoffman kindly picked me up at the Edinburgh airport two days ago after my flight back to Canada was cancelled. Jason is a very good waller who, because of this fortuitous delay, I was finally able to meet in person, through we had already started to get to know each other via facebook. He runs an impressive walling company and an equally impressive website both called Stone Inspired

The walls he drove me to look at in and around Edinburgh on Thursday were numerous and varied though a bit difficult to actually see. Over a foot of snow covered many of the dry stone features and terraces we visited. One recently completed project Jason showed me was a lovely sweeping-curved wall he and his helper Andy had built at Easter Briech ( a popular Scotish vacation spot visited during spring perhaps?) near his home in Livingston Scotland.

Jason can be seen here 'sweeping' it again.

A few years ago a very good walling book came out about a fairly well known British waller by the name of Steven Allen entitled In There Somewhere by David Griffiths . The reference presumably alludes to wallers being able to find and assemble the right stones from a random pile rocks to create the very wall that wants to be built. It occurred to me that looking at the prominent ridge of snow Jason was showing me I might just be able to believe there was a wall 'in there somewhere' and judging by pictures of other walls I'd seen on his website it was pretty cool.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Handy advise?

I understand that this creative dry stone feature was designed and built by Irwin Campbell at the Coffee Bothy at Blairlogie Scotland (near Stirling). We went here for a wee spot of coffee before we went back to building a wall in Crieff last week.

Unfortunately some of the stones are beginning to disintegrate. Sometimes you can run into trouble using this particular quarried sandstone, especially when it is vertically bedded.
It is usually obvious if the stones you are considering walling with are not going to be durable enough, but in some cases, even what appears to be perfectly good looking stone may begin to disintegrate after a short while.

Do any of the wallers who follow this blog have any experience with this sort of thing and have they any advise for our readers who are perhaps less familiar with this problem?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fixing the Dyke

This is a short video clip about fixing a gap in a 'dyke' in Glen Lyon. Dyke is the word for dry stone wall in Scotland . They are still very much needed here in Glen Lyon not just to contain the sheep along the valley but also to keep the deer out. This section of the wall, though not fallen over yet, had a bad lean in it because of a huge ash tree root which had growing under it.

After discussing what needed to be done with the grounds keeper we took all the stones down, carefully chopped out the root and then rebuilt it properly using the same local mica schist 'stanes' from the wall which was originally built over a hundred years ago. We used an extra thoughstone which we found and rolled down from the hill directly above the gap. Norman calls this Big Rock Rolling. (I may post a video of this on another blog) We coped the wall with turf that Norman had carefully cut (in rectangles and at angles) out of the ground not far from the wall, the day before we finished the gap. He puts one layer on upside down and then another the right way up with a slight diagonal overlap. The turf is much thicker than the rolls you buy at a garden center.

Norman has built and repaired miles and miles of thse walls all along the valley over the last 30 years.

Dave Goulder (another very good dry stane dyker) provides the music for this video. You can order his music online.