Monday, February 28, 2011

Magnified Disappointment

Magnified 20 million times, stones and many other materials still have an orderly crystalline composition.

Any concrete ideas as to what lies hidden deep inside concrete?

Zoom in to find out.

Double-click on the screen for the larger format of this video.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Nothin' bout stones either, except in the background.

Went to hear Kevin Breit yesterday. This was an inexpensive night out at Lula Lounge at an enjoyably small venue in Toronto, but as far as packing a punch it might as well been a full-scale big name concert at the Rogers Centre. It was fantastic.

Kevin is a versatile, imaginative, highly skilled musician who has gone the distance. He plays amazing guitar, writes beautiful words and music, and his voice is just unique enough to match his other talents. I have known him mostly as a wildly experimental jazz guitarist, but the melodic vocal direction he has pursued in recent years has revealed a whole new musical facet.

Why this video is here is to remind me of how wide the creative opportunities are to do things beyond the normal or the expected. ( not that this particular video is so unusual, but I did like the old stone barn foundation)

Kevin opens the door to new ideas rather than relying on the same old predictable money-making musical formulas. I feel personally challenged to expand the parameters of this blog so as not to be trying just to fit it into someone else's notion of where it should be going.

The lyrics suggest a strange disconnect. My own stone-sided take on it is this.

Sometimes you can talk about lots of related things and yet never make reference to the fact that they are, or ever were connected. The crumbling stone foundations of rural Ontario are a fading reminder of how disconnected and diminished we have become. Most of us have little understanding of how integrally related proper land stewardship used to be. The food industry as it becomes more and more specialized and supposedly more 'efficient' has made us all too dependent and wasteful. Perfectly good stone material from fallen down barns and hedge rows continues to be bulldozed into the ground throughout this province as even ecologically minded people miss the connection that exists between local food, local initiatives and local natural building resources.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Grasping Beyond Our Reach

Pierre-Auguste Renoir had a handle on how 'creatively' sometimes we have to allow ourselves to be stretched. He wrote..."One must from time to time attempt things that are beyond one's capacity."

Robert Browning penned something similar . “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?

There are always set backs along the way too. The route from conceptualization to realization isn't always straight or swift . You may have an idea without any foreseeable opportunity presenting itself as to where or when the thing might ever be executed. Waiting plays a big part in this process. Exceeding ones grasp may in fact involve an exceeding amount of waiting. But this may merely be a 'stay of execution'. And then the thing may have to die before it finds wings.

Case in point was this design which had been shelved for years until finally the right opportunity came along to implement it. It needed a client who trusted that it was going to work and look good. Then the challenge became to imagine how to actually do it!

The good thing is that much of the process often involves extra hands and friendly cooperation.

And finally, if what you create together is a success, a bottle of something can be be cracked open and a bit of a christening is in order, while everyone holds a celebratory drink in their hands.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Wondering if there's a dry stone 'handle' for this story?.

As I was going through the exit stile at the Berkley BART subway station a couple of weeks ago, the gate closed prematurely behind me on the heavy suitcase I was towing. I had borrowed it for my trip from my daughter Maddy. She had bought it in Spain with her own money, loved it and asked me to take care of it.

After you insert your ticket in it, the nasty rubber scissor-armed stile opens and closes briefly allowing one lucky passenger through at a time. As I scurried through, my suitcase got mechanically wedged behind me. I pulled hard, but the anti-'jaws of life' would not let go and the next thing I knew the extend-a-handle thingy on my suitcase bent out of shape. By the time I managed to rescued it from BART's clutches and drag it outside the whole handle apparatus came off in my hands.

There I was, pretty much stranded with this heavy 'handle-less' suitcase, now deciding to walk the shortest distance in any direction to find any hotel in the vicinity. Did I say it was really hot? Usually this is an attractive aspect of California in winter for a vacationing Canadian – but not today.

It's surprisingly difficult to pull a heavy suitcase with no handle along on tiny wheels through a crowded city ( it didn't even have a finger-hole to grip onto) I looked ridiculous. I stumbled along , rested every few steps before I dragged it along again. I'm guessing I looked more homeless than any bag-laden-shopping-cart street person.

I got to a nearby Travel Lodge, checked into a room and collapsed. I knew I owed Maddy a brand new suitcase; a better one than this trouble maker. Maybe the BART owes her the suitcase, I don't know, but I think this involves a lot of hassle to find out.

I was not looking forward to trying to lug this now handle-less piece of baggage around any more, especially to the airport on my return. Since there was absolutely no griphold on the end of the suitcase, I decided to drill a hole though the heavy plastic casing and jury-rig a coat hanger wire thing in order to attach my belt so that I could drag it behind me on its wheels again. Though the repair looked pretty nasty and makeshift it worked well enough until early Monday morning when the airport shuttle guy grabbed to lift it into the back of the bus and snapped the belt and sent the buckle whizzing into the air.

The driver looked very apologetic. He quickly recovered the buckle from under the bus and handed it to me. I said " Thanks, but I don't think I'll need that anymore".

I felt bad for him and gave him a big tip.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Relics from the present.

Some years ago we built a scaled-down, rather whimsical version of Stonehenge out of large (industrial size?) bales of straw. It came from an idea I had when it occurred to me how monumentally suggestive the landscape had become as more and more fields in Canada were dotted with these modern agrarian megaliths. It was exciting to do and very rewarding to involve others in the community of Port Hope, a town we had recently moved to.

The thing was curiously immortalized on a website in August of 2004. I had originally planned to add more photos and updates and perhaps include news of other fanciful landscape installations. I got busier and busier with the Dry Stone Wall Association in Canada and the Strawhenge website unfortunately got completely neglected.

Now I can't even remember how to get back into the site to change it (even to cut the grass, which must be terribly overgrown by now). I have had many correspondences with the webmaster and even he doesn't have the password or know how to reconfigure the administration page to enable me to update it or dismantle it. And so it remains in cyberspace, a peculiar site – a virtual relic on the information highway – which people may hear about and come to visit or just happen see through the screen as they pass by (not unlike the real Stonehenge I suppose)

Anyway, there are many other fascinating websites devoted to unusual 'henges', most of them better maintained than mine. Here is one that I really like

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How do you like your Rocks?

Hard ?

Stoney side up ?

Easy over ?

Scrambled ?

Poached ?


Caged-in style ?

or with an English Muffin?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Stone Evolution - A Stoney Volition?

I find more and more these winter days I am caught ('captivated'?) between the concept of 'a rock wall and a hard drive'. Reading a bit more about my mac computer, and the interconnection it has with a certain stone material has made me want to get my hands on even more information.

I have discovered that a 'mineral', (the stuff that makes up rock) which is a homogeneous, naturally occurring, inorganic solid crystalline substance with a specific chemical composition, may not be as 'inorganic' as first presumed. A quartz crystal, for instance in a grain of sand, is a mineral, and is crystalline because it has atoms in a regular microscopic arrangement. While life is organized in DNA molecules, various minerals grow by following a crystallized molecular organization.

Silica (SiO2) otherwise known as silicon dioxide, a very special, hard, glassy mineral found in such materials as rock, sand and opal is surprisingly not that uncommon, but in a refined form it is used worldwide in the manufacture of transistors, solar cells, rectifiers, silicones and in micro chips. It is not a stretch to say that this particular mineral transmuted itself into a 'livelier' form of existence associated with the complex digital activity of high-tech computers.

Now there is evidence that certain minerals have 'developed' in other ways too.

New research shows that minerals on Earth have evolved alongside living organisms – and the diversity of minerals on our planet can also be linked to the processes of life. Evolution isn't just for living organisms.

Scientists at the Carnegie Institution say that the mineral kingdom co-evolved with life, and that up to two thirds of the more than 4,000 known types of minerals on Earth can be directly or indirectly linked to biological activity. Robert Hazen and his colleagues found "both the variety and relative abundances of minerals have changed dramatically over the more than 4.5 billion years of the Earth's history." Unique to Earth, volcanic activity, interaction with water and plate tectonics helped create new kinds of physical and chemical environments where new minerals formed over many years, thereby boosting mineral diversity to more than a thousand types.( other less evolved planets in our solar system have far fewer mineral species)

I envision a scenario where a very long time ago, strange primitive rock types began crawling their way out of the same 'primeval soup' that living proteins did, oozing up from the very same amino acids where the earliest forms of life are suspected to have appeared. Was this of their own free will? I suspect so, but unlike us, I think the stones may have some sort of plan.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I hate 'Running Joints'

Just to clear things up a bit I should tell you I bought this pretty funny book called I Hate Everything for a birthday present for my son Robin two days ago. I ended up reading most of it ( I hate that I did that) before I gave it to him at a birthday brunch yesterday. Needless to say, I found lots of food for thought (and blogging). I have not heard yet if Robin likes his present. He, of course, may have hated it.

The thing about the book is the clever way it progresses and folds in on itself. The things the author hates sometimes end up turning in on themselves and morphing into the things he knows he condones. That the things he hates are often due to his incriminating low standards, self-loathing and feelings of sour grapes makes it humourous and surprisingly revealing.

You might want to check it out.

There is also a facebook page devoted to I Hate Everything, where people can add all their own funny, often compromised, submissions.

In keeping with the theme of 'thinking with my hands' and building dry stone walls I'm listing a couple things I hate here. I'll probably list a few more in the coming days.


I hate 'running joints'.

They're sometimes called 'zipper joints' or 'vertical joints'
( Up and down cracks in the wall where stones are not bonded well - that is, the stones are not laid one-over-two or two-over-one)

I hate that I see quite a few in the walls I've built.

I hate that they show up so conspicuously afterwards in a photo, or worse, in someone else's photo. I really hate that running joints show up most clearly after those pictures have been posted on the internet.

I hate that people make such a big deal about running joints.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I Hate Inuckshucks

I hate even trying to spell inucshuck.

I hate seeing inukchuks on people's lawns and in public places- at airports and gas stations.

I hate people asking me to build an innuckshuc for them, instead of wanting a wall.

I hate seeing stones wasted in less than clever barely-human-shaped balancing acts when they could much better be used with a lot of other anti-inuckshuck material to create more structural, aesthetcally pleasing, longer lasting monuments.

I hate that people think inucsucks are clever.

And that the bigger they are, the more clever and impressive they are.

I hate that inchshooks have lost all connectivity with the culture they have been ripped off from.

On the other hand, an occasional Inuck-She? Is that so bad?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lending A Hand

We had a challenging time figuring out how to build the dry stone greenhouse design I came up with a few years ago for a good client out west. The design called for two, four foot thick, tapered gabled walls, spaced proportionately to create the feeling of an old stone potting shed. A beam would be added later for sheets of clear glazing to be fixed to as a permanent covering and so still provide light inside. I really liked the angle design and was excited about being able to do it this year.

Several wallers, when I showed them my sketchup design (see above) at the Symposium in Ventura, said it wouldn't work and that it would spread apart or cave inwards. I invited walling expert Sean Adcock to join us on this project and together we took a lot of time thinking out how we were going to do it. At least a day and a half was spent measuring and setting up our guide posts and lines. We knew the quoins and voussoirs needed to be beefy, and that there could be no variance of the batter, or the 45 degree angle of the stone coursing, and that all the rows had to be 90 degrees to the pitch of the wall, if it was to look as good as I envisioned it.

Sean had to leave before the project was completed but I wanted to include here some of his thoughts he wrote in an email concerning the various tensions and pressures exerted on this unusual structure from the pics I sent him of the continuing building progress. Those of you who have met Sean will know he has a complex mind and analyzes things quite thoroughly in his own inimitable way.

The master with his tools- levels, squares, lines and batter frames.

"First, further thoughts re pressure on jambs. Several of my copes just sat there until I built UP to them. held in place by friction. Friction means that not all the weight/mass of stone on the incline is necessarily acting on the diagonal. Basically if its not sliding, there wont be a diagonal force. It's in equilibrium, even if it slides a little its still not 100% down the diagonal. However it still has mass which is going somewhere. Gravity suggests this is down. Basically there must be a vertical component its just a question of if/when this is transferred into a shear force by a FIXED diagonal. Do we have fixed diagonals, maybe.

If the force is vertical rather than sheer it might just mean it adds to the force becoming sheer on the next diagonal and ends up in the jamb lower in a more concentrated form, but it might just as well end up downwards. Even if it is more concentrated this should not be a concern provided the mass of the arch above the new point of action is greater than the mass acting on it from the side. If the point has moved down then there is more weight from above so it should sort of cancel.

Some of this might have implications on the bottom. The forces on the end /base boulders seem very complex. However if we assume 20" around the arch is pretty much a stable fixed mass, (we're banking on it) then looking at pics there is really very little stone in the diagonals to worry about (as it develops I am increasingly confident there is little to worry about in this respect). But as you see it develop I look at the stone and think that it's more likely that a mass could come to act just on those bottom stones.

If you tilt all the stonework in an image manipulator to form a column, then all the coping and a band of stone are acting on the bottom sandstone boulder. That is not what is happening because of the incline. However, I cannot get my head around what is happening. Some of the force from the stone cannot be acting diagonally. It must have a vertical component; how much and how this is transferred is beyond me. My gut feeling at the moment is that the end stones have greater potential to move than the arch (which would actually mean there is less pressure on the arch). I need to think more, but I've run out of whisky....

I think it is a good idea to have the heavy beam linking the apexes of the pyramids. Whatever might or might not happen roof wise. This will knit the structures visually and will also increase the load on the arch theoretically making the arch more stable. Of course I'm not that worried about the strength of the arches anyway... "

I would like to thank Sean for all his help, and of course Peter, Evan Oxland, Akira Inman and Dave Claman, who all lent a hand to complete this first stage of the potting house structure.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Components of one hands-down very successful California workshop

Good hands-on instruction

Meaty Cheekends

Dual purpose project

Lots of stile

Bamboo Pen

Cornerstone Seating

Spell Binding Spiral Bonding

This time we've switched it up
with a rare photo of a completed DSWAC workshop
everyone's hands in the air.
(But really, inside we're still all waving our arms wildly and shouting "Hooray")

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Trying their hand at different things.

A keen bunch of students gathered last weekend to take a hands-on course which involved dry-stacking natural stones to form free-standing walls. They successfully created this circular dry stone 'planter' along with a curved garden wall with stiles and a narrow gate opening. A lovely interior space was formed which produces a surprising 'sense of place' between the wall and the planter. Another straight wall was also completed with standardized vertical copes, through-stones, and cheek-ends.

Thus a compromise was reached where students got to learn the basics, but got to try their hand at being a little creative too. (which is something Californians love to do)

The wall will remain standing in Redwood City, California until it is taken down next year.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hearting in San Francisco

Last week John Scott, who teaches masonry of Algonquin College in Perth Ontario, and I, came back and taught our second two-day dry stone wall seminar in Redwood City California for Lyngso Stone Supplies. The weather, amazingly warm and sunny for this time of year was quite a contrast to what everyone has been experienceing back east. The students were eager and appreciative of all that we shared with them about how to stack stones one upon the other. It seems wrong to come all the way from Canada to show Californians how to do anything weird and crazy, but oh well, here we were again, and that's what we were doing.

This time the stones are a lovely lichen covered reddish sandstone from Arizona called Moss Back and a whitish quartzite material from near Champlain NY.

Again, because we were building dry stone walls we needed lots and lots of hearting material. It acts like the cement. Happily, instead of having to labouriously explain what we needed and scramble to find something suitable, we discovered that there were already two large metal crates of the stuff available on site. Last year's workshop wall had been carefully dismantled and all the small material had been collected separately and saved. It was 'lovely' stuff for hearting. Right there in the two boxes were all the right tiny sizes and shapes we would need again for pinning and shimming the larger stones in the new dry stone wall the students would be constructing

I thought again how clever it was for Lyngso to be able to save and provide this very specific, very useless looking material, which is probably only good for walling purposes. Not only was the golden sun shining all that weekend (even though this is the rainy season) but the very 'hearting' I left in San Francisco last time was waiting to be used again.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Seismic Matters

Wunderlich Park near Woodside

These high dry stone walls near Woodside California which were built before the big earthquake are still in great condition.

The lush foliage of moss and various species of fern makes this wall an especially attractive border enclosing a grassy area around an old stable.

That these walls have lasted so long seems to indicate that they were built right, even though they didn't build them out of concrete.

For centuries the mortar-free construction has proven to be apparently more earthquake-resistant than using mortar. The stones of the dry-stone walls in the pictures above which were built by the chinese workers in California in the late 1800's for example, could move slightly and resettle without the walls collapsing, which should be recognized as an ingenious passive structural control technique employing both the principle of energy dissipation and that of suppressing resonant amplifications. When walls are built correctly (meaning, well-bonded, properly battered, and having good foundations and built sufficiently thick enough ) they can resist seismic movement because of a certain cohesive elasticity.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Whole Grain Food. #2

How about a hearty slice of handmade (okay, hand-photoshopped) stone-ground bread?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Stone made meals. #1

T.J. of Sydney Peek explained to us that flaming does not work on their quartzite-schist material for some strange reason. I had already found this out as we had tried to flame a piece to get rid of the saw marks and nothing happened. Usually you can make it nice and flaky. It occurred to me (carrying through on the farm-quarry produce analogy) that a good 'stone made meal' of 'schist kabob' might never get cooked properly?

Please send in more ideas of stone foods and menu creations that might make for a good solid meal.