Wednesday, August 31, 2011

One angle on how to do it.

The pattern of dry stacking stones, vertically and at various angles, in a round free standing cairn shape is not as arbitrary as it might seem. Flattish boxy-shaped stones (the proper geometric name is rectangular prism) if laid flat in courses, leave big gaps on the outer surface of a curved structure because the stones only contact at their inner corner points and prevent their revealed outer edges from touching. Whereas stones laid vertically or at an angle take up less room inside the structure along the horizontal , fit closer and create a dynamic force between each other as well .

Yes the stones can all be shaped to be more triangular and then laid in courses, but this is not always possible or necessary.

Obviously the leftover stones we are using in our cairn are all random and different sizes. Many of them have broken, irregular, multi-angled, multi-faceted forms. But for the purpose of simplicity let's study a couple structural issues that arise with laying stones at an angle, using uniform brick shaped stones.

The trouble is what to do when patterns of angled stones meet.

The illustration above shows the problem more clearly. When the stones lean away from each other and they meet up too close to one another there is no purchase area for a stone to be laid in the valley that is created between them. Even a triangle stone may look fitted well but it will have to be short one and it will easily slide out with time.

One solution seems to be leaving a wider space between opposing angles so that a longer stone can be laid flat and further into the wall. Others can be stacked on top to create a kind of book end within the angled stones.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Be careful what you don't wish for.

A CBC pilot TV show called 'Wish List' is being fimed in our town this month.

Mary Walsh of This Hour Has 22 Minutes is in it.

The pilot, directed by Stuart Gillard, portrays a 30-something wife (and mother) who decides to reconnect with her daughter and her late husband's mother.

Port Hope plays the fictional southern Ontario town of Findley.

The homegrown drama follows the wife and daughter and mother-in-law on a road trip in which the three arrive in a small town where there is a wishing well in the park that they throw coins in to and make... you guessed it – wishes.

After Sam, the daughter, steals the coins, all three women are condemned to make amends by staying in the town, which might be bad enough except they are also required to grant wishes, no matter how big or small to the towns people. Lucky them.

As they attempt to realize the town's requests, the three women learn that their own dreams can be realized in the most unexpected ways and places.

My wish would be that instead of fabricating a temporary cardboard wishing well in the park they would have forseen a better looking less costly option – that of having us come and build them a nicer one out of real dry laid stone. Oh well.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cairn Progress

The cairn that we have been building the last two weekends uses a pattern of fitting the stones together that involves a good deal of 'thinking with your hands'. Because we are using a lot of leftover stone from a big wall job there are lots of pieces with odd angles and not as many nice shapes left to work with. It turns out the pattern we've adopted for the project is working quite well, but it gets difficult when you accidentally work your way into a tricky spot.

There are styles which have been placed strategically around the cairn at various heights so the we can stand on them to build higher. Our client tells us their grandchildren will want to climb them too. Apparently they are very good climbers. They were helping us for a while with some of the smaller hearting last week.

Here they are standing waving.

Tomorrow it might be good to take a look at how to meet some of the challenges presented to anyone thinking of building in this random diagonal style.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Stones can look unsightly

The huge piles of gabion stones in this picture are piled this way to create a stone barrier between the road and the modern housing estate behind. I'm not sure what the big chunks of stacked armour stone are doing at the base of the tree. Perhaps they are retaining the soil where the roots are growing. I cant help but think that all this stone could have been used a better way.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Modern ruins

The two photos above show two very different masonry structures which visitors to our town might see if they walked around for a while. One is a phony stone concrete block building along the river that must have been a utility building of some sort at one time. The other is a dry stone folly built by wallers from Scotland, Switzerland, USA and Canada during our second Rocktoberfest back in 2005.

Both are relatively modern ruins. Both structures catch your eye. They both create a sense of place and a feeling of time. Neither of them serve any particular use, or do they?

Canada does not have anywhere near as many ruins as other European counties. Old buildings are what gives a place character.

We need to preserve ones that we have and if we can, tastefully create new ones, and of course be careful with new utilitarian buildings that we don't make a wreck of the countryside.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Walls With Integrity

dry stone wall diagram 274x300 Connect to history with Dry Stone Walls
Thanks to the Dry Stone Conservancy for this image

What are the principle elements that make a dry good stone wall?

Good stones for sure.
Then friction and gravity.
Then good bonding and fitting of contours.
Plus there's an assimilating thousands of years of history and tradition.
Then there are things like honesty and consistency throughout the construction process, including a thoroughness in hearting and the placing of all the stones that nobody will see.
This involves an integrity of character. That's part of a wall too.
This implies that the wall be built by someone who knows something about honesty, kindness and compassion.
A respect and appreciation for the principles of bonding includes a commitment to the maintaining of friendships.
Loyalty and fairness are important aspects of a wallers character and these traits will show in his or her work too.
Enjoying what you do, enjoying the work not just thinking of it as a job, is a key element of an above average wall.
Commitment to ethics, not just the minimum of civility, is essential.

Just because there is no mortar doesn't mean it's disconnected and has nothing actually holding it together
There is something in there.
It is invisible, but you can see it.
A respectable upright character is what you'll need if you want to have a good wall that stays together and isn't phony .
Meanness of spirit will cause the wall to look ugly, tense and unstable, even if it is built adhering to the other basic wall building principles.
A critical eye will not necessarily build a particularly good wall either.
Anyone can spot mistakes and point them out to people publicly.
But can you make stones sing, or construct walls that inspire or bring stones and people together so that they get along in a positive productive way?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Loan Circles

My daughter has been collecting lots of her ( and ours, that we lent her ) change over the last few years and yesterday she wrapped it all. She thinks it's hers now.

The brown paper tubes when they're neatly packed are remarkably heavy and feel like they want to be stacked somehow.

So I made a little free-standing coin circle. Or would that be a high priced one?

I will call it Coinhenge perhaps? I think that I had the Clonehenge site in mind when I made it.

It's not in mint condition I know but it still might be worth depositing inside a bank (a kind of monetary earthworks site?)

I wonder if the early builders of any kind of similar coinhenge ever 'with-druid' when ancient times got tough?

Anyway I got a note back from Nancy to say they would be posting the picture on their site sometime in the future, and that I was definitely "on a role".

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wood and Stone

We are Canadian. We have to keep warm in the winter. We know how to stack wood. We don't lay it along the line of the wood pile. We lay it into the pile. If you can't stack wood properly you shouldn't be allowed in this country. It's as patriotic as peameal bacon. It's as natural as maple syrup.

So why not apply all this natural, cultural, structural knowledge to stacking rocks? Why do Canadians still try to lay stones along a wall? Why do they insist on reinventing the wall? You would think that if it works for wood, if you don't need glue or cement to build long neat rows of firewood, then maybe the technique could be carried over to stacking rocks?

And yet, so often we fall short in our thinking and our walls fall short of being structural.
Most stones have some sort of length. So let's place them neatly and properly INTO the wall, long ways. Even mortared stonework would be more structural if masons did that, instead of laying them like vertical patio stones.

The photo above shows different piles of well stacked wood. The stonework on the other hand, is not that great, and is relying on mortar to keep the veneer stones from falling off the building. Go figure, eh?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rubble Helix Progress

Yesterday we added one more rung to our Rubble Helix. This twisted free standing structure being built near Port Hope, Ontario uses no glue or cement! It will stand about 10 feet tall when it is finished and will be completely self supporting. The rungs, each weighing over 300 lbs are suspended 14 inches apart, above one-another. The two columns will eventually twist about 60 degrees over a central axis. The columns step out and around each other, well beyond their original foundation footprints. The structure looks impossibly unstable but it's completely rigid. (We have to climb all over it during the raising of each massive 4 inch thick ladder rung-stone)

The structure can best be interpreted as a whimsical allusion to the primal and essential connection that exists between rocks and people. Common limestone rocks are carefully stacked in this twisted configuration as an inorganic representation of the macromolecular realm of genes and proteins, which make up the basis of life.

All rocks are formed by complex combinations of crystal structures . All crystal configurations 'grow' according to some predetermined pattern based on the certain atom combinations present in the mix. This inorganic 'patterning' may well be the lithological counterpart of organic 'DNA patterning'.

The propensity for ordered reproduction within cells (living and non-living) explains how, and in what form, all structures occur on earth. The free-standing Rubble Helix utilizes the forces of gravity and friction, combined with principles of tensile strength and counterbalance in an otherwise inexplicable demonstration of bilateral order and balance. The spiraling columns of stone are held together and prevented from falling over, by through-bonds across the centre of the helix. Like the microscopic double helix which has all the basic elements of life raveled within its structure, this rising inorganic form explores the idea of coded mineral design on a larger scale.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Walling in fields of gold.

You'll forget how slow, that you had to go
As we walled in fields of gold

So she took her stone
For to place awhile
Upon the wall securely
On the ground she knelt, as her wall she built
Among the stones there laid.

Will it stay there still, will it be our wall
For many years that follow?
You will know it does, and its good because
though it's new, it looks so old.

Yes the best walls stay, as they yield to frost
and stand the winds of winter.
Yielding to their fate , yet maintain their shape
as they stand, as years unfold.

There's never any useless stones,
Though there have been some that I've broken
But I swear as in days of old
They will stand all on there own.
We'll build walls from fields of stone.

Many years have passed since these walls were made
And packed and filled with hearting
We were children then, now we start again
and build walls as days of old.
We'll share memories, we've made walls like these
of stones, from fields and quarries.
And the work is fun, who can tell us why?
All the stones we hold
Lifted, carried, rolled
Become walls in fields of gold.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Every Stone Has A Face.

As with humans, most stones have a unique and distinctive 'face'. And in the same way its true with people, that stone face is often a window into the personality. Or should we call it the stonality?

A stone that's had a hard life, had many hard knocks along the way, will often show the evidence of this in its appearance, and in how it reacts to being put into a wall. Stones like these can seem to be very unfriendly, with an inner strength that almost appears to be obstinate. Like people these are the stone faced ones that are often hard to read and resilient to change.They dont seem to like being put into a wall.

Glacial granite stones have very rounded faces. They have have no recognizable angles or flat planes to grip on to or use to lock them into the wall. These are stones that have resisted cracking under the pressure of mile high ice or splitting from crashing into other rocks along their journey of geological life. They will also present a challenge to a new waller who is finding it hard to get to know the stones unique traits and tendencies.

Stones with more angular faces give evidence of a different stonality. If we read these stone faces correctly we recognize in them a more accommodating nature . They are sometimes softer and more forgiving structurally in a wall.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

It's the stones that put people together.

Sometimes we mistakenly think that we are in charge. We are convinced that people do the gathering and the placing of stones into organized structures called dry stone walls and miss the fact that in order to do this people have come together too. A well organized friendly network of walling enthusiasts is created each time a pile of stones allows itself to be made into a wall.

This Thanksgiving, Rocktoberfest (a unique dry stone walling celebration held each year here in Canada) will be one of those times.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Not just a pretty face.

I've always been a fan of having grass grow right up to a wall instead of cluttering wall edges with lots of plants. Worse still is running flagstone paving along the edge with no transition of growing material. Stones cancel each other out if the bordering ground cover is the same material as the stone that's used in the wall.

As far as it being a lot of work to do the edging if you grow grass there, all I can say is sheep do a good job of keeping it trimmed right up close to any wall. It always looks so tidy when they do it. In some so-called backward countries people keep sheep instead of own lawn mowers.
Those of us in North America favour the gas powered lawn mower instead. It throws the grass right up against the wall and still doesn't cut any of the blades closest to the wall. It's disappointing to see a fresh cut lawn with the cuttings all sticking onto the wall. Unless of course, it makes a pretty face.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sphere in motion.

We live on a sphere. It is constantly in motion. It is mostly ocean. The fish are in a liquid sphere dance of swirling symmetry. Has this display of oceanic choreography well below the surface been orchestrated by some sentient being? The shape is beautifully executed the performance is breathtaking. The pattern is ever changing, constantly seeking a three dimensional form and geometry, yet it is only an imaginary shape, a virtual whole created by a multitude of living parts.

The sphere transforms and moves in time and space. It is temporal. There is nothing concrete about this spontaneous installation. There is nothing cemented together. Apart from the video clip there is nothing that remains of this creative composition.

Surely this is a celebration of sorts? A whimsical fitting together without rhyme or reason.

I would like to join in this kind of dance. I can almost hear music floating this way from somewhere off in the distance. I would like to take part in a dry stone event where people who hear the music come together to try to build something beautiful and temporal, just because they can. Maybe at this year's Rocktoberfest we can start the ball in motion.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wet and dry humour.

I drove by a rather run down gas station on my way to work yesterday. The people there have constructed an unusual water feature incorporating blocks, bricks, boards, phony stone pavers, chunks of broken concrete, empty plant pots and a strange assortment of plumbing fixtures.

I was astonished. I can only hope that the people deliberately set out to make such a ... what shall I call it... aesthetically compromised structure? They must have a very dry sense of humour.

I was pleased they hadn't used any stone in it. Maybe they like stone too much.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A typical selection of stones representing
one week's share for an individual subscriber
in the CSA scheme

Community Stone Access is a newly adapted system for making available and utilizing surplus stones from farms and large agricultural properties . A CSA consists of a community of individuals who support their local farm operations where rocks from hardscrabble land is gathered and made available to regular stone customers/subscribers who share the risks and benefits of stone harvesting. CSAs usually consist of a system of weekly delivery or pick-up of stones & rocks, by supporters of the the 'rocks in a box' scheme

CSA generally focuses on the production of a high quantity stones and rocks for local community initiatives and private walling projects with a shared risk membership–marketing structure. This kind of stone farming requires a much greater involvement of consumers and other stoneholders than usual — resulting in a stronger waller-gatherer relationship. The core design includes developing a cohesive consumer group that is willing to fund a whole season’s budget upfront in order to get rocks that are harvested off the land each week and throughout the harvesting seasons (the spring being the most plentiful).

Typically CSA farms are small, independent, labor-intensive family farms. By providing a guaranteed source of gathered stone through prepaid sales, stone consumers essentially help finance farming operations that might not make it just selling vegetables. The cost of a share is usually competitively priced when compared to the same amount of stones sourced from a commercial stone supplier

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hart House Farm Wall Workshop

This is one of several stone walls at Hart House Farm that were built by Canadian settlers well over a hundred years ago. This one will be rebuilt during the Rocktoberfest event on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

Hart House farm is owned and operated by the University of Toronto. The wall will be the focus of two dry stone workshops taught by master craftsmen Norman Haddow and Dave Goulder from Scotland . They are both certified DSWA instructors who have been building dry stone walls and teaching the craft for many years.

Last weekend we began disassembling the wall in preparation for the festival workshop where we will be running a two day hands-on course teaching the basics of dry stone construction.
The stones in the wall are being spread and separated for reusing and the base is being cleared of debris. Its a lot of work but very satisfying. The stone wall runs along the main driveway into the farm and when it is rebuilt it will look as spectacular as it did when it was first built.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Trying out the space.

Our work preparing the foundation for the dry stone amphitheatre went well on the weekend.
Thanks to Steve and Louise and their daughters, Brent, Mike, Chris and Colin. At the end of the day there was a clearly defined three-tiered thirty foot diameter hole in the side of the hill. The drainage tile was laid in place and the ten yards of gravel was spread.

Some of us sat on the earth shaped benches and tested the space and the seating height. The proportions seem right. The area should be perfect for outdoor gatherings and small music concerts.

I sit in the director's chair ( barber's chair actually, that Steve found at the dump) and look out over the final results.
I coaxed some stone stand-ins to come and assemble on the stage for a preliminary performance. They seemed to enjoy just sitting and taking in the space. Stones are like that.

It is my hope that the rocks will end up being the star performers at this year's Rocktoberfest and hopefully attract the crowds when the amphitheatre structure is completed.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The stone circle of life.

Here lurks the evidence of a stone of unknown size. Our pounding on it with a big pry bar didn't even budge it. It lay 'in weight' below the surface right in the middle of the circular area where we needed to begin the excavating for the foundation of the dry stone amphitheatre structure which we are planning to complete during the Rocktoberfest weekend at Hart House Farm, north-west of Toronto.

It looked like it was going to be a huge big boulder; impossible to dig out with the small backhoe we had arranged to have come excavate the curved area in the hill we needed for the footings of our stone walls and seats . Luckily when the machine began digging it was nowhere near as large as we imagined. Stones are more or less full of sizes.

The bucket scooped it up and flipped it off easily to the side.

It only needs to wait a short while longer now until we fit it within the structure of our new amphitheatre. There it will achieve its purpose and serve a structural function in the wall nestled with other stones close to the very spot it had been patiently waiting for perhaps thousands of years. These are but some of the capricious and frugal aspects of the dry stone 'circle of life' .

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Handy New Logo

Just wanted to show people our new Rocktoberfest Logo. Exciting? You bet. There will be lots to get involved in and see and learn about. And this Canadian Thanksgiving, at Hart House Farm north of Toronto Ontario, is where it's all going to come together.

Participators in this year's dry stone walling festival will include professionals from a wide spectrum of dry stacked backgrounds and stone related disciplines.

Norman Haddow
Sean Adcock
Thea Alvin
Dave Goulder
Mariana Cook
Peter Riedel
Gavin Rose
Jason Hoffman
and many other wallers from across N. A.

Come join us an have some fun building with rocks !

Stone material is being donated this year by Upper Canada Stone.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Just 'ruining' a good property?

An article from the Lighthouse Peddler (707) 882-3126 Issue #113 March 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The three helixes.

Based on idea I came up with some years ago, we started building the third ever Rubble Helix structure yesterday near Port Hope Ontario. My original concept for this spiraling double wall seemed like an impossible design to actually build but when I fooled around with dominoes and some small wooden wafer shapes I discovered the thing actually held together quite well.

We built one prototype indoors at a greenhouse during the winter of 2005 with workshop students.

Later we attempted to build a permanent one at the Canadian Rocktoberfest in 2007. That one looked great and lasted for several years even though it was subject to flooding every winter and severe heaving due to the difference the bases experienced, with the south leg freezing and thawing separately from the north one.

Anyway here we are on the new helix almost at the second wrung and just beginning to get the angle of the lean started. This helix spirals upwards in the opposite direction to the two previous structures we built. Next week we should be about half way up.

Monday, August 8, 2011


At 'Rocktoberfest', our annual Canadian festival, wallers come from all over Canada the US Britain and Ireland to share their knowledge and also help build some amazing dry stone structures, This October we plan to build a dry stone amphitheatre into the side of a hill during this four day event at Hart House Farm, a conference facility owned by the University of Toronto in the Caledon Hills north of Toronto Ontario.

Check out ROCKTOBERFEST 2011 for more details as the date for this event draws closer.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The nature of balance.

Spent an enjoyable day at a bocce golf tournament held on a lovely wooded property east of Parrytown Ontario yesterday. The course wound along the banks of the Ganaraska River.

I did a bit of stone balancing in the morning (see above) and the idea kind of caught on to the point that just about every one was doing it between games throughout the day.

There is something very satisfying about standing in a river, patiently letting your hands discover a way to balance random stones picked from below the surface of the water. There are any number of worthwhile things you learn about yourself and about rocks, and the nature of balance and the balance of nature.