Friday, September 30, 2011

Completed Helix

We completed the new 'rubble helix' in Garden Hill Ontario this September 2011 just a week and a half ago. The twisting columns (all dry laid) were constructed using a very nice Upper Canada Stone 'chocolate limestone' material ( proper name is Highland Dry Wall Stone). It stands over twelve feet high and winds up rotating around a central axis. The large 'wrung stones' were brought in from a quarry near Buckhorn Ontario This helix is built on a floating concrete pad. It is amazingly sturdy.

If you haven't already, check out  The three helixes.  for more details about the original design ideas and Working our way up the rubble helix to read about the building process.

It seems since building this structure, thinking with my hands just got a whole lot more twisted!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Let's talk about footwear.

Stonemad is an online forum I belong to that focuses on all kinds stone-related topics. It is very informative and discussions are usually quite serious and mature. Every now and then though things get pretty silly.

Let's talk about footwear.

I have been in construction for over 25 years and had to put up with some pretty uncomfortable work shoes and boots. I have lots of thoughts about this subject, and I don't mind being alone in my confusion, I mean conclusions. Mostly I think it is a subject that allows some exploration into the apparent trade off between safety and common sense that certain rules and safety regulations impose.
Ok it's your turn now

I saw him climb the exterior of the Pierre Motel in Barre in crocks.

yes, and eat them
Still I can't see snacking those polyblend croaks or crocks that John tiptoes round in. What if scurvy was setting in?

John S-
This is a hot, sweaty topic. I teach at a college and have to extra-think about safety every day....anything we build or tour, I spend hours thinking about what could possibly go wrong, then try to prepare for that. There are more uncertainties than a jobsite and it's taken me years to figure this out. Anyway, every year something does sneak through that I didn't see coming...and it blows me away what they'll come up with. You just can't prepare for everything.

I think we masons protect ourselves three ways: by our experience and familiarity of the job (to reduce the surprises), by our personal safety stuff (to soften the surprises) and our state of mind (to react to the surprises). To some extent, these are all related...if I'm well rested and confident with my scaffold, I am less concerned about falling and more aware of what's around me and can focus on what needs doing. Steel toes give me that sort of confidence..less worry about feet, more focus on job. However, I'm positive that if your feet are uber-comfy, you are likely more mentally alert, so you are more aware. JSR is on to something here.

On one federal job atop a scaffold I remember telling telling my labourer to put on his hardhat, but he claimed the scaffold protected his head and he didn't have to. Not long later we both watched (in horror) a 200lb sandstone jumper fall off an adjacent 70' scaffold as labourers overloaded a lift, and destroy the sidewalk below. He said "you see? If that stone landed on me, a hardhat would not have saved me...I'd be dead inside a hardhat." I had to agree with him (philisophical labourers). He then turned around and walked straight into the end of a putlog and was knocked unconcious. The hat would have deflected that. A rubber shoe on his head would've been better. On the other hand it was nice a quiet for a while.

So, to make a short story long, while rubber shoes sharpen your state of mind, steel covers you for those unplanned things. Unless an annoying labourer is hurt in a comical way....then it's all good.

John, thanks for the thoughtfulness, truly. I'll be wearing Crocks on my head from here on out!

John S-
I think the ankle strap will stretch under your chin Todd. JSR- have you tried this?


This could worn in lieu of secret handshakes so that upon entering a town we would be reocognised as stonemasons/wallers etc. by our colleauges

very very funny Alan, I love this idea!

John S-
John, the fireplaces and walls are ok, but this is your finest work. Great idea one will ever figure this out. I've never been more proud to be a stonemason. Too late on the head protection though...obviously the damage is already done. Beautiful!

Almost wet my shorts

John S-
Doug- put a rubber shoe in your shorts. JSR- Have you tried this?

My mother once told me things like that might stick. HA HA one for the scrap book
Never mind Hard Hats, what about "soft hats"? Now why didnt anyone think of that before? Much more comfortable

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It was good to be out west this week. I worked with some great people and established valuable new contacts and got some good suggestions for future walling venues in B. C. We might even be able to run the Canadian Dry Stone Festival - Roctoberfest, out here on the west coast sometime in the near future.

Last Sunday I happened to meet up with three west coast wallers at the Departure Bay Ferry in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. 

-Kevin Maloney runs Celtic Roots Masonry out of Pemberton B.C.  Heart of stone 
-Danny Woodward immigrated here from Cornwall and has done some amazing work with Kevin.
A Cornish hedge Danny built back in the old country

-Christopher Barclay is a competent waller in his own right and west coast field director for the DSWAC.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Rocks Compose Themselves

The rocks compose themselves
And their walls are spontaneous compositions
Permanent improvisations in space
They are very slow to decompose

We are less adaptable
We barely last a lifetime
The rocks know how to fit in
To the spaces in time

Our part
If we want to fit in too
Is to take them
As they come and facilitate
Their arrival into the pattern
Of the wall
And find our purpose in their design
Experiencing fun in formation
And form in function

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ugly stone - beautiful wall.

U K waller Danny Woodward joined us on the second day of our DSWAC workshop in Metchosin B.C. He admitted to finding the gnarly brown stone we were building with hard to get his head round. He described the stone as very ugly but also said the final result looked surprisingly pleasing and formal looking.

The caliber of walling students we had for Dr Dan's gate wall project was first rate. They meshed well together and learned a lot about walling in a way that incorporated angled faces and random diamond shaped granite. 

We chose not to try to 'work' the stone very much at all. The final result, though not coursed, was structural and had a pleasing flow to it.

Thanks to the three Dans Raphael David Noah Christopher and Andy for all their help in making the workshop a success and a lot of fun.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Down the Road

These guys are building with this crazy shaped granite from Spyder Lake BC doing magic with it. The dry stone workshop we are running on Vancouver island this weekend is going well. 

We walk down this long driveway to go back and forth from the project for lunch. It is a nice calming distance to ponder the subtleties of the material we are working with and talk about spacial structural complexities and just decompress from the intensity of all the fitting and shaping going on further back down the road. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Sunset of Civilization

This dry stone 'project' is described as 'challenging'. There are two paragraphs and a couple of bad drawings describing how to do it.

There was a time after the dawn of civilization when for many centuries masons learned their trade by apprenticing and working with experienced masons. Nowadays a weekend enthusiast can just go to a Chapters bookstore and find a book like this one on masonry and presumably, just by reading a page or two, build a house or a wall or an arch like the one we built during an advanced course I taught at Glendale College in 2008. 

The whole book though dotted with a few pictures of good stonework is full of incorrect information and unstructural shortcuts with loads of questionable techniques which are totally misleading and far too oversimplified for anyone with any genuine interest in learning the trade seriously. I and many masons like me have spent years and years building and restoring structural stone buildings and know that it's not something you can just look at a picture of and say "That looks easy, why should I take a course to learn how to do that?". I think this sort of publication marks the 'sunset' of masonry and civilization as we know it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Saanich Stacker

DSWAC west coast field director Christopher Barclay completed these curved retaining walls for a client in Sannich last year. 
They are made with a slate/schist material trucked in from Jordon River on Vancouver Island
The stone was provided by Van Isle Slate and cost around 200 a ton delivered.
Christopher recounted that it was nice stone to work with saying it stacked very well. For Victoria standards it was a reasonable price too.
Christopher took a before shot of the railway tie terracing that was originally there and then did a design in Sketchup to give an idea of what the dry stacked walls were going to look like. The final lower pic provides a good comparison shot with what was there before and the design that was proposed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Rock

In Yorkville, in downtown Toronto, on the site of a small park area on Cumberland Street there is this great mound of bedrock that has been moved there from somewhere in Muskoka, huge pieces, one chunk at a time, and reassembled to create a wonderful natural climbing/sitting/playing area for city-dwellers and tourists to enjoy. It's called 'The Rock'. The entire installation weighs in at about 600 tons and reproduces an inspiring sample of the Canadian Shield for those who might never have lived there and seen outcroppings like this or have forgotten the powerful calming effect stone can have because they are have moved to the crazy concrete jungle . 

“We were thinking of the rock as being the focal point of the neighbourhood, and it happened to be just that. It’s like nature’s sculpture,” says David Oleson, the architect for the project.
The billion-year-old rocks were bought from a dairy farmer in Gravenhurst, Ont., for $15,000, who was happy to have more space to grow grass for his cows.
“It’s funny, I would get calls from people saying, ‘Hey, we got a rock in our backyard, want to buy it?’ We could have become rock brokers,” says Oleson, laughing.
Because the subway ran directly beneath the park, industrial engineers had to practise assembling the 120 granite pieces several times off-location. One false move and the massive chunks would have fallen onto the subway and injured or killed hundreds. Starting underground and building on the vertical structure of the subway, the pieces were held together using sand and gravel. The 650-ton structure cost the city $250,000.

Seeing a granite stone installation of this mass in an urban setting reminds me that natural beauty will always be Canada's most enduring attribute.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The students at Willowbank completed the garden planter wall yesterday afternoon in good time.

The wall at the Niagara Botanical Gardens looks much different than it did two days ago.

Funny how many people commented and came over to watch what we were doing at the point where the project was just about finished

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Another class at Willowbank

Mike, Nick, Maddison, Julie, Sasha, Shelly, Emma, and Karen are all first year students at the Willowbank School of Restoration Arts on the Niagara Parkway in Queenston Ontario. They are very keen to learn everything they can about building and repairing dry stone walls, a part of the course that I am asked to come and teach each year. We have been given a small garden wall to rebuild at the Niagara Botanical Gardens today and tomorrow.

Here Sasha begins to lay another stone in the second row of coursing in our new wall. We are reusing the local mostly dish-shaped limestone material which was part of the original wall and was probably sourced from the bedrock when the foundations of the School of Horticultural were excavated.

The wall looked like this before we started.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Stone Hammer Beer....mmmm

F and M Brewery in Guelph Ontario is one of the sponsors of this year's Rocktoberfest this October 7-10. They are not far from Hart House Farm the beautiful U of T property in the Caledon Hills, three quarters of an hour northwest of Toronto Ontario.

'Stone Hammer' is the name of the beer they make.

It seemed appropriate for a dry stone festival. We wanted to make sure everyone we've invited to come work on the demonstration walls have the proper tools.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I wanted to relax in a bolstered armour chair of stone that I saw in Barrie Vermont last week.

So I did.

It's called 'Daddy's Chair' and it's by Giuliano Cecchinelli who used the famous Barre gray granite to carve this wonderful piece of furniture which he finished just this summer.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

On the level and on the bias

A clear plastic tube with water in it is one way to calculate where level is when you don't have a sting-line level or a fancy laser level. Waller and landscaper Patrick Callon is checking how his end of the amphitheatre bench measures up to the height established by co-worker Mike Melo on his section.

Mike can see that the water line is exactly where it should be.

Someone came up with a new name for this tube level device which Toronto waller Menno Braam brought to the Rocktoberfest pre-build at Hart House farm last Monday. I think they called it a 'phuzy'.

Menno, on the other hand, is building another part of the amphitheatre that has to be oriented 'on the bias'. It's a pity there is no kind of 'phuzy' to measure what he's trying to do.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Block Music

The famous stone tool company in Barre Vermont

Randy the cheery helpful knowledgble guy who works there

Acquiring the feather and wedges needed for the job of splitting the block of granite to be used for the base of the arch we were going to build.

The large quarried Barre Grey granite block donated for the project with seven 4 inch deep 7/8 diameter holes drilled ready to be split.

Playing the 'Blockenspiel' until it suddenly breaks.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New World Lithobolos Champion

This year at the Rocknocker's Reunion in Barre Vermont Tomas Lipps editor of Stonexus magazine hoped to regain his title as champion of the annual international Stone Foundation lithobolos tournament. He came all the way from Santa Fe.
Reigning champion, yours truly, travelled from Toronto Canada to Barre too to defend his title against very stiff competition from all over Ontario, Quebec, Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Rhode Island.

We played some very exciting games in the specially built dry stone enclosed bocce court students constructed during the six day DSWAC dry stone workshop held during the 2008 symposium in Barre Vermont.
The thrilling final match resulted in Drew Samson, a landscaper and stone enthusiasts from South Berwick Maine becoming the winner and new lithobolos champion. Congratulations Drew. Now you have to drive many many miles to defend your title next year.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gathering Hearting

Gathering hearting takes much longer than gathering building stones. Perhaps it's not that obvious, but it's much easier and faster to fill a wagon with big rocks than fill it with the smaller stones that are needed for the inside packing of a dry stone wall - that is, unless you have an eager crew of helpers like we had yesterday at Hart House farm, who were all there to do a lot of the preliminary work for this year's Rocktoberfest.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Barre Vermont Arch

This dry stone arch was built during the three days of the 2011 Rocknocker's Reunion in Barre Vermont.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Photographed yesterday, Barre Vermont monument worker Homer Peake looks up as he is just about to sandblast the special inscription we composed for the base stone of the Sept 11th 2011 dry stone arch structure which wallers and masons built during last weekend's 'Rocknocker Reunion'.

Tomorrow - pics of the completed permanent Gothic arch fire pit entrance way.