Wednesday, February 29, 2012

So has anyone asked. "But what do the Rocks want to do with their lives"

I suspect the stuff of rocks is more interested in getting into long-lasting walls than getting into computers

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Leftover fragments from large stones which are used for making full scale walls and buildings were gathered by this waller and made into miniature walls and buildings. Another form of fractalization, (if that's a word)

BBC News - Art imitates life for stonemason

I wonder if the wee shards left over from making these miniatures could be gathered and made into even smaller walls?

Monday, February 27, 2012

A keen new Canadian waller.

John Bland is a graduate of the Heritage Masonry course at Algonquin College in Perth Ontario where John Scott (a consultant with the DSWAC) has been the chief instructor. After gaining essential walling skills at this renown Canadian institute he attended a couple Canadian workshops, one being at our 2011 Rocktoberfest  in Caledon Ontario. With these hands on experiences, just a little less than year ago, he began work on this wall in Quebec. 

It's interesting to see the calibre of workmanship John displays and note that this is the result of good training, and obviously an enthusiastic response to the examples he has seen and the possibilities there is for walling in Canada, as well as his openness to participating in walling events here and a dedication to personally applying his skills at getting better. These are all aspects of Canadian walling which we as organization have been encouraging from our inception in Canada more than 9 years ago, and not in fact the product of any particular certification scheme.

John Bland is working on a wall for his parents in the west island of Montreal.  It's going to be an 80 foot long wall with a gate in the middle. His parents gave him the green light to build 'something outrageous' that incorporated everything he had learned, and had told him they were not in a hurry. 

"Thank god," He added in a recent letter to me.
"I started the project last march working only on weekends. I thought I would be able to get it done by winter that way. By mid summer I saw that my time estimate was way off. The project eventually consumed me.  In October I quit my job to try and put a satisfying dent in it before winter came. I managed to get one section about 80 percent finished." 

The stone is Covey Hill sandstone from a quarry called Ducharme. It comes from the eastern townships of Quebec. There are two colors. A dark blue which he uses for the cheek ends, copes and jumpers and a grey for the runners and snecks. 

"When the wall gets wet in the rain the colors really come out."

John says building is tricky. When he gets an idea in his head he tries hard to make it come alive. He admits to being a little obsessive compulsive. And realizes that this is both a good and a bad thing. 

"My work looks good but it takes a while for me to be satisfied. It's mostly John Scott's fault ha ha. He taught me all these rules for stone bonding and I think I may have taken him a little too seriously."

He goes on to say that he needs to learn more about what's okay and what's not okay in terms of each stones amount of depth into the wall. 

"I ended up 3/4 'throughing' everything as well as using through stones every meter. There is only one tracer I put in purposely just to see what might happen.. It's more towards the top of the wall In case I need to do a repair.  When both sides of the wall are complete I'm going to ask the city if I can do an arch going over the entrance way. Well see..  I still have a lot to learn. 

People pass by all the time and talk to me like I'm some kind of pro dry stone waller. I tell them I'm a beginner and I don't really know what I'm doing ha ha. More workshops!  " 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The New iStone

This handy iStone comes with great new apps, including 'Shazam for Rocks', for accurate on-site rock identification. Other apps include a 'Phony Stones' detector and 'Weathering' to give you up-to-date stone weathering information.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Where there is a wall, there is a weigh.

Photo and wall by Eric Landman

Walls are heavy things. They weigh about a ton for every 3 running feet of four foot high wall you are going to build. Walls made of basalt weigh about 180 pounds per cubic foot. Granite and limestone weigh in at around 170 pounds a cubic foot. Limestone is around 160. It's all heavy stuff. The point is that most stone material is heavier than wood, plastic and even bricks and concrete and most man made materials except those made of metal.

Here is a good link for determining the weights of materials.

Weight is a good thing. There's no good complaining about how heavy stones are. They are all about weight. That's what makes them work. To try to skimp on the amount of stone you will use to build a wall is a silly idea. It would be like buying a ladder that is too short for the job.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tolerances are a virtue

The art of dry stone walling requires knowing the tolerance level of the stones you are using. 
If you impose a 'zero level' of tolerance on a stone material you create an uninteresting wall.  

Stones offer us a lot of opportunity to put them in the wall in interesting ways, not just structural ways, and not always exactly "by the book". Stones are individuals and they are fundamentally very tolerant.  If you refuse to work with their tolerances, or insist on minimizing them, you are not doing the stone or your wall any favours. You will have a minimally interesting wall and while you might impress your colleagues with your abilities to make the stonework look like block work, there is really no need to do so. 

The trick is knowing and maintaining tolerances and working with the idiosyncrasies of the stones rather than trying to be in control all the time and shaping the daylights out them.

Andy Goldsworthy said that complete control can be the death of a work.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Stone Cold

The stone was covered with tarps which helped keep the snow off, but not the cold.

Eric and Jordan and I worked in the cold on Tuesday but discussed warm memories and retold funny stories.

It seems to me that stone ( limestone at least ) cuts differently when it's frozen. It's more unpredictable, and tends to scallop more, and break in curves, rather than straight planes. Has anyone any thoughts on why this might be? I would have thought stone would split better ( like fire wood does when it is frozen).

Another challenge working with cold frozen stone is making sure all the ice and frozen mud is chiseled off the surfaces of the stones before they are laid in the wall. This can be almost more difficult than shaping the stone itself.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Family and Friends Day

Many friends and family of the Landman's gathered at Island Lake in Orangeville Ontario on Family Day February 20th to meet and share a meal outside together and encourage the wallers helping that day to build a special dry stone structure. It was a very festive occasion. The sun was bright and the weather was unusually mild. Along with all these supporters Jordan Mason, Ryan Stannought,  Menno Braam, Evan Oxland, Akira Inman,  Scott Dykstra and a number of other wallers were there participating in the building of this memorial dry stone wall for Eric's wife Kerry. 

The tree pattern is is starting to take shape. Eric estimates this 20  foot long 10 foot high wall will take another 3 weeks to complete. (Doug Bell, Josh Graham, Sean Donnelly and Dean McLellan showed up earlier in the week to help with this project also.) 

Eric and Ryan Stananought came up with this clever 'tree-wall' concept which Ryan then did a rendering of. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Coastal Crumble

Much of the coastal rock along the northern shore of California is a very low grade sandstone.
It's amazing California hasn't just disintegrated into the Pacific Ocean by now.
You can just pick away at it slowly like an uninteresting desert.
This is not a very good stone to build walls with.
There is a point where a pile of inferior stone ceases to be stone at all and becomes more like apple crumble.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Stuck in the middle.

John finds out if the inside of the bake oven we're building is a good sound chamber. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Long houses go a long way back in Canada

 The DSWAC built reproduction ancient boat-roofed house in 2005 
based on book by Canadian writer Farley Mowat
How some sixth-century British 
settlers could save the 
day for Canada
From Saturday's Globe and MailPublished 
Last updated 

Canada's North has never been at greater risk. Treasure seekers flying U.S., Russian and Danish flags are energetically disputing our claims to sovereignty and we can be sure that China, India and doubtless others are not far behind.

This week, the Canadian Forces launched Arctic Ram, the “biggest and most complex exercise” ever mounted in the Far North, to “reacquire winter soldier skills.” The army says, “We need to be able to shoot, move and communicate” in harsh conditions.

Flexing our northern muscle is fine, but we need to make use of every weapon we have to protect our Arctic border.

Non-aboriginal claims to sovereignty in North America have been based mostly on exploration and occupancy by Europeans in the past millennium. Although our leaders ought to be making a case for Canada's possession on this basis, little has been done despite convincing evidence of very early “discovery” and settlement by visitors from the British Isles as early as the sixth century.

For three-quarters of a century, I have been investigating early European ventures to what is now Canadian territory and have published two comprehensive studies on the subject: Westviking: The ancient Norse in Greenland and North America (1965) and The Farfarers: Before the Norse(1998). They demonstrate that in all probability the Norse (currently the first choice as discoverers of Canada) were, in fact, relative latecomers.

However, those charged with defending Canada's claims to northern sovereignty seem to have resolutely ignored this possibility in favour of accepting the claim that the Norse were the first discoverers of our country.

They are doing this in spite of much new evidence. Some of this is coming from the Canadian Museum of Civilization, one of whose archeologists, Patricia Sutherland, has been digging ancient habitation sites on Baffin Island and Labrador. She has found many prehistoric artifacts with a mix of aboriginal and European characteristics. And although radioactive dates cluster around the arrival of the Norse circa 1000 AD, some are several centuries earlier.

Among her finds are yarns and cloth made not from goat or sheep fleece, as would have been the case had they come from Europe or Greenland as trade goods, but from wild animals including Arctic hare and white fox, which are indigenous to Canada. The most probable explanation is that they were produced in situ, either by European women living there or native women who learned their techniques.

There are many other indications of a relatively intense and long-lived European presence. Artifacts found near Dr. Sutherland's Baffin Island sites include such signature objects as tally sticks (widely used in ancient Europe), whetstones of early European pattern, bone and wooden figurines dressed in early European style (one with a cross carved on its chest) and stone structures of European character. One ruin protected the fur of a house rat not native to North America but a frequent hitchhiker on ships from Europe.

However, perhaps the strongest evidence of a significant and enduring early European presence lies in more than 100 low-walled (about a metre high), boat-shaped enclosures scattered singly and in small groups across Canada's Eastern Arctic.

Many historians who reject the possibility of a European presence in the region before the arrival of the Norse refer to these peculiar enclosures as native-built “longhouses,” although they bear little similarity to the classic longhouse of archeology. For one thing, they show no evidence of ever having had a roof. So what were they for? Some have concluded that they weren't for human habitation but may have served some mysterious ceremonial purpose.

Archeologist Thomas E. Lee, also of the Museum of Civilization, excavated several longhouses in the sixties and seventies, and was certain that they were habitations even though he couldn't determine how they might have been roofed.

He died before he could find the answer, but, as I have detailed in The Farfarers, I followed his lead and discovered that these longhouses are virtually identical in plan, size and materials to buildings once numerous in northern Britain, especially Orkney and Shetland., some still inhabited, and which were roofed by overturning large boats on the stone walls. Originally, these boats were sheathed with sea-mammal hides (especially walrus and seal), which, being semi-translucent, admitted light and were almost perfectly waterproof.

The houses are just part of a significant body of evidence that testifies to a strong European presence in the Canadian Arctic as early as the sixth century – a presence that probably still endures in people of mixed heritage and culture in the region.

This evidence continues to accrue and, with a little more time (and digging), it will soon be apparent that Canada's claim to sovereignty was established well over 1,000 years ago. Once this fact is recognized in international law, we won't need to establish it by force of arms

Friday, February 17, 2012

Connecting the dots

I slept outdoors last night in the dry stone Gothic arch greenhouse we built  in Gualala California. The air was crisp and cold. The night sky was filled with tiny dots of light. I lay on my back on the cobbled stone floor, staring up waiting for the light show to begin. Nothing. The stars were many but there was no show. No comets. No satellites. No northern lights. Just small specs of light peering back at me in the darkness and profound faraway stillness.

Slowly my eyes began to connect the dots. The brighter stars seemed to reach out and magnetically connect to other stars, creating a cellular patten of imaginary shapes. The night sky very slowly revealed a fascinating web of connectedness. It was as though I was being allowed to detect a purpose and direction to their placement. 

I began to think of our place and purpose on this tiny planet. We are here to connect the dots. Our purpose is to put our ducks in a row- to line up the details, the occurrences, the ideas, the notes, the words and the stones, all in rows.

I saw an imaginary dry stone wall gradually come into focus. 

Such are the marvelous thoughts and wonderful musings that come with spending a night surrounded by dry stone walls . There is a sense of place that comes in a stone enclosure that keeps you connected and makes you feel you are not alone.   

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I wrote to an artist I had discovered on the internet who was doing some interesting digital images, (not unlike this photo above, which for the purposes of this post, is not his) It inspired me to do something similar in dry stone. I wrote him requesting that we might collaborate or at least wondered if he would be agreeable to me developing the theme of his photos further, only in some sort of dry stone application. 

He kindly wrote me back and gave me permission to publish his photos on my blog but said  he wasn't able to collaborate on a project because he had moved on to some different photographic concepts and he didn't have the time  for anything else. Moreover, I was disappointed to read that his work was "published with a "non derivative" Creative Common License" and that therefore I could not use the idea he had come up with even as a bit of a springboard for something 'derived' from his photos 

It seemed to me that this spelled the end of the creative process for this concept, in terms of where he (or anyone else) was going, unless he decided to pursue it on his own. I do wonder about this sort of thing. While I understand the idea/need of preserving a certain ownership of one's artistic ideas and content, I think there can be unfortunate consequences when it hinders people from developing upon a specific theme just because the person who 'discovered' it  is not only unwilling to allow others to use but not interested in pursuing it any further themselves.

I have given consent on occasion to people using original ideas I've come up with, like the hot wheels loop I did several years ago. It seemed to be a win win situation. 

An idea I came up with and rendered in photoshop for a client.

The finished product.

Sometimes they don't ask me and just use a design or an original idea created in dry stone, just taking credit for it as their own. That's not so nice, but it's still a risk you take when you 'give birth' to an idea. It's okay to be imitated and even not be given the credit  but it is a bit annoying to see people promoting your idea as their own, and in fact merely butchering your creative concept because of how badly they do it.

Is there an answer to being copied badly and should we have the right to 'sit' on our creations?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Instant Arch

A little arch we built on a street in Deià in Mallorca after a heavy steamy rainfall.
I decided to post this video clip from 2006 here today. I thought the flowers would be appropriate for Valentine's.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Shore Thoughts

The sandstone surfaces along this rocky shore near Point Arena are like finely executed watercolours. The stones with their complex patina of colours and shading convey a sense of skill and artistry. They are dappled in sunlight and tinted with the fading hues of evaporation from the receding tide. The textures are eaten away by time and weather. The patterned contours speak of a time when the rocks were free as clouds as they floated in the primordial firmament. They remember in their peeling flesh the far away land forms they have once been part of and new landscapes they will merge into again. Theirs is a reality and purpose waiting to be uncovered in layers. The rocky ocean shoreline is a place to renew ones love of stone and feel small again, small enough to explore between the contours of an imagination bigger than our own.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fractal Gathering

The mathematical generation of natural looking textures, planes and surfaces using fractal geometry creates some very pleasing effects . There is something happening on a similar plane with the introduction of creative dry stone elements into the natural landscape. Exploring the intrinsic patterning of the universe has become an area where the distinctions between detailed computer generated images, the natural order and artistically laid stonework are becoming delightfully blurred.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Baker's fieldguide to oven building. Part 4

We set up an elaborate temporary arrangement of boards in order to accurately establish the points of the peaks at the gables.

Then we ran string lines from the corners of the wall to the peaks to establish the diagonal line of the parapets and then began to lay stone up to these lines.

Plates were mortared into place along the top of both side walls.
After that a 70 inch ridge board was screwed temporarily in place (hung from our temporary frame above the structure). Then we measured and cut the rafters. 

Sheathing (with reflective foil on lower side) was screwed on to the rafters.

 The inside of the oven looked pretty sweet.

We took this night photo two days before the oven was roofed . 

We got impatient and tried cooking a pizza on the small fire we built in the oven that night. Not a good idea. 

Here's a rather fuzzy shot of the finished oven after it was roofed with cement roofing tiles and the site was cleaned up.

Looking back at our original design, we were pretty happy with how close it looked, even with the changes that we felt we needed to make with our time constraints.
It took us 7 days to build.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Baker's fieldguide to oven building. Part 3

The second brick arch is completed. The arch is slightly higher than the one in front of the flue to allow smoke to turn up into the chimney.

The smoke will be forced downwards and out of the oven vault through a narrower 21 inch firebrick arch

The flue is directed forward using firebricks to go up and over the stone arch and so allow the chimney to fir within the narrow parapet width of only 18 inches wide.

The vault is covered with refractory cement. Two thermometers have been installed in two bricks which have been pre-drilled to accommodate the probes in the vault .

Perlite is mixed with Portland and sand to create a 'churffy' concrete mix that has a high insulation value

The Perlite concrete is applied to the outer surface of the oven vault.

A second layer of perlite concrete is applied

Three layers of ceramic refractory fibreglass blankets are laid over the vault to retain the heat even more and to create a thermal break with the rest of the masonry.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Baker's fieldguide to oven building. Part 2

Next came the hearth stone.We used a reclaimed curb stone from San Francisco. These huge granite chunks were original quarried and chiseled square by Chinese workers in the mid 1800's
The hearth stone is laid on the stonework along the front of the oven and positioned so that it is exactly the right height for firebricks laid on the concrete base to butt up flush. The hearth also has to be overhanging. The eight inch blocks take the unbalanced weight until more stone is added above the hearth.

The herringbone pattern is laid right up flush to the large hearth stone.

The channel for the opening and the throat is ruffed out.

The first firebrick arch is laid. This is built behind, and becomes part of the stone door archway which is built immediately after . The brick arch will eventually not be seen.

We use a small form for two brick archways and the front stone arch opening

The sides to the bake oven are built up and then work begins on the six courses of vaulting. This requires another larger form, able to support one course at a time. A second stone arch is added in front of the first. This arch is larger and allows head space and more storage space on the hearth.