Sunday, March 31, 2013

Life is like a rock wall of chocolates

You never know what you're gonna get.

Or where they are all hiding.

Or how many you will find.

Happy Easter.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Walling as Art.

Art Installation at The Northumberland Headquarters Building

On August 5th I will be teaching an intensive five day dry stone walling course at Haliburton School of the Arts - Fleming College. The emphasis will be on what is termed 'Dryscaping' – the structural use of natural stone in landscape applications without man made products such as glue, rebar, cement, concrete blocks or imitation stone.

CtoC 16 - Ted Brandon.jpg

This dry stone feature called " C to C" was built by students taking the five day course I taught at the Haliburton School Arts several years ago.

There are several very intruiging sculptures in the 'art park'.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hubb Creek Bridge Revisited

Speaking of bridges, this is another dry stone footbridge built in Prince Edward County, Ontario this time, during a 10 day workshop organized by Dry Stone Walling Across Canada with eight students under the instruction of DSWAC director John Shaw-Rimmington back in 2007, which was revisited and videoed in the spring of 2013. It still looks spectacular.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Building on top of the form

The two keystones are in place and the lowest pair of voussoirs are fitted.

The other large sandstone voussoirs we shaped are then lifted on by hand, one by one, and fitted carefully along the outer sides of the form so there were no gaps.

As we built up the outsides, the centre of the arch was infilled with micca quartzite builder stones from Sidney Peak Quarry. They were laid face down in an array of radiating courses spaced properly near the upper edges with the ever important, yet tiny, shim stones.

Watching out for fingers!

Removing the stones from the temporary form was not as difficult as you might imagine.
The concrete outer shell broke out nicely too.

Finished Arch - Strong bones that stand ready for 'fleshing out' into a bridge when the time comes.

Thanks to Sean Smyth, Sean Adcock, Alan Ash and Patrick McAfee for all their help on this project.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bridge Thinking

A template was made of plywood to trace the voussoir shapes we would need on the chunks of red sandstone

We determined that the voussoirs would be ay least 8 inches at the base (intrados) to fit the dimensions of the arch circumference we had to span and still make the best use of the sizes of sandstone blocks we had availableThe sides of the template were then determined by the radiating lines coming from the bottom centre of the form. (the point where the trammel had been fixed to the base)

While it went pretty smoothly tracing and then cutting the chunkier stones into voussoir shapes, there was some difficulty getting the correct angle on any stones that were slightly smaller than our template. Any discrepancies in these angles had to be 'fixed' ( chiseled down with a point) after we tried fitting the arch stones together in situ 

The two huge keystones were then lowered into place exactly top centre of the form.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Formers with Mortar

The next step in our bridge 'reno' was to construct a goalpost-shaped trammel which we centered on the wooden platform we had made between the stone bridge abutments. 

Then using it as our height gauge, we rotated the trammel and built up a barrel-shaped pile of left-over rubble stones, being careful not to extend stones anywhere above the bar . Talk about moving goal posts!  We covered these stones with landscape fabric. 

We mixed concrete and applied a four inch layer with trowels over the barrel of stones. The surface was shaped to the exact contour of the bottom of the bar of the trammel . We left this over night to set. This was now to become the centering for the new arch.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bridge stages

The original arch of this unfinished bridge had temporary stones fitted into it and unfortunately the project had to be abandoned by the builders before it was completed. Several of the single full length voussoirs which extended beyond the width of the bridge had slipped down since then. The design was an ambitious one that would likely have worked had they been able to finish it, but after considering all our options, including looking at what material there was to work with, we felt it was better to take down most of the arch and rebuild it.

The first stage of our work involved building a wooden crib of pallets under the arch to 'catch' most of the big stones which would fall when we removed the huge keystone and the heavy middle voissoirs.

 We strapped the stones and lifted them with a Gradal forklift. 

The next stage involved making a sturdy platform to support the centering which we had to design/construct to support the stones in the new dry stone arch. 

This 'centering' (also called 'falsework' or a 'former' ) wasn't going to be the usual type of arch form that I've employed on other bridges. This one was not going to be made of wood. Stay tuned to see what it looked like. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Steel Against Stone

Watch how we split a big rock at the 2012 Festival of Stone in Montreal without using a power drill or traditional feather and wedges.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fixed In Space.

This is the first phase of a dry stone arch we rebuilt over a small stream in mid February 2013 in California as part of a new bridge project to be completed next year. It was someone else's design but unfortunately it couldn't be completed with the available stone. This was an extensive "remodel"  as we had to actually 'half' take down the arch, cut and reshape some large voussoir stones and reconstruct most of the span from more reclaimed material.   

More photos of the various stages of this unusual bridge reno project will be posted later this month. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reinventing the Wall

Back in prehistory there were many attempts by early stone age enthusiasts at creating something close to what we now know as the archetypal 'dry stone wall'. Prototypes were dreamt up and built long before they even learned how to make fire. 

These random stone piles were balanced every which way. The contours and the various 'wall' shapes were probably all over the map. Who knows what the early versions might have looked like? They may have been inverted triangles, spheres, cones, hourglass shapes, skeletal-like or perhaps rainbow shapes. They didn't really know what they were building or why. They were just enjoying building things with stone. 

Somewhere along the line a singular design began to prevail and they decided to give a name to this generic loop shape which everybody was building. They called it a dry stone 'weel'.  And not long after they came up with that name, certain more developed neanderthals imposed regulations on how weels should be built and who should be allowed to stack them and what exactly they had to look like. 

(Above, is an archaeologist's scaled-down 'model' of what an early stone weel might have looked like)

But it was thousands of years later that the thing we now know as the wall actually got reinvented.

It was a good thing too because by this time the old weel was an unnecessarily difficult shape to build, but more importantly, someone had already stolen the name , albeit changed the spelling slightly to 'wheel' (but pronounced the same) for something they were experimenting on with large flagstone slabs to make them easier to drag around. (The revolutionary single-stone 'wheel' was a clever departure and a more useful application of stone than what the weelers had been drearily making for years ) As you can imagine, the old guard were not a little put out by having the name they had come up with years ago taken to mean something completely different. After much bickering they finally agreed amongst themselves to change the name of what they had been making and the shape of it, so that people in future generations wouldn't be confused.

History takes takes some strange twists and so we shouldn't be surprised by the irony that the name they came up with was a very similar sounding word. As you can imagine, there was a lot of confusion at first, but eventually most people agreed that everything had probably turned out for the better, especially as the old ring-shaped structures started disappearing from the landscape and the dry stone 'wall' began to take on the familiar shape that we associate with the word today.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cairn instead of Fightin'


– They seem never to have been a warlike race; passing through their country, we once observed a large stone cairn, and our guide favoured us with the following account of it: - 
    "Once upon a time, our forefathers were going to fight another tribe, and here they halted and sat down. After a long consultation, they came to the unanimous conclusion that, instead of proceeding to fight and kill their neighbours, and perhaps be killed themselves, it would be more like men to raise this heap of stones, as their protest against the wrong the other tribe had done them, which, having accomplished, they returned quietly home."
David Livingstone writing on men of peace.
Narrative of an expedition to the Zambesi.

The 14 foot tall cairn DSWAC built in Canada at Royal Ashburn 

Monday, March 18, 2013

The quietness of stones.

Ante Mortem 

It is likely enough that lions and scorpions
Guard the end; life never was bonded to be endurable nor the
act of dying
Unpainful; the brain burning too often
Earns, though it held itself detached from the object, often a
burnt age.
No matter, I shall not shorten it by hand.
Incapable of body or unmoved of brain is no evil, one always
went envying
The quietness of stones. But if the striped blossom
Insanity spread lewd splendors and lightning terrors at the end
of the forest;
Or intolerable pain work its known miracle,
Exile the monarch soul, set a sick monkey in the office . . .
remember me
Entire and balanced when I was younger,
And could lift stones, and comprehend in the praises the cruelties
of life.

Robinson Jeffers

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Boldly Balding Beach

South of Point Arena, in Mendocino County, where Schooner Gulch road intersects with  California State Highway # 1, there is a place called Bowling Ball Beach. I've had opportunity to visit this amazing beach now every winter for the last five years. It's a bit of a regular treat each time too to bring a number of international wallers who work with me here to see these phenomenal, very evenly spaced, almost completely rounded boulders. Two years ago DSWA master craftsman Sean Adcock saw them and took copious photos. 

The geological formations are known as 'concretions'. They naturally occur but are way better than any man made concrete 'creations' I've ever seen. They are best viewed at low tide. The 'bowling pins' are only seen when they are Photoshopped in. (Everything else in this photo is amazingly real : )

Anyway, in honour of Saint Patrick's day, I thought I'd post some pics of the afternoon last January when Sean and I introduced Ireland's Patrick McAfee to the beach. For those who don't know much about Patrick, he's a very knowledgeable author, heritage restoration mason, lime mortar expert, arch bridge consultant and dry stone walling instructor and a wonderfully humble man who would cringe that I just told you all that. 

He and I stood and marvelled at the smooth shiny bald rocks before us. Even before this excursion Patrick had already told me how wonderful a work holiday he was having and that he felt like he had "died and gone to California" !  

With all his stone insight I was surprised Patrick didn't make the association that I was beginning to see. Ever looking for blog content, I asked if he would agree, and he did, ( in his typically good natured Irish manner) to have a picture taken of the back of his bald head at a boldly exaggerated angle with the stone 'bowling balls' in the background. 

Patrick was a saint to allow this photo shoot. It shows how unintimidated, how comfortable, yea, how bold he is about his baldness. 

Cheers, Patrick ! And a 'coast' to you my friend, on this, your day, as you continue to go baldly where no hatless man has gone before.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sean Donnelly

Sean Donnelly is a craftsman who specializes in building walls, sculptures, and landscape features using a variety of natural stone. Nothing pleases him more than immersing himself in the process of envisioning and constructing a timeless piece, however big or small.

Although Sean’s current chosen medium is natural stone, he first found a creative home in music. He studied jazz trumpet at Humber College in Toronto, learning improvisation, composition and arranging. 

In 2006, Sean’s friend recommended he take a dry stone walling course. Her father had just returned from a course taught by John Shaw-Rimmington in Port Hope and thought that it would be a great fit. After doing some research, he found himself captivated by the history and construction methods behind this ancient craft. Then the creative side of walling started to reveal itself through the work of artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Dan Snow: the possibilities were limitless and a new world of creative opportunity unfolded for him. A year later, Sean took his first course and learned the basics of dry stone construction from Jo Hodgson at a dry stone festival organized by Dry Stone Walling Across Canada. Sean immediately drew parallels between musical composition and the construction of a dry stone wall: a large pile of random stones (or notes) is arranged to form a one of a kind crafted structure (or song). His decision to become a waller was cemented when Jo encouraged him to consider thinking about dry stone work as a career.

Sean immersed himself in the craft, seeking out learning opportunities wherever possible whether it be taking courses, reading books, or playing with stone in and around where he was living. Seeking to learn from technique driven builders, in 2009, Sean travelled to Scotland to work with master craftsman Norman Haddow at Balmoral Castle, who he met during a subsequent stone festival held by Dry Stone Walling Across Canada. During his stay with Norman, he helped repair a large corner section of wall that was deteriorating on a farm that The Crown had recently purchased.

During his time at Balmoral, Norman recommended that Sean look into the certification program designed by the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain (DSWAGB). Sean saw this program as a great way to push himself to build to an increasingly higher standard of construction in both speed and quality. The following fall Sean was tested by two master craftsmen and became certified in the craft, achieving his level two, or intermediate, certification.

Once Sean started looking into the certification scheme set up by the DSWAGB, he started to see similarities to other forms of creative expression, where people involved with these practices have the opportunity to go seek out masters to learn new techniques from and use that knowledge to help develop their own voice within their chosen fields. This was very appealing to Sean, so he started his journey to master craftsman.

 In the summer of 2011, Sean saved a pallet of heritage Vermont slate roof tiles from being discarded into a local landfill, and currently recycles them by building sculptures for both interior and exterior settings. Sean has created and sold wall hangings using slate and steel, slate vases, spheres and other geometrical shapes and most recently slate bird feeders which are becoming very popular with both the public, as well as with local songbirds. Currently, Sean has sculptures featured at ‘In a heartbeat’, an art gallery in Eden Mills, Ontario.

Sean currently works full time building dry stone walls and features for public and private properties in and around western Ontario. Sean lives in the Kitchener/Waterloo area, but being involved in a specialized trade, he is always willing to travel for the opportunity to build something interesting with stone. To see more photo’s of Sean’s work please visit his site at

Thursday, March 14, 2013

'Gap' is a verb

This beautiful dry stone wall was completed by Jason Hoffman of 'Stone Inspired' sometime around August of last year. It is made of a hard irregular shaped rock called Whinstone. It's a dark volcanic rock, and is a type of Dolerite.  

It was built very close to the road and along the inside corner of a gentle curve the road makes around the property. Jason had to be careful while he was building it not to get run over by cars cutting the corner.

Just a few months after the wall was built a young man being chased by the police skidded and crashed into it.  While I was visiting Jason last December we went to see the damaged wall.  It was a sorry sight.  

Fixing gaps (gapping) is just as much fun as building new walls. Just ask any one who gaps. You've got to love it. 

And gap work is enjoyable in any season.

Sometimes you don't even have to work in the snow or the mud or the rain and the cold.

Anyway, here is the newly repaired new wall, completed again this February.
 Congratulations Jason. You might have a full time job here.