Monday, April 29, 2013

Wallers and Walls in Wales

Master Craftsman with the DSWA, Sean Adcock wrote to me recently to say he also had a good time our Canadian friend Andre Lemieux who visited and worked with Sean recently before seeing Jason  ( See previous post about Jason and Andre)  

Sean wrote... " Don't suppose its much use but just in case you'd like to add something about the first leg of his tour here's a photo or two of Andre with one of our creations during his stay (Evan and Kenny worked on this site too). 

This one isn't one of mine! It is rubbish that will never last - need to include it in a Rogues gallery, it's just a part of a 2000 year old (yes thousand) hill fort! Imagine how long it would last if built properly. 

 We also visited some of things that the Tour of Walls in June was supposed to go on.  How not to batter a wall (built 1860s), obviously a life limited structure... 

This is a retaining wall in Dinorwic quarry (built so there was enough flat land for the big shed, 100 yards long 40 feet high at tallest)   Brenda and Andre are admiring 
the view. 

A diminutive Andre in front is one of the large incline walls used for lowering finished slates out of the slate quarry in Dinorwic. 

Sean was interviewed recently on BBC radio about how not to build a dry stone wall.

It starts about ten minutes into the program

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Jason Hoffman was back at Auchtermuchty for a couple of days working on some bits and pieces that we couldn't finish in November because of the snow and freezing temperatures.

The arch and big wall are looking fine - the stone is now all nice and clean too.

The landscaping guys are finally laying the patio slabbing too (there was still snow on the site last week so everything on this job has been delayed.

He has our good friend and Canadian stone mason/waller Andre Lemieux staying and working with him for a few days. He's been in Wales working with Sean Adcock, learning to work with the rough stone there. He's now with me trying to get his head around Whinstone and sandstone, and is heading up to stay with George Gunn in Thurso later this week for some Caithness stone problem solving. Jason says he thinks he's having fun!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Hand Bones

AROUND 1.7 million years ago, our ancestors' tools went from basic rocks banged together to chipped hand axes. The strength and dexterity needed to make and use the latter quickly shaped our hands into what they are today – judging by a fossil that belongs to the oldest known anatomically modern hand.
The 1.7-million-year-old Acheulean hand axes were some of the first stone tools. Over the next million years, these chunky teardrop-shaped rocks became widely used before being replaced by finer, more precise flint tips. But how our ancestors' hands evolved into a shape that could make such tools is a bit of a mystery.
Before the hand axes appeared, our ancestors had primitive wrists: good for hanging from branches, but too weak to grasp and handle small objects with much force. And no hand bones had been found to fill the gap between 1.7 million years ago and 800,000 years ago – by which time humans had developed the hands we have today. Now, a new fossil is helping bridge that gap.
In 2010, a team led by Fredrick Kyalo Manthi of the National Museums of Kenya discovered an intriguing bone in the north of the country. Carol Ward of the University of Missouri and colleagues identified it as a third metacarpal, the long bone in the palm between the middle finger and the wrist.
Like modern human metacarpals, it has a small lump at its base – the styloid. This projection helps stabilise the wrist when the hand is gripping small objects between the thumb and fingers. Isotope dating revealed the bone to be about 1.4 million years old. It is likely to have belonged to Homo erectus.
Hand bones of early Homo erectus are almost unknown, says Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. "Having such a well-preserved specimen begins to answer questions about hand evolution," he says.
"This is an exciting find," agrees Mary Marzke of Arizona State University in Tempe. It shows that our ancestors' hands were already evolving into their modern form 1.4 million years ago. The forceful, repetitive and sustained processes of tool use, such as digging with rocks, would have made stronger hands desirable, says Marzke.
This would have been particularly useful for knocking off flakes to form and sharpen hand axes, says Potts. Once the important wrist features were in place, it became easier for later hominids to make smaller, finer tools.
Because the fossil is younger than the first tools, Ward's team believe it is the first evidence of anatomy evolving to suit a new technology. As stone tools became more widespread, those who had the wrist structure to use them would have had an evolutionary advantage over their weaker-wristed kin. "The way we look today has been shaped by our behaviour over millions of years," says Ward. She presented the research at this week's meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Knoxville, Tennessee

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Greetings from the Board

Greetings from the Board of the recently incorporated Dry Stone Walling Association of Canada

The Board would like to cordially invite you to a meeting on Saturday, May 4th, 2013 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM Parkwood Estates 270 Simcoe St N, Oshawa, ON L1G 4T5
The purpose of this open social event and meeting is to inform dry stone wallers and interested parties of the Association’s activities to date and upcoming planned activities. In particular, we would like to provide information on the Association’s new Standards and 

Events guidelines and the Association's upcoming inaugural 2013 Stone Festival, in Alton, Ontario from June 28th - July 1st.
We hope to garner your ideas for the Association’s future direction, as well as encourage new membership. You need not be a member to attend this meeting. After the meeting, we will reconvene at a local pub for dinner and drinks.

2013 Stone Festival
We have formalized arrangements with the Town of Alton, who have agreed to be the host of our inaugural 2013 Stone Festival. The Town of Alton has a Trillium Grant from the Province of Ontario for the event. The Association been asked to build several sections of wall, a pillar, and a feature which will consist of a moongate with a bonsai metal sculpture embedded in its centre in a new Town Square.
We will also be conducting a beginner’s course taught by certified craftsmen.
The Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain, The Dry Stone Conservancy and The Stone Trust have all agreed to send representatives to the 2013 Stone Festival. All of them will participate in the builds; provide a presentation on their organization and activities; and to participate in Certification Examinations.2
Dry Stone Walling Association of Canada Invitation 

Guests to the festival include
Norman Haddow and another master craftsman from the DSWA-GB.
Neil Rippingale and Jane Wooley, The Dry Stone Conservancy, 
A master craftsman fromThe Stone Trust

The Association has chosen to invite members from three of the most influential walling organisations as both an outreach to more formal relations and to solicit a varied perspective with respect to education, standards and governance. All three organizations are very well recognised, respected and their members include some of the top wallers in the world. Their representatives will be involved before, throughout and after the 2013 Stone Festival weekend in preparation, education, and certification.

Lunches will be provided for all registered participants. On the Saturday evening there will be an open dinner with the town for all registered participants.

The Association has 2 pre-builds for which we need volunteers. These pre-builds are on the weekends of June 15th/16th and June 22nd/23rd. Accommodations and lunches will be provided for during the pre-builds. Please contact Eric Landman at if you can help.
If you are interested in getting involved with the administration of the organisation we could greatly use ANY help, please contact Carlan Stants at if you are interested. Some working groups that need support/activity include the Events Committee, Standards Committee, Website Committee, and Membership “The Great Catalogue of Wall” Committee.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Do we know how to draw them?


We build walls with stones
We build bridges of stone
We make roads and driveways of stone
We blast stones to make roads
We buy stones
We collect them
We are sometimes a stones throw away
We sometimes throw stones at glass houses
We skip stones
We play games with them
We balance them
We paint pictures on them
We keep doors open with them
We prop things shut with them
We carve them
We sometimes have a heart of stone
We have stony expressions
We stonewall people
We get stoned drunk
We stay stone sober
We can be stone broke
We can be stone cold
We can ignite a fire by hitting stones together
We had a stone age
We live on a planet mostly comprised of stone
We have wonders of the earth made of stone

But trying to draw or paint stones...
It's really not that easy.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Formally Dressed

I'm proud of Jason Sivak of Sivak Stonemasonry. He and his crew not only have a great talent for doing both quality and inspiring stonework, they have a sense of humour too. Jason and I think alike. 

He writes, " After years of wearing jeans and t-shirts to work, the men of Sivak Stonemasonry decided it was OK to class things up for one day a week. Starting the Formal Friday Tradition." 

Bravo guys ! 

Jason not only scores stone but scores big style points with his tan suit and blue shirt.

Fezzy, even while cutting a stone stays professional in his pinstripe navy suit.

Mickey pulls a stone from his pocket while pulling off a classic gray suit with red tie for some color.

As for me? I've been walling in a tweed jacket for years.

I'm always trying to dress things up a bit with the guys I work with -
But they just don't get it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Grampians National Park Trail Project - Part Two

An overhead rigging system was also set up in order to lift the heavy wall and step rocks into place. 

It took a some deliberation to figure out the best alinement for the stairway, and in the end we opted to take advantage of a large column of rock that had partially cleaved from the main ridge and created a gap that was ideal for containing the planned stairway.

For this to work, a 10 foot high retaining wall needed to be built on the side of the column where the trail left the ridge, with a further three and a half foot of free-standing parapet extending above the retaining wall to remove fall height issues for walkers.

The site was about a 45 min walk from vehicle access and approximately 270 kilograms(600 pounds) worth of tools and rigging equipment had to be hiked in and out on our backs. 

As is evident from the photos, with the moving of large rocks and proximity to fall heights, the potential for a serious accident was present. 

Constant vigilance and adherence to safe work practices were followed in order to reduce this to an acceptable level. I am very grateful to my two assistants Thor Delager and Caillan Sainsbury for their help in successfully completing this logistically and technically challenging project.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Grampians National Park Trail Project - Part One

I received an email last week from my good friend Gavin Rose documenting a recent dry stone trail project he has just completed.  This is part one of his fascinating account of how he and his crew moved and shaped the large stones for the job.


"I have been working with a small crew in the Grampians National Park in Victoria, Australia for just under a year, repairing trails by building retaining walls, stairs, culverts and other dry stone structures. Our most recent project took place on a remote ridge near Mt. Rosea, where a new trail had been built that followed the ridge line - with a 200 foot escarpment  on one side and a 15 foot drop-off on the other. 

At one point the ridge between these two features became quite narrow, forcing walkers to pass dangerously close to the escarpment, and it was decided to construct a stairway down the other side of the ridge in order to avoid this hazard. 

As there were very few suitable small rocks in the immediate area to build with, we decided to use the numerous large boulders available by dislodging them

and then drilling them 

 and splitting them, using feathers and wedges, in order to create usable pieces. "

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A slow run-off.

Yesterday Christopher Overing sent me the photo he took two days ago of the dry stone bridge we built at his parents property during the Festival of Stone near Montreal last October . The double arches were cleverly designed to accommodate the huge volume of slow-moving run-off (is that an oxymoron?) typically experienced during spring thaw at this time of year .

Here is how the nearly completed bridge looked the morning after the event - this being the most recent festival that Dry Stone Walling Across Canada held during Thanksgiving back in 2012.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Maps and Lists at our DSWAC Festivals

Rocktoberfest 2007

For nearly a decade we have run our annual Dry Stone Wall Festival here in Canada. There are plenty of posts on this blog about several of those festivals which you can find by using the Search button.

Originally named the 'Northumberland Dry Stone Wall Festival', when we held it in Port Hope Ontario, this event got much bigger and we moved the venue further afield and it morphed into 'Canadian Dry Stone Wall Festival' and then 'Rocktoberfest'. Last year the 'Festival of Stone', as it is now called, was held near Montreal. The festival draws stone artists, skilled masons and professional wallers from all over the world.

Rocktoberfest 2009

As in previous years, Rocktoberfest 2009 not only had several special walling projects continuously on the go, it also had live music, great food, special presentations, art displays, kids events and several trade booths . One of the booths showcased (with maps and printed articles) most of the Canadian wallers we were aware of at that time. Participants at the event were invited to leave their portfolios and show photos of their work. Dry Stone Walling Across Canada promoted these men and women not only based on their skill but their ability to get along with others and their eagerness to advance the cause of walling in Canada in a noncompetitive way.

This year the Festival of Stone will NOT be held, as has been for the last nine years on our Canadian Thanksgiving in October. Instead it will be held in June. 

The event is being organized and run by a newly incorporated  dry stone walling group here in Canada which has an elected board and is comprised of wallers and enthusiasts who still share the same vision of cooperation.

I support their effort and hope to be there myself running a tiny-hands-on walling project with some of the children attending the festival with their parents.

Check back here soon for news of where and when the festival will be held.

Friday, April 12, 2013

2013 California Project

Last January we built 150 feet of dry stone retaining wall near Gualala California

Patrick McAfee, Sean Adcock and I came up with a clever structural way of using what was essentially pallets of five to six inch thin veneer mica quartzite quarry material

Patrick suggested we continue with the triangle theme of the dry stone greenhouse that we had already built on site, and so we found a way of incorporating triangular niches into the wall

A series of red sandstone benches were also designed and built primarily by Sean Adcock who found working the zig-zagging stone bench backs a bit of a challenge.

The wall had a bit of an Irish feel to it. It looked fairly rugged and almost chaotic at first until there was enough of a section built to register the rhythm of the pattern.

Here Sean reenacts how he fell off the wall as he stepped backwards stressing about how to finish of the copes on the bench design.

A rugged triangular step pattern was designed and built by the four of us. 

Sean's inverted pyramid which was built into the last section of wall was just Sean A showing off towards the end of the project .

The happy wallers after two weeks of doing what we love to do most.

Sean Smyth ( Sean B) stayed on two more days to finish the last section of wall and sent us some lovely photos of the completed job. Thanks Sean we couldn't have done it without you.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Drawing a blank

Drawing a blank
can be a very creative thing.

It can lead to new ideas,

If we are given a blank in scrabble
it opens a world of possibilities

A blank cheque
gives you financial freedom

A blank page
can be filled with all sorts of creativity

Blank verse 
can become beautiful poetry


But in walling it's difficult to fill in the blanks.

We have to use what we have.

We can't make things up !

We choose from a random pile of stones 

We order them to make a wall

The stones are found - not made to order.