Friday, May 31, 2013

'Venus Gate' Revisited

A group of students from Mayfield Secondary School performed 
(and made up the audience) in the Amphitheatre last weekend 
at U of T country property - Hart House Farm.

It was gratifying to see our 2011 Festival of Stone dry stone structure 
being used and enjoyed.

Thanks to Louise Knight-Warn for the photos

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Coping Well

I was relieved to know that while I was away in Seattle (at Stonefest) my guys - Algonquin College graduate, Trevor Spik and my son Colin, were coping quite well, including finishing the last twenty feet of huge boulder copes ( above photo ) on the left.

Yesterday, after I had returned, we continued working on the north wall. These guys are terrific. 

I also have Master Craftsman Norman Haddow to thank for the inspiring way he builds structurally with round stones, placing them in strict horizontal courses. 

Thanks Norman for your example. It's still a bit of a challenge for me to not just do a 'random' coursing, but your resulting horizontal pattern is so satisfying to look at and well worth the extra effort.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Curving through the woods

At the end of the Port Hope walling seminar, after all the students are gone, all the stones in the dry stone wall sigh a deep breath as they settle into their new home. They like being together. The stones like bringing people together too. 
A lot of new connections were made last weekend.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Building Walls in the Forest

Building walls is sometimes very very pleasant. Especially on a warm day in May when there's a perfect mix of shade and dappled sunlight. When the spring green is at its greenest. When you're surrounded by woodland and the students are all quietly focused on what they're doing. Twas a great first day of the Cumberland House two-day dry stone wall workshop.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Puppet Show for the Initiated.

Saint Patrick and the snake put on a show for us while we built the 'singles' wall around the dry stone Irish Clochan  at Stonefest yesterday.

This is a wall for unattractive unattached stones to get a chance to meet others.


The final look is kind of an acquired taste. This is definitely a connoisseur's wall. While it is a good use of stones, strong, well fitted and extremely functional, the jagged outside planes of the wall make it hard to appreciate, unless of course, one understands that walling with awkward stones includes a number of traditional techniques which don't necessitate constantly smashing them into block shapes with hammers.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Irish Ditch

Patrick stands beside the ditch we completed yesterday near Seattle Washington.

Patrick McAfee explained to the students attending our Stonefest workshop in Seattle that a certain kind of dirt-filled stone wall, like the one that we were to build this week, is commonly called a ditch, in Ireland.

It is a very similar to the Welsh clawdd an example of which I invited Sean Adcock to teach us to build in Canada last year at our own Festival of Stone.Both sides now 

These Irish ditches were sometimes consumption walls, using up a lot of stone and dirt , usually from having dug a deep trench first. They are used for livestock containment , or defensive barriers and often formed boundary lines. They become a haven for many species of wildlife. 

Our Irish wall was constructed with stone provided by Marenakos Rock Centre. It was a random chunky basalt material shipped down from Canada. We fitted the stones together in an upright wedged configuration. 


Our team began building our curved 'ditch' by placing the largest stones in an alternating pattern of tall short so that the second lift of stones could be wedged between the ones below. 

It is important to have running joints in this type of wall, as broken joints do not wedge properly and would be far less strong. 


Despite a rough almost haphazard look to the untrained eye the stones are all fitted very carefully in an extremely structural interlocking pattern and come to a clever level point at shoulder height. 

The inside is filled with stony soil pit run, clay or in our case dirt and then topped with turf. Often sprigs of hawthorn are planted in the wall while it is begin built to eventually ensure a dense impenetrable growth to the barrier and also to strengthen the mix with the resulting root system

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Suspended in air

The completed dry stone Celtic Cross Christopher Barclay invited Canadian wallers to come build at the Victoria Highland Games on May 18 2013

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Christopher of the Cross

I  get to do some really unusual dry stone projects  sometimes. The Celtic Cross we did for the Highland Games in Victoria this weekend has to be one of the most enjoyable and best collaborative demonstration projects I have been involved in a while. 

Hats off to Christopher Barclay who made it all happen under the auspices of ( and as a support for ) and as a sign of solidarity with, the newly formed, not for profit Dry Stone Walling Association of Canada. 

There was such wonderful a collaboration of masons and wallers and a genuine respect and appreciation of one another's skills. It was just like the good old days in Ontario when everyone got along, before a few troublemakers took a lot of the fun and enthusiasm out of it and felt they needed to belittle everyone else's efforts. 

After seeing the one we built in Uxbridge in 2002 Christopher pitched the idea of doing a temporary dry stone Celtic Cross to Highland Games president Jim Maxwell, and got the green light to design, organize and oversee the building of it. Christopher arranged to have Island Stone Supply lend us the stone material and then got the trucking of the material at half the delivery fee . He called together a great crew of skilled people to work on it including Dan Bird, Gavin Chamberlain, Jose Janecek, Kevin Maloney, and Jordan Hunt. Several other local masons dropped in to join us in the fun during the two-day build.

Christopher and I were able to tweak his original design based on our not wanting the centre post of the cross to interfere with the dynamics of the arch. We reasoned that if it was placed so that it was going through, or supporting (or even touching) the arch it could actually weaken the structure because the lateral line of thrust would be broken. We contemplated leaving a gap at the top of the upright just below the arch centre and then wondered about having the upright actually suspended by the arch (in effect clamping it)  leaving a tiny gap about a half inch above the cross pieces. Then we decided to really raise the bar so to speak, excuse the pun, and have the uprights and even the side pieces separated by several inches.

There was  a great sense of drama towards the final stages of construction as we tried to figure out all the possible things that could go wrong. I had never done an arch with a 'hanging' keystone before. Dan commented that the element of risk we were taking in front of the audience of onlookers made it seem very much like a busker's performance involving an escape trick or dangerous juggling act. We could have passed around a hat and paid for at least some of Christopher's expenses I expect.

The result ended up looking every bit as dynamic as we had hoped.  There was a lot of forethought and careful rehearsing before the final lifting and fitting of the very heavy centre upright between half arches and the two forms. After we had secured it with lots of well tapered shims, we carefully removed the centering. The crowd of about 150 people cheered as we successfully pulled the form out. 

The structure which would likely stand for over a hundred years is only supposed to remain at the Victoria Highland Games in Topaz Park for Sunday ( Gaelic Pride Day ?)  before we take it down. 

Jose took this great shot of the Celtic Cross with the view of the Scottish flag in the background, cleverly aligned to appear in the gap between the four independent cross pieces. Who knows, maybe the photo will become a new promotional image for those rallying for an independent Scotland.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The mystery of the Cross Circle

On Friday morning, the day before the 150th Highland Games in Victoria, six of us arrived at the park to begin assembling the random Basalt stone for the Celtic Cross were are building this weekend.

We sorted the stones, erected the batter frames, laid out the string lines and sank the large 250 pound dimensional stone which would be the main upright of the Celtic Cross into the earth.

The stone slab looked a bit like a grave stone so we held a mock funeral for the guy who originally started the Dry Stone Wall Association of Canada

Later on, after a lot of problem solving concerning voussoirs and angles and centering placement, the guys did a little dance gesturing where the proposed Celtic Cross stone circle was going to be built.

At the end of yesterday we completed this much of the circle and were pretty pleased with the progress. (Hope we haven't used up all the good stones)

We are ready to add the horizontal cross slabs now and then begin the top half of the dry stone circle which will complete the Celtic Cross and then we will leave it here on display during the duration of the rest of the Highland Games. Counter intuitively and rather mysteriously the top half of the circle is always much easier to build than the bottom half. Some of you might know why.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Victoria Highland Games

I will be at the Victoria Highland Games in British Columbia Canada this coming weekend to help build a Dry Stone Celtic Cross similar to the one we built at the Highland Games in Uxbridge in 2002.


Several professional wallers from the west coast will be on hand to demonstrate the art of walling during this two day event. If you're interested in learning how to build 'walls without mortar' and you're in the area, you might like to kilt some time and watch us, or even try your hand at it. Contact Christopher Barclay at Barclay

victoria highland

May 18 & 19 – Highland Games & Celtic Festival (Topaz Park)