Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Stone Soup - Thank goodness for stones.

The old story about strangers making stones into a hearty soup for everyone to enjoy needs to be looked at again. And what better day to do it than on American Thanksgiving.

Perhaps there is a new message here that can be taken from this tale about fostering community spirit.

In this version by Jon Muth, one of the villagers throws out an interesting comment
"Stones are easy to come by"

While there was no food ( vegetables meat or spices) to make soup initially, without utilizing the three stones to begin with there would have been nothing at all to start cooking with.

Stones are the overlooked heroes of this story.
They are the unnoticed ingredient in every household.

Look around the courtyard in your village, or your neighbourhood. See if it's not so. 
Almost every property you walk by has one or two rocks lying around somewhere. 

They obviously have been deliberately placed there, but for what reason?

I'm not talking about the proverbial retaining wall or stone walkway. I'm not thinking here about dry stone walls or decorative stone features. I'm referring to just plain rocks - small and BIG.

Front Yard Landscaping For Outdoor Entertaining

Often they are just ordinary stones randomly placed, almost inconspicuously.

It's as though we have this unacknowledged reluctance to come to terms with our own codependency on these quiet slow moving mysterious objects we share the planet with.

Yet almost everyone feels a need to accommodate them somewhere in their lives, perhaps dotted in the garden, at the end of the driveway, on a window sill or maybe huddled around a solar light or up against the front porch steps. 

This unchallenged unconscious inexplicable need to keep them around (be it ever so understated) is a peculiar phenomenon. 

Maybe we don't understand that we need stones or that they are important to us. And while people may not know what they are supposed to do with them, they can't just dismiss them either or be completely rid of them off the property.

"Hmmm ... stones are easy to come by. " said the little girl's mother  "I'd like to learn how to do that " ( Meaning,  I'd like to know how to make something with them)

This Thanksgiving why not cook something up with a few stones then. Let's make something of them.  If nothing else, discover how much sense they make.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Preserving the Patina

People usually talk about the 'patina' of wood and metal. A lot of stones have wonderful patinas too. The beautiful surfaces found on certain rocks is usually the result of oxidization and the effects of moisture and weathering.

Stones that have been laying around in the open in a quarry for a while take on some very attractive colours and textures. It's not a bad idea to take every effort handle these rocks carefully to preserve their patina. That's why it's best when you can to move them and handle them by hand. 

Big machines can leave scars on rocks and stones as they conveniently move them around (or load them) for us but in the process they can do a lot of damage to patinas.
Slings and ropes can help minimize the damage but there's something else too.

The handy 'Stone Cone', or 'Rock collar' as it's called, can help stop them from scratching!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sugar Lake Quarry

Last week I was up in Northern Ontario building an entrance gate wall with pillars. We collected stones from a quarry near Spanish. A lot of people speak French there. No one spoke Spanish.

Huge piles of beautiful random shapes and sizes and colours of stone, before it all gets crushed into gravel,  looks like this.

Many were very natural blocky shapes. There was lots of nice cornerstone granite material.

We spent the first day picking out some real beauties.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Stone Reproduction

View of the front fa├žade of the Tryone blacksmith shop

There is a stunningly beautiful historic stone blacksmith shop in Tyrone Ontario. It is solid masonry squared fieldstone granite. It was built by a Mr Treneuth in 1854 conforming to a style typical of stonework introduced here in Ontario by masons who emigrated from Scotland nearly two hundred years ago. 

Having not seen it for some time I drove by the building again last week to check it out . It looks as impressive as ever.

About twenty years ago, back when I was doing traditional stone masonry predominately (not much dry stone walling back then)  a client of ours commissioned mason Glen Ward and I to build him an exact replica of the front of this building. He wanted to build an old looking garage to house his collection of antique cars.  
He provided us with many photos and exact measurements to go from. We visited the the old blacksmith shop and studied the original stonework very carefully and that summer we built this stone facade using local fieldstone from an old barn foundation, much of which still needed a lot of shaping and squaring. 

The other sides of the new building were framed and clad in board and batten,

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Puppy Love

Farley, our new puppy, loves the dry stone shed we built. He thinks it's his new dog house.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Root canals.

The footprint of the drystone wall I'm building in Dorset Ontario had to travel over some big roots.

Best not to cut these suckers. 

This tree needs to be able to hang onto the side of the hill and get water and all the nourishment it can.  The bedrock here is sometimes only inches below the surface. It's all part of the Canadian shield and the thin covering of soil provides precious little for things to grow in as it is.

We've dug all around the roots, added clear aggregate for drainage and created a longish middle abutment.

Eventually I created three below grade 'piers' for lintel stones to straddle.

Another view. 

Note the slope of the grade. Again, for many reasons, it's good not to cut these roots, especially the uphill ones.

Here you can see the first of three 'straddle stones' which leaves two 'canals' for the roots to grow without affecting the wall.

Another view. 

The roots have plenty of room. The tree is pretty much full grown so the roots shouldn't get much bigger.

All three 'straddle stones' create a wide enough base for the rest of the wall to be built up over.

The section of wall to the left also has stile steps being incorporated into it . The triangle stone lying on the ground is pointing to the 'canals' I've created, which are barely visible above grade 

Most people wouldn't know there are root canals just to the left of the base of that tree in this photo but they are there. 

It's our job as wallers to see that the stones and the trees continue to get along.

Oh, and to get along with each other too !

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rocks just need a big root hug sometimes.

Unlike people, trees can hug rocks for more than just a few minutes.

They may be small hugs sometimes but they still last a long time. 

Rocks and trees can have a common root and a common bond. 

And trees never let big rocks stump them.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A nurse tree rhyme

Rock abides boldly in the tree top, 
As if the tree grows to cradle that rock,
When the boughs break and limbs come apart,
Down will come boulder conceptual art.

(An ode to Andy Goldsworthy and his 'Stone Coppice' which I saw when Jason Hoffman and I visited Jupiter Artland in Edinburgh last October) 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Alan Ash Article

My good friend Alan Ash is in the news again building beautiful walls.

Read more about Alan in a blog I posted earlier this year.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hands take much longer to wear out

New Gloves

Same gloves- two weeks old

Hands are amazing . They last a lifetime.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Jason Hoffman - On finishing a wall.

Finished wall with turf top

Sometimes when I finish building a wall people ask me if I'm happy with it. 
Usually I am, but then there are things I think I've learned along the way and might have done differently next time. 

I asked Jason Hoffman how he felt about this his latest wall now that he'd finished it. ( I had a particular interest in the wall, as I had the pleasure of helping build the cheekend in the photo above, when I was visiting Jason in Scotland last October. ) Anyway, here is what he wrote back.

I love the process of building but feel terrible when I finish.  I guess on the big jobs you spend many days at the same location, talking to the clients and the neighbours, using their kitchen and toilet, that you start to feel part of the place.  And then when you finish the work, you look at the completed work and go “eek”.  I wish I had made the wall elliptical.  I wish it had been more pronounced height changes.  I wish I had coursed that bit more.  I wish the batter had been more consistent.  Etc etc etc.  However, the client loves it, the neighbours love, and the passers-by love it!  I’m glad to finish and move on.  I am being over-self critical! 

Thanks Jason for the photo of the finished project and letting us see a little more into the life of a waller too.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Curved space and time travel

The light at the end of a tunnel that begins as a Roman arch looks surprising like a Gothic arch, if that tunnel is curved. It's fascinating to consider this as a sort of spacial representation of the evolution and history of the arch form.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


This year's Stone Foundation 'Stone Symposium' was held in Santa Fe.
Among the many people there my good friend Sean Adcock flew in from Wales to participate.

While there he taught a dry stone wall course and also gave an audio visual presentation.

Sean wrote recently to tell me his symposium talk was about a great publication called Stonechat... " and its imminent demise. Subscriptions are down by about a third, so less than 50 people pay to get it now, and less than 1 download per week of the free ones on line. Most annoyingly only 4 DSWA branches now support it. We can still afford to keep doing it but the lack of support has completely sapped my enthusiasm. You might do something on your blog and say that it costs only £8 in UK for numbers 29, 30, 31 ; £14 to North America; £11 to Europe, sterling via paypal. "

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

When there is snow trace of tools

I was working up in Dorset Ontario last week in the first snow fall of the season 

I'd left my tools out over night and they were cold and difficult to hold.
This and the snow shadow the tools left was a reminder to me to use tools sparingly.

I prefer the look of a dry stone wall with a minimum of fresh cuts, chisel scars and hammer marks on the stones.  If one leave s no trace of having used tools, carefully fitting the random shaped stones mostly as they come, the wall will have a very satisfying peaceful natural appearance