Monday, March 16, 2015

The charm of a bridge.

People have remarked on how natural the kind of bridges I  build look. I guess there is a simplicity of both form and function to their design.  A bridge made by hand, without machinery or power tools, will usually look more appealing than one where the material has been bullied and beaten into submission. 

I am dedicated to the idea that bridges don't have to look pretentious either. This means making them as efficiently and honestly as possible.  I imagine many footbridges back in the old country were built this same way. 

The skill of a mason is not determined just by their stone-shaping ability or how perfect their work is merely as a result of having chosen only the best material. It is based on an ability to work with stones that a less skilled waller might try to avoid. It means being competent enough to know when and where a challengingly irregular 'unshaped' (or 'unshapable' ?) stone could be used to 'do the job', just the way it comes out of the quarry, or collected from off the field.  

A bridge built with restraint (in terms of not overworking the material) is less likely to look annoyingly new and out of place, especially if all the faces of the stones don't all have fresh breaks and chisel marks on them. 

While it is important to fit every stone properly, bridge building is not about impressing people with your stone shaping skills. A bridge can be charmingly beautiful without seeming 'showy' or glaringly new-looking. 

Have you ever seen something new that looks so 'right' that it feels like it has always been there?  It takes a lot of invisible effort to make something appear effortless.  I know I have done my best when I can create a bridge where the maximum structural integrity has been achieved with the minimum of fussing and bothering about 'shaping' ( fixing ? conquering ? spotlighting? ) every single stone I touched.


  1. simply beautiful in the snow. We had snow in Dallas. Lasted all of one day
    would it be possible to repost from the archives the math of an eliptical bridge

  2. Sure.
    Do you have that post or are you asking me to find it in the archives?

    1. I believe it was Patrick McAfee's presentation and perhaps you either posted or linked to it. If I knew where to find it, I wouldn't be such a bother to you.
      Is this Judy's bridge in the photo? It's lovely. BW

  3. Hi John, Great series of blogs as usual. Gavin posted something once about how to make the elliptical arch from

  4. Thank you indeed for a great blog, I'm always excited to see when you've got a new article out!
    Couldn't agree more with what you say about "making do" with what is available - in the picture above one can easily see how the mason has lovingly placed the stones with their patina showing outward. Outstanding work.
    My bathroom wall faces a 2,5m high retaining wall built of field stones found on our property. On one south-facing curve I placed a stone with a crystal-crusted face, and when the sun angle is right I'm rewarded with a tiny glint off that stone - it maybe happens 5 times a year, but it makes my day and makes me glad I never opted for any mass-produced crap from a builders' warehouse.
    Many thanks for this great series - I feel inspired to attempt a tiny bridge (spanning 1m max), although I might go for the catenary version.

  5. Thank you for the feedback and your kind words. It is gratifying to hear from others who are motivated by, and interested in, the same stone related things that I think might be interesting to post about.

  6. I was wondering if you could maybe open a Pinterest account? You must have many photos to share, and if they're all sorted into different boards (like "Bridges", "Retaining Walls", "Towers", etc.) it would be an incredibly valuable resource. If you pin directly from your blog it might also drive a lot of traffic to your blog.