Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Opus 40 Restoration Report - Last Instalment

Here’s Sean Adcock's final instalment and a whole raft of photos of his and many others exploits  at Opus 40

"Capping it all

Finished at last...

I don’t have any really good before shots.  There’s one I took from 2013 and a now shot, too much rigging yet to be removed to show it properly.  There’s another of me repairing the path at the base to give a bit of scale.  I should imagine Tomas will post more on the Stone Foundation Facebook page in due course.

The last major job was resetting the ‘flatwork’ a bit of a euphemism at Opus 40 where the settlement means hardly anything is flat.  Here TJ Mora is hard at it... the temperatures over the last few days have been unbearable... high 80sFahrenheit in the shade on a reflective stone surface it was silly... hot stone, burning chisels.  The fits at Opus 40 are not very tight, so whilst we use stones of generally the right shape we did not go for snug, cut joins.  Again we were restoring not renovating.  We did however fill all the gaps with small stones and debris to avoid the potential of anyone breaking their ankles on ‘our’ bit.

So to the caps... The wall had to be built specifically for each stone, measuring from a string to build the required height at either end and usually in the middle.  The stones were generally too irregular to build the whole length (shelving, tapering or quarter inch differences here and there which mess everything up if you try to build the whole length unless you are very lucky).  The key to getting a good consistent line it to measure everything as accurately as possible then allow an extra 1/16 -1/8 inch as stones always seem to sit ‘proud’ of your measurements, how inaccurate you can be and still get it right is I think down to ‘feel’, it is however worth being painstaking as a nice crisp line to the top of the blocks always sets the work off and catches the eye (distracting from the less than perfect wall below). 

 The Stone was then rigged and hoisted into place using a gin pole, similar to the way Harvey Fite wthe creator of Opus 40 worked.  Us old guys manned the ropes or shouted instructions, whilst young intern Alex Banfield did the boom hoisting.  Harvey did it by himself, we needed a small army.  Originally we hoped that this would be motor driven, but a succession of motors could not cope, once we gave up with modern technology, found one of Harvey’s old handles and adjusted it to fit, it ran like clockwork, and Alex is now well toned into the bargain.  There’s a video of the whole torturous hoisting process taken by Benjamin Maron a local waller, frequent and invaluable member of the team at 

Once roughly in place the stone had to be ‘teased’ into position... in this instance using our “battering ram” a tool originally devised to knock in stones in the remains of the original face we were trying to join into (hearting behind them first removed) back to something approaching the ‘correct’ “batter”/slope hence its name... nothing to do with castle doors after all.(Photo courtesy of Gerry Pallor).  It pays to have a Karl Kaufmann to hand for this kind of work.

Once in place the stone is tweaked front back and the ends for level, not always easy when some are slightly dished.  Voids under the stone are filled carefully from all sides including the front (leaving space for the final face stones).  “Spaghetti arms” help, failing that thin metal bars, hammer handles, other stones to nudge them until they are tight.  Finally any gaps in the face are filled with carefully selected tight fitting stone not always easy when the stone tapers down into the wall.  

All in all, fiddly and time consuming, but well worth the effort, as indeed I’d like to think the whole job was.  Hopefully there will be a full report of the project in “Stonechat” and “Stonexus” in the not too dim distant future.


  1. Explain to me why I, and obviously others, have such a connection to stone? I look at the wall face and I see its beauty but I also feel the power, labour and artistry of those that reshaped the material it into something that touches the soul. I am in awe!

    1. It may have something to do with the human need to create order out of chaos.

  2. Well done Sean and all the rest of the people who did a great job on the restoration at Opus 40. Have really enjoyed following the updates from here and reading about the details of the whole process. Respect.

  3. An unbelievably respectful restoration for Harvey. He was with us the whole way, and from now on.