Thursday, June 23, 2022


 If you walk far enough along the shore of Lake Ontario where we live, you come to a long section of a crumbly cliff made up of many loose chunks of rugged weathered limestone 

It's looks like it was all dumped there from above where the railway line comes troublingly close to the cliff edge. Perhaps train loads of rocks were tipped over the lake side in an attempt to shore up the shore . In any case the area below makes a great place to experiment with different building methods and/or just playing with stone ideas. You just have to be careful not to cause an avalanche !

This is where the germ of the 'the dry stone ship crashed into the shore'( or perhaps less violently,  ' the ship run aground ') idea came to me. 

I'd been trying out different techniques for building the cocoon installation I had been starting to think about doing sometime around January 2021. The opening I had now started to dig into the side of the cold rocky cliff supplied me with lots of stones to then build up the sides .

The resulting shape began to look less and less oval looking ( cocoon-like ?) and more pointed , more like a gothic portal opening, or maybe a ship's prow. 

I built into the cliff as far as I dared and extended the walls of the boat shaped opening with the newly acquired stones, towards the water's edge. The resulting space provided a shelter from the wind and a comfortable resting place.  This playful shore project was the beginnings of thinking about designing (and building permanently) not just a cocoon now  but rather some kind of boat shaped dry stone portal thing .  Craig and Brian came back with me later in February to add more stones to the gunnels and then sit comfortably out of the cold wind while I took a photo.

To be continued 

Saturday, June 11, 2022


About fifty students from the local Bobcaygeon public school were invited yesterday to visit the historic dry stone restoration work we've been doing at Case Manor.  I wondered how I might plug into their world and do a bit of a comparison. It occurred to me I might get their attention by asking if any of them played Minecraft . Just about all of them raised their hand. 

 I pointed out that building dry stone walls is like building real walls, and maybe even more fun, than making pretend blocky things in the digital world of Minecraft. By the surprised look on their faces, I think that idea had never occurred to them.

 They were totally on board ( and not bored ) from then on. They asked questions and watched inquisitively as we discussed things like  throughstones , hearting and the merits of building with gathered random chunks of local limestone, instead of newly manufactured stuff ( or virtually generated modules) 


Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Amazing Stone Feetwork

. ' '

This is not the usual hands-on dry stone stuff. No. This time it’s a ‘feets-on’ experience.  And what a curious complexity of sensations it is, as the feeling is transmitted up through the feet shuffling across a floor of loose pebbles. This tingly tactile feeling , usually only experienced walking barefoot along a stoney beach, has been somewhat replicated inside the Temple of Imperfections, where several wheelbarrow loads of flattish beach pebbles have been laid down in a thin layer, across the concrete surface of the floor. The choice of having the pebbles spread loosely around, in no fixed arrangement, was a departure from the fixed spiralling pattern usually associated with pebble work laid in cement.  The pebbles can still be played with , and attractive patterns can be created by those who enter the temple , but it's the ‘foot-feely’ pleasure of walking over  loose stones that becomes the most attractive part of the unconventional floor treatment we decided upon in the end . I was delighted to hear the positive account of a chiropodist, who told some fellow barefoot bystanders inside the temple, after entering the structure barefoot during the StoneZone open house tour last winter, that the activity of walking on such a 'beach-like' floor would definitely be of great therapeutical benefit.

‘Look Mom. No hands!’
A talented participator the day people were invited to see the temple (barefoot) enjoyed doing some fancy footwork during his visit

Amada Stinson did this lovely arrangement, after everyone left.


Saturday, June 4, 2022

The Oculus Man

Super talented stone mason and all round wonderful person, Matt Driscol was the man given the job of creating an oculus out of stone, actually two of them, ( avoiding the plural ) for the opening over the top of the dome.  

The process involved carefully drilling many holes around the circumference in a 24 inch diameter circle in a large flagstone slab of mica schist, and then chiselling and hammering ( disconnecting the dots? ) to eventually dislodge a fully intact circle of stone, and thus thereby creating the round opening in the slab we needed for the dome. 

We decided on a second oculus, which he cut out the same way, but first drilled and cut a smaller circumference circle, and then drilled and cut out the final 24 inch ring dimension from that ( you can see the resulting bonus ring of stone hanging on the tree on the right )

The first oculus was hoisted up (via the Gradal) and then lifted by hand over top of the a course of random stone 'tiles' around the roof opening and then, after fitting the final course of (pre-shaped) stones over and around the first oculus, the second oculus was then lifted gently over the top of everything. , creating  a kind of semi-watertight seal, and a beautiful finish to the Temple of Imperfections

Monday, May 23, 2022

High up in the Sun Roof of the Temple of Imperfections


Here's what the opening of the dome looked like when the neighbours came to inspect the construction that had gone on so far. This was just before the two large oculus stones were added to the roof. Rich and Nancy had climbed all the way up the interior wooden scaffolding, and didn't carry any stones with them for us to help finish the roof. That's okay. They were suitably impressed.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Closing in over the dome opening


As you can see, the guys standing on the stones already laid over the dome of the Temple of Imperfections are rather nonchalantly perched over a black hole. There was a palatable sense of excitement for everyone as these stones went on. Mark Ricard, was inside the 'hole', carefully helping place the one or two rows of  'preshaped' corbel stones around the opening. You can see how dramatic this latter stage of the dome construction was. 

Monday, May 2, 2022

To spiral or not to spiral

As we built up on the inside of the dome of the Temple of Imperfection Mark noticed a discrepancy in height across the circumference of the courses. We wondered if we had been building in a spiral . 

As we followed our eyes around the top stones it was surprisingly difficult to decide.  It turned out it wasn't a spiral, but it did get us wondering about morphing the coursing at this phase of the coursing of the dome, into a spiral

The spiral has the advantage of not having to do that kind of 'last stone' fitting on each row. The stones are merely added one by one, and next to each other, never leaving any gaps to fill at the joining of each circle

But is it as strong? That is the question.

In the end we decided to continue with circular coursing. We laid the stones along the uneven course, gradually getting thicker, to raise the lower side of the circle , and gradually lower on the other side of the circle, to bring the stonework to level.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Proper Noise Cancelling


At the stage where the actual construction of the dry stone dome was to begin, it was decided that to reduce the amount of noise on the job, we would refrain from using any type of machinery including electric and gas powered tools for the duration of the project . It also meant there would be no noise from air compressors or generators on site either.

It's troubling how often we masons are tempted to resort to these instruments of mass construction. How often do we say let's just saw it or grind it because it's faster, when really, there is so little masonry skill expended using the quick and dirty way of doing things and no real meaningful hand-tooling or sympathetic contact with the material.

There is far less need to respect the unique nuances of the stone when you have a saw in your hand instead of just a hammer and chisel. There's less call for creativity, less problem solving , less need to ever fully know your material .

As long as you don't mind the dust, and the noise, and all the other mechanical aspects that can complicate the simple shaping of stones, you can just plow thru a project and not really experience much of what traditional masonry is all about. 

But at this stage it seemed more prudent to experience the quiet non-obtrusive sound of stones being shaped with only hand tools.

It meant too, that a minimum of shaping go on, and that the stones, as much as possible, be fitted into the dome using them  as they come in their natural shapes . We wanted to be able to talk and hear each other as we worked, to maybe listen to the same music while we built the dome, instead of each of us being in our tiny individual noise cancelling cells, insulated from everyone and everything . 

There are a passage in bible scripture where the building of Solomon's temple is described. It basically says the noise of stones being shaped was not to be heard near where the temple was being built.. 

In another reference in Exodus 20:25 it says -  Now if you make an altar of stones for Me, you must not build it with stones shaped by tools; for if you use a chisel on it, you will defile it.

While we were going to have to use some hand tools, not using power tools still felt (at least on this our Temple of Imperfections project) like a more respectful, less frenzied way to proceed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The inner dome shape starts to take shape.

Here's a look at what the coursing of stones stepping around the temple looks like, as I'm standing on the edge.

You can just see the black band of granite that is already 'stepped out' below the dozen or so courses forming the beginning of the dome. The combination of the corbeling above that band, and the darker area of corbeling below that, (part of the curved lower wall) comes to just over twelve inches of 'overhang', already.  

That leaves about 15 more horizontal feet of corbeling to go to stretch to the middle. It's best, however, to start being careful not to step too near the edge already.


Monday, April 25, 2022

Mind Your Step

To make stones, which are by definition quite heavy - mostly rocks that have irregular shapes and sizes, and are decidedly hard to shape; to get them to stick together for any length of time in a normal dry stone wall, is quite an accomplishment in itself. 

To get them to stick together for any length of space, over thin air without support from below, seems like a different thing altogether.  

The proper name for it is corbeling. It's a kind of  counterbalancing - getting stones to overhang each other gradually without tumbling over. I guess there will always seem to be a bit of magic to it . And yes maybe there are tricks to making it work, but those who study this sort of thing will say it's merely physics. Which kind of takes the element of risk away yes, but some of the fun and wonder too, I think.

Closing over our temple, by stepping over the space contained inside our 8 foot high circular wall, having a 16 foot diameter, using tons of only random shaped rocks, does sound a little adventurous! 

That's because it is. 

Our dome starts slowly 

The first few circular courses of stones creep imperceptibly towards the center pole.  None of the courses of stone hang over more than a half inch . As more courses are added the extent of 'creeping over' increases slightly .  

At first it seems like the sides of the dome are only going up! This is disconcerting. The higher we go the more intensely we say to ourselves "shouldn't it start stepping into the middle a lot more?" 

But such is the shape of a dome - or half sphere. It seems to not change much until nearing half way up the arc. And all the time it's just getting higher and higher, and why would anyone want to build a dome any higher than absolutely necessary? But the fact is , to make a smooth semi spherical arc the overhang needs to be barely noticeable until higher up. 

And it's then, higher up, that the radius string-line and the curved template form are indicating that you need to slide (dangle?) the stones further over and deeper into, and over, the abyss. This is where things start to really get exciting. Never mind physics. This seems just foolhardy .

But no. The physics and the adrenaline tell us to go on. Mindful of the risk, but drunk on the excitement of building such a cool structure, and with physics on our side, not worrying about the hangover, we continue stacking stones, not actually on top of each other,  but slightly off-to-the-side-of-on-top-of each other...stepping 'up and over', and 'over and over', further...

To be continued 


Sunday, April 24, 2022

Wooden Scaffolding

The scaffolding we would need to be able to work higher around the six sided temple would have to be safe and strong and not get in the way, AND hopefully not involve driving a long way to get expensive rented equipment. 

Matt Driscol came up with a brilliant plan based on similar scaffolding used for building the StoneZone Irish Tower. He and Cameron constructed a system of sturdy railings around the rim of the temple, supported by long vertical redwood 'pecker poles' ( which had been cut during the clearing of the property and saved for something, but never used ) Stakes were secured to the poles set in the ground at an angle ( to accommodate the batter of the walls , so that it wasn't too far to reach over and build ) with braces securing each one to the temple.

The wooden scaffolding was cleverly erected as the building kept going on. Matt made sure it was always at the right height as the rest of us kept working. When the poles first went up, they looked unnecessarily taller than the height we were going to have to build to, but that turned out not to be the case . In fact we needed to add a second set of railings quite near the tops of the poles in order to be able to work safely .  

Matt and Cameron still on scaffolding duty
while David, Mark, Julien and I took a short break.


Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Platforms


As you can see we had built the temple up as high as we could standing on a variety of platforms, including a section of metal scaffolding, two step ladders, various leftover wooden stairs and also a cherry picker 'man-cage' attachment, from off the Gradall.

The inside platform scaffolding was  
devised and constructed by Mark Ricard.

It was a clever design and perfect for the job - 

A sturdy half circle 'stage' with five thick posts supporting it.
It could be rotated if needed.
Other platforms of wood were built and added as we went further up the inside. 

In order for us to be able to continue building higher up on the exterior, some sort of platform would be needed too. I decided a whole band of large, four inch thick, mica schist flagstone copes incorporated into a kind of architectural ledge would be the best solution . These were shaped and fit to overhang on six sides creating a nice chunky cornice feature, as well as leaving enough room for us to work from.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Needing a large enough stone to finish the last arch

We arrived mid January this year and began the next phase on the Temple

To make the final voussoir shape for the last unfinished arch opening, we still had to find one more large chunk of any kind of unused leftover stone somewhere on the property, somewhere 

It might be ...

wasting away,

And mark and I needed still.  

Searching for that long lost shape of basalt.

( or granite , or even sandstone, maybe.)

I finally found a big chunk of Romero that was large enough to be carved down and shaped into the final keystone.  

Juilen did a fantastic job of carving and shaping the final arch stone (with right dimensions and the maximum size shape we could have got out of that odd red chunk of sandstone) 

...And with some wiggling and fine tuning it fit beautifully.
I suggested the crown motif at the top of the keystone and carved some foliage on the face.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Temple Art

This lovely piece of collage art showing the outside of the Temple of Imperfections was created by Sandy Oppenheimer. She and her husband John Fisher have produced wonderful works of art. Sandy creates pieces made with just different scraps of paper and John is a sculptor of stone and a watercolour artist. I’ve posted some of  John’s work on previous blogs. He came several times and painted us building the temple.


Here he is high up with us painting the activity on corbeled roof phase. 

To see more of Sandy’s amazing work visit her site at.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Temple thoughts.

By the end of the second three-week building phase of the Temple of Imperfections, we had accomplished much . Six high battered walls, curving in to enclose a space that was taking on a very special presence. Two entrance arches completed and one remaining half finished. Lots of inside detail, including dry laid niches and seating. Outside walls and basalt corners waiting to support whatever we were going to finish off the top with.  

Before we left the Stonezone for that year, each of us reflected on the progress we had made. It had been rainy, dusty, cold, hot, and long hard work. Ironically the 'what', let alone the 'why', of what we were building, had still not been yet determined. 

All we knew was that it was looking good. Our gathering for phase three in 2021 would hopefully see the completion of the project. But then as you know covid happened.  

We were pleased to have worked so well 
with our favourite grumpy waller.

He put up with our humour and 
we put up with his grumbling. 

Here's the temple as we left it in Feb of 2020. It looked like rather colourful and brand spanking new.

Little did we know that Sean would be saying goodbye to the temple and all the work he had put in on the temple, not able to return with us in 2022, because of covid and health concerns.  
How would we finish off the corners. Would the temple have a roof? Would it be fully closed in or have an opening? What would the floor look like? Who would be involved in the project besides Mark Ricard, David Claman and me?


Saturday, April 16, 2022



Our diverse universe continually creates deliciously beautiful things.

We enjoy this diversity as we taste and discover many of the various ingredients in this life. It may be true , that you never know what you’re going to get.

But a properly built dry stone wall is actually more like LIFE, than a box of chocolates.

It has more variety. More selection. It has more substance. Combines a wider combination of materials shapes and sizes. It fits and sticks together better. It lasts longer. It is more pleasing to look at. More tasteful. 

And- it’s not bad for you!

Look for less assortment and more diversity this Easter 

Happy Easter

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Hexagon Niche Motif


"We had three large canvasses to work on, on the outside. We were all agreed that each exterior panel of dry wall needed breaking up somehow. It would have been too much wall area between arches, otherwise." writes Sean Adcock. 

"John's initial idea was some sort of motif in each space, using the small white and black granite setts, each sett set to protrude in a hexagon star shape. Coming up with a sensible executable design was an issue, as was structure, and then given the basalt there was some question as to whether the protrusion would ever be noticed.  John tried a few dry runs but nothing great seemed to be happening.  Given the success of the small projection of the voussoirs over the arches, I think we almost got that one wrong however his eventual idea was a goody. "


"Anyway the idea of hexagons to in effect mirror the niche triangles in the pyramid wall, was as usual inspired.  Even if it caused me the usual headaches… could we fit them in?   Not sure how John came up with the right size ? I assume it was him, but they are just right. "   

"For me, thickness was the issue. They had to fit in the walls behind the seats, not something that had been allowed for.  They too would need a back, obviously another slab and yes we could just squeeze this in, and in fact the stone gods were smiling again, as it would make the top of the back of the interior seat too!   We hadn’t found big enough slabs for the seat, and were going to sit one sawn edge slab on another. The niche slabs would need to be lower and we were of one mind that they needed to be complete.  If they were in effect made up of the back of the seat there would be an obtrusive seam part way up.  The second slab made the back of the seat more organic and the step another imperfect but perfect detail, even the little triangle of exposed stone that was left in the back of one was is just another little imperfection adding to the interest and beauty of the whole."

"The niches are as deep as we could build them, but their shallowness also works I think, although it was a little worrying for overlapping the slabs, thank goodness for flat schist stones, and good length into the wall beyond the slabs.  As to the rest of their construction, I’m not placed to say how frustrating the process of constructing these hexagon niches was, other than noting John and Mark’s approaches differed. (Elizabeth worked on one of the hexagons too, with John offering advise) The three hexagons were to have relief sculptures in them eventually."

"My only other input here was the  curb lintel.  I know John wasn’t entirely convinced, I’m not sure I am even now, but the favoured shots are of doorways, so I'll reserve judgement until I've seen more photos of the finished temple .  However having butchered so many curbs, (made them smaller, not showing off their splendour)  it was good to honour three of them in longer form I think, and structurally my paramount thought was that as they extend beyond the end of niches, any load above them would be more likely to be transferred to the solid wall and not the thin skin/veneer forming the actual hexagon shape."

"My final contribution here was to have a throughstone on the centre of the top of each of these lintels, paying lip service to some structural theory or another 😊  In the photo a spider has made use of one waiting to be set on place, nature at its perfectly imperfect best?"

Mark is extending the height of the S W corner basalt with dressed granite curb blocks.

Some of the reclaimed San Francisco granite curbs came with with the original yellow street paint on them, which had to be painstakingly hammered and chiselled off. It's ironic to think that these lowly street curbs eventually turned into some of coolest blocks on the corner.

"As for the six outer basalt corners, and how to add more height to them. Much agonising over how to extend the basalt… having discarded the plainly mad idea of a second piece of basalt to stand on top.  It was decided to do all sorts of different blocks to bring the uneven nights of the basalt column corners to an even height. The curbs were readily at hand and it sort of works. I wasn’t convinced when I last left, but the plinth has tied it all together.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The upper black granite ring.

Sean wrote about the ring ..."Having reached what was the upper point of the curve on the inside wall there was still some debate as to where we were going from there. It was agreed however that we needed some form of cap that would facilitate whatever madcap scheme we (in reality John)  came up with.  The requirement was some sort of ring of stones of a relatively uniform height and some length to step out a bit but mostly go into the wall.  At this height the wall was some six inches or so out from its start point, which with the six inch ‘central’ deflection meant that the wall was effectively overhanging by around 12 inches.  So stones that were 24” long would have around half their length inside our start point at foundation level.  Elsewhere on site there was a collection of black granite lengths that fitted the bill, varying thicknesses and lengths and mostly around 6 inches in one dimension.  Once again we were killing some marvellous stones in the name of progress.  Somehow the job got delegated to me and a chisel…not your usual combination of tools.  I measured and estimated..  I reckoned we needed around 80 of them from highly random sample of thicknesses. Two foot wasn’t going to be possible but a satisfying number of 18” and lots of 16” would.  I tried to cut the lengths efficiently so nothing would be that short. This stone breaks marvellously well, even I can do it and it only took a couple of hours even with all my thinking time.  One of my abiding memories was the look on Peters face and his astonishment that I had achieved all that just with a hammer in a couple of hours, I think it even made up for the fact that he had got to move them all the way back across the property having only just moved them the opposite way.

Not sure who came up with the idea of 6 white 'spacer' ones, other than it was a safety measure as we’d be struggling to find more of the black granite if we ran out.  The 6 white ones were equidistant corresponding to the position of the basalt, basically starting halfway between the two doors and working out from there.  Pretty certain John came up with that one.  Another minor detail that very few will notice no doubt, in that imperfect black ring.  The black stones were set so that lengths were well mixed up and as they fanned out the tails were wedged.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Inner Niches

We wanted to do something on the inside walls besides the seats. Sean's whisky niche, modelled on a one litre bottle of Duty Free Glenlivet fit the bill.

He writes " The moon niche was the cause of much thought and discussion and not too much agreement at times.  We knew we wanted the seats to look at something, but what? John certainly had a desire to use some black and white setts somewhere, (pallets of granite cobble stones were available for using ) and the idea to to poke things out to create some sort of relief was decided upon. Initially John had suggested that for the outer walls, more on that later, but here inside he finally got to do it and then of course it transmuted to the outside door voussoir motif as well."

It was something about a dream I had of a moon cycle. Sean and Mark went with it.  It was very important not to alternate black and whites around the recessed mica schist circle  (but rather have one half of the circle black and the other white) with a polished moonstone at the top. Mark and Elizabeth worked together to shape these black and white stone setts so that they were tapered. Mark says the black ones were ridiculously hard to shape.

Sean goes on..

"The size of the circle I think John and I worked out together and we got it right not too big, not too small, nearly perfect." 

"Construction - once we had decided on the diameter, John made a semi-circular form and a corresponding template made for the cobblestone voussoirs, all cut by Mark and Elizabeth.  I started the building to get the upside-down half circle form in place and building up to the voussoirs to hold them. Halfway up the form was inverted and placement of voussoirs handed over to the others.  Then the marvellously inventive keystone.  The back was Sidney peak on edge with a ribbon of Romero sandstone through the centre."

"There is a secret compartment with a disguised movable stone door ". Sean calls it a 'safe'. " Not sure we should say much about this. Anyway there's a hidden ‘safe’ ie - a cubby hole in the wall which has a removable stone , and a nice marble tile base that no one will ever see.  There’s a knack to removing the stone, it's not going to happen by accident.  


"Has anything been hidden away inside yet? We had the idea of a photo of the builders. Maybe we should but a time capsule with this blog in it, and a glass of whisky for emergencies (and one of Peters giant joints?).  If you know there's a hidden niche you could probably work out where it is, otherwise no-one would ever guess."