Dry-laid Stone Walling: NHLA Field Day and Volunteer Effort

March 29, 2024

Dry-laid stone walling is an artform that relies heavily on the intricate details and set process to build lasting stone walls.
A huge pile of boulders, crushed base, and eager participants showed up for the 2023 NHLA Field Day, part of a stone retaining wall effort to improve the front of the Belmont 4-H Fairground office. To demonstrate and engage members in the practice of dry-laid stone walling, NHLA partnered with The Stone Trust of Dummerston, VT. This effort is a great example of our organization’s ability to bring new ideas into the New Hampshire Green Industry.

Crucial to the project, former Stone Trust board director and president, Pete Ryder, guided our hands over the course of the wall project. He taught basic principles of The Stone Trust methodology. Victoria Merriman of Friction and Gravity, LLC and Andras Lazar of Lazar Masonry also coached budding wallers. NHLA affiliates joined the efforts too, including Dave DeJohn, Mike Barwell, and countless others. The NHLA crew were big and small, male and female, some rapping while they worked, some tapping — and none napping.

The Stone Trust Method
We organized a pile of New England glacial till – rough boulders the size of propane tanks and smaller – into large “base rocks,” medium sizes for building, extra-large capstones, and long “thrufter” or throughstones. By putting the large rocks close to the wall, it made it easier for other wall-hands to find and lift the stones into place. The higher the course, the smaller the rocks. As we built, a small rhythm started, lift, turn, and set. The work is heavy, but the intermittent rapping with Eden from Stone Blossom Landscaping kept up our spirits.

Learning the basic rules
For the full list of rules, please visit Stone Trust’s Website: thestonetrust.org/resource-information/how-to/
The basic five rules are:
• The stones length has to be put into the wall
• The stone should be “hearted,” a crucial practice of infilling the wall with small stones – not crushed stone, tightly.
• Level tiers with crossing stones so each joint is a “T.”
• Plane the faces. Keep a tight line so your plane is consistent.

Some other helpful tips:
• Through stones, the shape of columns, should be placed every 6-8′, about 24-36″ off the ground.
• Use a chisel! Or a “rock buster” hammer with a carbonite tip
• Swing the hammer from high in the air, even if you don’t swing hard, the weight of the hammer will deliver a good blow.

Project Description
We revisited the wall effort a month later, October 26, 27, and 28. Facing the Fairgrounds Office, the retained space will be an entryway and outdoor patio space. From this vantage, Belmont 4-H Fairground users can enjoy the sunny perch and the view of the grounds. Future iterations of the project will include the installations of a patio and steps to accommodate the natural access points to the office the patio and wall abuts.

Wall Construction
Over two days, Dave DeJohn tried to convince us all to hitchhike to his home state of California, while we continued our work on the wall. There were no takers.

Meanwhile, Pete Ryder caught every instance of “cheating” you could think of – stones not aligning, heavy/long side out… you name it. Among the would-be-cheaters included: Dave (a volunteer from Boston), Andras Lazar from The Stone Trust, and NHLA representatives Mike Barwell, Maurice Guimond, Mark Lenzi, and myself.

We worked in teams. One group sought to find the right size stones, another pod chiseled them, and yet-another placed/hearted the stones. Hearting matters… a lot. Each stone should be pinned twice. Yes sir!

To feather and wedge split the capstones, we made corners and sized down boulders. Working with a hammer-drill, we tapped each rock with a 4″ hole. Pounding feathers and wedges into rocks was not violent, but rather made a harmonic ring akin to a dinner bell. Brrrring!
Painting the scene/

What I learned
During Sunday’s effort, I witnessed the effort volunteers and instructors took to paint the scene as a labor we could all enjoy. Breaking stones, hauling them with carts, and meticulously placing them is painstakingly hard work. Diligence pays off. Pete Ryder says, “(The Stone Trust certification) is effectively a crucible for decision making.” Check out the upcoming Stone Trust Certification courses to decide for yourself.

text and photos by Chadd G. Hippensteel, NHCLP
edited by Dave DeJohn, NHCLP, NHLA President Emeritus

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