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Types of Stone Walls: Ideas, Options, Challenges

You Have No Excuse for "Stonewalling" Your Longed-For Project


tree through stone wall

Hole incorporated in stone wall to build around a tree.

David Beaulieu

As mentioned on Page 1, this topic is wide-ranging; indeed, the different types of stone walls form a whole subcategory of hardscape unto themselves, with numerous variations, including:

  • Stone walls that parallel a street, dividing the outer lawn from the lawn proper

  • Stone walls that line the sides of a driveway

  • Border-forming structures (double-check with a surveyor, to be on the safe side)

  • Walls to enclose vegetable gardens or flower beds

  • Stone retaining walls designed either to prevent erosion or to terrace a hillside

But the immediately preceding list only begins to illustrate the possible options and/or challenges when planning stone walls. One of the most obvious of your initial decisions is between dry wall and mortared wall types. If you are using round rocks, you have little choice but to use the latter.

Consider the following variations, all of which will have their own unique challenges and requirements:

  • A stone wall that (intentionally) buckles out, forming a sweeping curve.

  • If you wish to accommodate a crooked old tree whose growth strays right into the path of your wall, frame a hole for it within your wall (for a picture of such a stone wall, see photo above).

  • Building a stone wall across a sloping hill, as opposed to across a flat terrain.

  • Incorporating a stone archway into a stone wall, which requires not only mortar but also considerable expertise. Alternatively, use wood for your archway.

  • Decorative stone turrets on top of a stone wall (for that medieval look)

  • Alternatively, functional stone turrets which provide the housing for lighting accessories.

  • Providing a stone cap for a stone wall (for instance, saving your largest, longest flat stones for the topmost layer)

  • Alternatively, for walls held together with mortar, providing a mortar cap.

Mortar caps can be used to secure any number of items on stone walls, including:

You may also be wondering, "When is the best time to build stone walls?" The answer to that question will depend on many factors, including your health, your location and the type of stone wall you wish to build. But don't be too quick to limit your options. Some even build stone walls in winter.

Size, Shape and Color in Stone Work

Finally, for all of your stone work, whether functional or aesthetic, whether dry wall or mortared, the size, shape, and color of your stone will be central in achieving the look and feel you desire. So choose your rocks carefully. Stone work with large stones conveys a rugged solidity appropriate for retaining walls. But if you are building a stone foundation (with mortar) for a gazebo, you might prefer the whimsical look that can be achieved with small round stones.

A dry wall of medium flat stones, pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle, has an exquisitely meticulous air to it. The latter is the stone sold by major hardware stores, and one stone can be an almost exact duplicate of the next. And this is what you want in this case (and what you are paying for) -- uniformity. By contrast, a wall with large stones, less uniformly shaped, can profit from accent pieces of a different color. Nothing spices up a wall composed primarily of drab-colored stone like a well-chosen specimen of quartz or white marble, for example.

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