Monday, November 28, 2011

Splitting Stone...

Most stones we work with need shaping to fit a certain need. Most shaping we are able to do with a hammer if the stone is of a small scale and a cooperative material. But sometimes the stone is too large to manipulate into shape with a 3-4 pound hammer. At the point we need to shape thick material in length, we resort to 'feathers & wedges'(colloquialisms  vary), or sledge hammers sets with specific cutting heads. 

The process is simple:basic math, consistency, and pressure split the stone.
It has been done for centuries using the same methods. Centuries ago... holes were  drilled in a stone to a certain depth, spaced out at regular intervals, and dry wooden dowels were inserted followed by water being poured over them until they expanded and split the stone...
Today we have hammer drills and steel, and we speed things up a bit.
Cameron Scott of ExteriorScapes splitting Pennsylvania Blue Stone for a wall end that we built as a collaborative dry stone walling display at Marenakos.

 This is the face we all have after splitting stone.

 It really never ceases to amaze any mason or viewer of the process of splitting stone. 
The wall end coming up nicely with thick slabs of  Pennsylvania Blue Stone split using 'feathers & wedges', and smaller pieces of quartzite and limestone that is easily shaped using 3-4 pound hammers.

Here is what the 'feathers & wedges' look like set in the ready to get to work.
The 'feathers are the outside pieces that are shaped like an 'L'. This one here is 12" long and is laid out for splitting big blocks of high quality architectural/carving limestone at Continental Quarry. The wedges were attached to jack hammers...

The Process works well on most stones, and depths....

Sometimes I use it just for an interesting detail in relatively simple settings for a bit of contrast...
The marks left by the process always interest me because it adds more visually to the stones that reveal the story of the process.

Here is my daughter demonstrating the process on a piece of granite that I wanted to use for a 'through stone'... It took her 3 minutes of tapping them, but the granite eventually yielded to her persistence.

Many stone can be easily split using a couple of sledge hammers and specific faces. I love this process as it takes a bit more time, but it requires more of the body and mason reading the grain of the material.

Again the happy face... Forest with enthusiasm splitting a local schist
that we hand quarried for a client.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Thinking outside the Pallet...

Huckleberry Basalt on a pallet
Most stone sold today in stone yards comes palletized, or is brought in bulk from local quarries. Either way the material is delivered in a consistent size. It may be '1 man rock', or a 'ledge stone', or 'stepping stones', or any other name that specifies a consistently sorted material that is offered. All these stones are sorted by the hand of man in the back yard of nature standing on the ground, or sitting in a machine. This is done primarily for shipping purposes, but also to meet demand of the end user. It also makes it more expensive because man and machine must eat.

What you do not get is variety. Someone who is doing something very specific for X amount of square feet would love, and needs, palletized material. Suppliers have made that very easy for the masons. It is a double edged sword for us...

Build a dry stone retaining wall or a dry stone fence with palletized material and you end up with walls that look like this. This is Borrowed Grounds work...
Huckleberry Basalt Dry Stone Retaining Wall
Montana Slate Dry Stone Fence

But the dry stone waller needs variety. Like nature itself, it is a healthier and stronger wall with a full range of variety. We need stones for our corners, called Quoin stones, wall stones, through stones, cap stones, coping stones, smaller stones for the heart of our structures called 'hearting' material, and the funky stones that have no great faces for our foundations.
Stones on Rialto Beach-WA

Every stone is useful. Every stone wants to be honored. The variety that is available to the builder is what he/she needs. Consistently coursed walls of a specific dimension look beautiful, are strong, are how the Romans built, how wallers are taught, but I personally prefer a wall that has a wide range of sizes that are laid level and relieve visual tension from the surrounding architecture.

I was lucky enough to encourage my local stone supplier 120 miles from here, Marenakos, to bring me material in bulk to meet the needs of local wallers, and myself. Washington state is not blessed with much flat stone West of the Cascades. We are blessed with a smorgasborg of geological diversity that comes mostly in the shape of 'popcorn'. We went to Montana and brought this in bulk for a reasonable price.

Montana Slate in bulk
Every time I go to Marenakos I hand select stone for where I am in the wall. I bring in 15 tons at a time of the right material. Here is a load selected for my base courses and wall end. You also end up with a very high quality end product.

Outside the pallet is where I find most wallers working. They like to choose their materials by hand. It is usually less expensive than palletized, trucking/delivery being a wild card, but worth every minute. I find I have a lot less wasted material than what I get on a pallet for building dry stone structures.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Granite Curbing for Cobble Stone Driveway

At some point during this project our client decided upon a cobble stone driveway to replace the failing asphalt driveway. Our parameters were that we use the correct material for the site( granite or porphyry), the materials must be from USA origins, and feel timeless. So after getting samples form all over the USA,we had to choose between new or reclaimed. The new material felt 'dead', was all the same dimensionally & texturally, and really had no personality yet. We liked a reclaimed granite from Massachusetts best because of it's historical context, personality, color range, texture, and size.We chose to purchase our material from Stone Farm( ) in Massachusetts. We also purchased reclaimed curbing to hold our cobbles in on the downhill side of the driveway. 

So once our materials began to arrive....

We began unloading our materials in 20 ton containers... needing 120 tons for the project.We separated the materials and hauled them back to our sit.From there we excavated the hillside, established finished elevation of curbing and new cobblestone driveway, and poured a 70' long grade beam with re bar.
Two of my helpers after school, Devin Trub on left & Noah Beardsley-my son on right,
myself Russ Beardsley in center.
Grade beam at left...

Last week we finished installing this beautiful reclaimed granite. Most pieces arrived 7' long by 6" thick at the top of face to 12" at base, by 18" tall. We had to feather and wedge each piece to accommodate their new home. Our little MT-52 was easily able to pick up each piece of granite and manipulate it in place hanging from a chain choker. We will install our below grade drainage pipes and back fill along the front, and install soil for fill along the back to accommodate new plantings.

It is really great to be working with dry stone retaining walls & fences, a cobble stone driveway, and mortared elements all within this one area for this project. Personally I love the challenges this job has presented for Borrowed Ground because it has really pushed me to reevaluate how I work in the landscape for clients, work more in traditional wet masonry, and work with materials that don't exist here in the Pacific Northwest.

Monday, October 31, 2011

We have been on the current project for roughly 11 months and laid up more than 180 tons in a variety of functions. In the above image, the down hill wall end finally came to conclusion after I located the the cap stone after 4 months of searching and trying out multiple ideas. The wall is 4' tall at coping height, and 42" or so at the top of the cap stone. It is an interesting thing to collaborate with multiple trades and the home owner to realize a wall. Having to incorporate the address numbers into the wall to approved scale was difficult in locating an appropriate quoin stone to accommodate them, as well as fit both directions. I think the long flat cap nicely lets the eye locate the numbers as the coping stones are set back.

This is our proposal for our next dry stone retaining wall which we have recently started excavating.
It weaves two different walling systems together: a wedge wall and a random rubble/coursed dry stone wall.
it will be 4' tall by 60' long and incorporate a radius on the left side that winds up the hill with stiles protruding 24", and 10" or so off the ground until we get to the grade for the path that leads to another set of stairs to the house. This should be fun to build, and push the rules a bit here. 
Here is our far right granite boulder that is 9' long by 48" tall at left, and tapering to zero at right.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Our current project which we started in December 2010 had a failing mortared wall, in 3 different styles as it ran 170' down the driveway .

We went to Montana and selected an Argolyte/ Slate which we could get for a fair price, in a wide range of sizes that did not come on a pallet, that had a great color range, and was appropriate for dry stone walling.

Dry stone walling is really one of my favorite elements in a landscape. Not only does it relieve tension from surrounding architecture, it continues to give back in it's timeless pattern language, reveal the relationship of the mason and material, and last for centuries.


We choose to work as dry stone wallers because it lasts for centuries when built properly by trained and certified dry stone waller/masons. Currently I am certified by the Dry Stone Conservancy in Kentucky. I attend numerous workshops every year to continue to learn from other masons & artists, as well as teach. This year I was privaledged to contribute to StoneFest( ) at Marenakos Rock center in Preston, Washington.

This year we are now offering a full range of masonry services for clients in natural stone. The demand has been high for these services and I am lucky to have an excellent mason working with us that has 25 years of experience.

We only work with natural stone for clients. Concrete, Cultured stone, Alan Block materials are not natural stone. They are not even related to stone except by trademark.