Saturday, August 4, 2012

Dry Stone Gothic Arch project


Dry Stone Gothic Arch

I have to start here with these cantilevered stairs before I talk about the arch. These wind up the hill to the arch with the retaining wall eventually turning into a low fence/ bench seat before the arch.


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When I designed this detail I wanted our stairs and retaining wall to wind like a ribbon up the hill-around the trees-into an arch- and then into a low 24" tall retaining wall that ran up hill to another set of stairs.


This is my foundation on the left side for the dry stone arch. It is about 24"tall and the beginning of the low dry stone retaining wall. The piece of granite on the right came from a large boulder on site that we split down, leveled off, and shot up the hill with an extension fork lift. It weighs about 2 tons.
On a side note here are the other 2 pieces of granite we used for gate posts up by the house. We are lucky to have a black smith in Bellingham to collaborate with, Arron Loveitt of Altility.
altilityartstudio.com

Here is the gate he designed. It covers up the gas meter, and invokes a sense of private space. This granite split beautifully using feathers and wedges into three  usable pieces. 

You can see the retaining wall taking shape in context to the wall/arch/column.
At about this point I wanted to add another detail for our client in this arch for a finer detail. We wove in an Ogee Arch cut from Penn. Blue stone. On the lintel we cut in the phrase... 'Land of the Free & Home of the Brave'. It looks beautiful. We also cut in holes for recessed lights within it. What is also nice about adding this detail is that it gives the arch another column that accentuates the voussoirs(the stone for the corners of the gothic arch).


We finally got the column up to height to insert our form.
Up with the form, and the scaffolding! You can see the top step and bench wall all tied together before we cut our cap stones and installed them. All these stones are hand carried up the hill by the way! We spend a lot of time laughing at each other under some absurdly heavy stone that we carry up each day. 80% of the stones find a home in the project as a wall stone... the rest wind up as hearting(fill stone) having fractured under our hammer....

Here is a detail of the Ogee Arch. You can't read the inscription because we just rinsed the wall down.
Here we are looking down from the upper path, by the gate. We installed the arch here in the clients landscape so they would have visual access to it from the bedroom windows.



The arch is coming up nicely, and I am super happy with how level I have been able to keep my column courses. At almost 7' in height it barely moves when we push on it from the side. We put our cap stone on the low bench/fence wall. It is not tied into the arch at all. Life on the scaffolding has been challenging to say the least.
So...
Here we are as of yesterday. I am cutting cap stone for the top of the wall for more weight, to keep water out of the wall, add height and remove the neighbors landscape from view. I am planning on adding a couple layers of turf flipped over for the top to plant native plants on. It should look older and pretty cool when we are done....
I think we are at about 7' or so  below the caps.

And we are still looking for our key stone for the arch....

We found it sitting right by our truck!
Here Gary Henderson is drilling holes to split off 1/3 of this boulder
to generate enough material we can continue to split into our keystone.

You really need to split off a larger chunk than you need, so as you continue to shape it, you have enough mass on the material you want to remove to control it evenly. That was our split with 'feathers and wedges'... 5 setups to reveal the key stone. Patience and consistency lead to great results.

View from the cantilevered stairs looking up at the arch.

So there we are! The arches turned out great. What a journey! I love that we can take a few basic rules-for dry stone walling, apply exceptions to those rules & discipline, and build exceptional details in the landscape.
Here we are looking the other direction. I love how it feels like two totally different arches from each side. Essentially they are, as visually you have totally different language in the landscape that informs the arch and the viewer.

I like how dramatic this is... subtly revealing other details.




StoneFest 2012 at Marenakos!

StoneFest is right around the corner! I love participating with all these stone centric people!
This year should be fun as we have lots of great instructors and projects for everyone to work on.




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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Montana Slates...

Working with Montana Slates...


A friend of mine and I were talking about the different materials we were using for our projects the other day, and we thought it would be a good topic for our blogs to talk about those materials in depth, as well as look at the results. I chose to talk about our most common choice of material by our customers- Montana Slate


Hand sorted before delivery, sorted again, then walling....
Dry stone retaining wall after completion. 4' tall by 170'



I can't think exactly how much of this material we used in the last 5 years, but 300 plus tons seems a fair number. We have built stairs, dry stone fences & dry stone retaining walls, flat work for beautiful patios, and even thin veneer. It is not a tremendous amount of material by any stretch, but it is enough to have learned a few things about the material that I can share.






One of my favorite things about this material is the color range. It looks great wet and dry.
The Montana Slate we used to build these stairs was  extremely hard, even layers, and we were able to use feathers and wedges to split it nicely.

It varies hugely from quarry to quarry, from one side of the mountain to the other, from what is on the surface to what comes out of the ground below grade. There is an ancient layer, and a younger layer... so a friend has explained to me of the material in the Kalispell area.
Most have a heavy iron content that will 'bleed' out over time and stain  themselves and the surrounding stones. 

This quarry produces a nice consistent 2-3" flatish material.
Same quarry in a dry stone fence I built for a display 4 years ago. The fine detail work looks nice, but takes longer to build! All the edges I shaped are nicely oxidizing now.


I also tend to think of this stone as a masculine material. It tends to have flat hard lines, be angular, and tear rather than cleave nicely like a granite. Most of the patios I do with this material I put into an organic shape like this to soften the material.
For this large patio area and dry stone retaining wall we used 2-5" thick material for the walling and 2-3" thick material for the patio. They came from 2 different quarries near each other, yet one surface had slight wrinkles in it, and the large patio pieces were very flat. The other stone in the image is a local Olivine which was a nice contrast in color and shape.
When we shape the patio material we use a demo saw to minimize our material loss. A hammer and chisel end up under cutting the material as it tears away below. It can be ok on the thin walling stone, but really doesn't produce consistently nice joints with great contact. I like the thin material best for coping......
The coping here for our dry stone fence is all 2-3"patio grade material. You can see how tapered the edges become as you shape it from both directions pulling it back slowly to your shape. This is not a fast process by the way. There are roughly 5-6 pieces of coping per lineal foot.
This wall is 60' long.

Another characteristic I noticed with the material I am using in the wall stone above is the material is heavily cross fractured vertically and horizontally. Quite the challenge when you want to lay a stone length in and the grain runs from top to bottom, and perpendicular as well. Within this quarry the material shifts to a sandstone- to a shaley mud stone- to hard, dense slate.
It has been great blending these two quarries material. One is great for walling, and the other for quoins and treads. these lower treads project about 30", with twice that in the wall. The same equation is true for the other 14 treads as they wrap around the dry stone retaining wall.
For the curious....
On a whole I really like the material. I use a 22 ounce carbide brick hammer to shape the small wall stone, and coping, and 3lb. hammer and chisels for the larger stones. For the big ones we use what is called a 'Bull Set'-10 lb. and a 12 lb. sledge to move more material in a broad stroke. Like any stone we work with you have to choose your material well. 'Well' to me means hand sorting before I purchase to insure we have high quality material we need for where we are in the project. Most of the stone we have in the Pacific North wet is palletized. 

We are lucky here to have access to these Montana Slates.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Installation in Austin Texas for the Sustain Center

A few months ago my co-worker Gary Henderson and I traveled to Austin Texas to build a dry stone installation. We built this display for my friend Tracen Gardner who owns Sustain Center. It is a demonstration/teaching setting of a wide variety of professionals who are building with sustainable services. There are compostable toilets, windmills, green roofs, solar, rain water harvesting, reclaimed material modular homes, and many other systems on display. We installed 15 tons of of new and reclaimed limestone to build a 30' long dry stone wall on an angle that is 2' tall, and a 20" tall by 12' long bench above the wall.
Our foundation for our dry stone rain garden wall.

Gary processing ideas...

The foundation for our bench and wall end. This stone is 48" tall and sits on the foundation of the lower wall.

Bankers and cutting stone to shape for our wall.
Starting the wall
Gary and I sweating bullets in 70 degree heat.

Our finished installation with a few plants! 5 days of construction, 2 masons, and one full time assistant.
One of the many thing I love about a relationship with stone as a dry stone mason is working in a new environment with local materials. These bone colored stones would look very out of place here in the Pacific North West, but they fit in so well with right where they are from in context to the heat, Texas Hill Country, and landscape colors.
Here are some images of other installations in the 3 acres setting. I think we all felt very lucky to have our work in context to other sustainable systems that will help educate the public.

Tracen's other company makes these beautiful structures, Reclaimed Spaces.


The main entry gate is very cool as it pivots, and is made of beautiful reclaimed wood and steel.

Opening day here.