Like their brick cousins, stone walls are extraordinarily durable. There are many that are still standing after hundreds of years. Stone walls have been around since people first started building, and they haven't gone out of style yet. Quite a testament to their staying power, physically as well as aesthetically.
Types of Stones
Stones are either rough or finished. A rough stone is any stone that hasn't been altered. A finished stone has been shaped to be uniform and can be stacked much like a brick.
Types of Stone Walls
There are two types of stone walls: dry and mortared. A dry stone wall relies only on the friction between the stones to keep it intact. Stones are laid on top of one another in an overlapping fashion to form a wall of loose, but stable, individual stones. Mortared walls fill in the gaps between the stones with cement, basically turning the wall into one solid unit.
Building a Dry Stone Wall
Other than the heavy lifting, a dry stone wall is easy to build. First, a trench is dug where the wall is going to be. It should be slightly wider than the wall. The trench is then filled with gravel to form a foundation. When using rough stones, larger stones are placed to cover as much of the gravel as possible, then smaller stones are placed to fill in gaps. This process is repeated layer by layer. For the sake of stability, it is important to make sure that gaps between stones are covered by the center of the stones in the next layer. When using finished stone, this process is quite simple. Finished stone is, however, significantly more expensive and lacks the rustic look of rough stone.
Building a Mortared Stone Wall
Working with mortar is both a skill and an art. A lifetime can be spent perfecting technique. Those who are up for the challenge, however, will find that constructing something of such permanence brings a sense of accomplishment that can rarely be matched.
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This type of wall will require a concrete foundation. After the concrete has set, a layer of wet mortar is placed on top of it, and stones are then embedded into that mortar. More mortar is placed above this layer of stones, and the next layer is placed (again, making sure it overlaps any gaps in the layer below it). This process is repeated until the wall reaches its desired height. The wall's face can later be patched with yet more mortar. This is certainly easier to do with finished stone, though aesthetics and price are once again issues.
The function the wall is to perform (part of a home, a barrier around a garden, etc.) and individual taste will determine what techniques and types of stones to employ. Whatever the choice, in the end you'll have a finished product that will literally last at least a lifetime.