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Building a dry-stack retaining wall and terraces.

 
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When we moved into our first and hopefully only house, my beloved mentioned in passing that someday, she’d really love to have a stone wall. Well, buying Stone is expensive, so I’ve been gathering for a few years now. Excavation began today, and I think this is as good a place as any to keep a diary of the process. Hopefully, my efforts might be useful, or at least moderately interesting, to somebody someday.

Started digging for the foundation today. The ground is going to start freezing soon, and I’d like to be able to build through the winter (but slowly slowly).

A line was run to indicate where the hill shall be cut away. It’s well-compacted clay with plenty of rocks, as it turns out. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about hearting or pins.

The next post will probably be about The Plan, methodologies and information source material.

Some images:

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I am curious
 
master pollinator
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That reminds me of my first rock wall...

My wife said, "This will be our Together-Project" as we were newly-weds at the time. She helped me get two loads of rock, and then she had laundry to do, and dishes...and never did get back to helping me with that rock wall. That was 25 years ago, and she is long gone (with her !@#$^^&&* online boyfriend) and we have divorced, and now I am on my third wife, but still building those rock walls!
 
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Looking forward to seeing your progress Daniel!
I have always wanted to try dry stacking a wall.
There's a great video here at permies about dry stacking. I'll try to find it and post a link.

EDIT)  Here's the one, enjoy   permies.com/t/51765/Real-good-dry-stack-stone
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dry stack wall
 
Daniel Ackerman
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Well, Travis, I do the dishes and the laundry too, so I’m hoping for a better result. ;)

Thomas, that’s a great video. I’d seen it before, but not for quite some time, and it was a great refresher to watch it again.

And here’s today’s learned lesson:

A shovel is a good digging tool, but it isn’t necessarily the best one. I bought a mattock today, and alone, I was able to dig out and fill up the wheelbarrow significantly faster than two of us could do it yesterday, with far less frustration at the rocks in the earth.  

Wish I had had it when I was digging out my swale last year.
 
Travis Johnson
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I used to build some pretty good dry stacked rock walls, and actually really liked building them, so I did it a lot. I would go up in the old fields, hand load my rocks onto a trailer I pulled with my tractor, and then build my rock walls slowly and methodically.

Then I got my log loader. With it I can pick much bigger rocks, but my rock walls really suffered. They were more like big rock retaining walls then dry stacked rock walls.

I did build a small dry stacked wall this summer when I was still living in my Tiny House, but it was not anything especially great I admit. I will post a picture of it just so you can see, but again, I am not very proud of it. :-(

My only advice is to use string. The rock wall does not have to be level (although it can be), but the top must be on the same even place from point to point for it to really look good.

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Daniel Ackerman
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Doesn’t look bad, though! I’m fortunate in that the “wild” rocks I harvest generally come out of a limestone cliff face that I drive by regularly, and they are remarkably block like. And the domesticated stones have already been used in homes, so they’re oftentimes dressed into perfect blocks. And with a few exceptions, I’m limited In size by what I can get into a minivan using a hand truck. So I top out at about 300 lbs, with most significantly smaller.

I’ll definitely be using mason line and batter boards, and strict leveling with spirit levels and the bunyip device described in Gaia’s Garden. And with luck, the foundation trench should be completed today.

D
 
Daniel Ackerman
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The main excavation finished today, a couple days earlier than expected, which is great. Discovered two small water seeps which I’ll have to account for in the foundation.

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Travis Johnson
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Daniel Ackerman wrote:I’m fortunate in that the “wild” rocks I harvest generally come out of a limestone cliff face that I drive by regularly, and they are remarkably block like. And the domesticated stones have already been used in homes, so they’re oftentimes dressed into perfect blocks. And with a few exceptions, I’m limited In size by what I can get into a minivan using a hand truck. So I top out at about 300 lbs, with most significantly smaller.



I gave you an apple because I like your style!

I move stuff the same way. I once had to put sand and concrete on the floor of my great room. But it was the middle of winter and my gravel pit was frozen. So I went down to the town's sand shed, and dug sand for it. I could only dig (10) 5 gallon buckets at a time, and even then I had to hike 1/4 mile in because they gated off the place due to people like me stealing too much winter sand. Well I was undeterred, so I just used a plastic sled, put the heavy buckets of sand on that, and pulled them to my car.

You would be surprised what I can haul with my Ford Focus...including a full sized, live Ram. That is an interesting story.
 
Daniel Ackerman
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I’m not entirely clear what the Apple means, but I know it’s good, so thank you!

Sleds.... tried and true! And I bet anyone following this thread would be interested in that ram story. It reminds me of a story a friend of mine told about picking up a lamb for an orthodox Easter sacrifice, and letting his little niece feed it French fries in the back of his smallish, perfectly ordinary car. Perhaps a bit too much bonding for a child before they slaughtered it an hour or so later.

In any event, with a little help from a good friend, I laid my first stone for the foundation yesterday. Leveled my lines using mason’s string and a mason’s level that clips onto it. Great little tool. And wedged the stone in using a digging bar and some handy found fulcrums.

The bottom of the stone wasn’t perfectly flat, so the trench floor had to be scooped and sculpted to make it lay in stably at the line.

Yesterday’s unexpected lesson:
The biggest stones are not always the best stones. If they’re really big and heavy (I estimate this one somewhere north of 700 lbs), it takes a LOT longer to get them in position, and because they’re so heavy, it’s harder to place stone shims in the right spots to get them perfectly level, which is especially important for the foundation.

Rain was forecast, so a pulled a huge tarp over the worksite so it doesn’t turn into a muddy mess.

D
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thomas rubino
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Hi Daniel;
 Apples are a way to show our appreciation of a quality post.  It lets others know to check a post out. It also reflects on your reputation as a quality poster.  
Figures rain moves in when you about to start.  I dug a trench a few weeks ago... later that day rain moved in, quickly changed to snow and temps dropped to 12F .
Needless to say I still have frozen clumps of clay in my yard. Although with mucho work and a digging bar I did refill the trench.

Keep up the good work! Please keep us posted on your progress / or lack of if it keeps raining.   Lots of photos!
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Your next wall!
 
Daniel Ackerman
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Thanks Thomas. Mighty inspirational!
 
Daniel Ackerman
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It was a good couple of days. I got a four-hour chunk of time to fall into it, and boy, what a satisfying thing. There were several “oh just one more before I go in.”

The foundation course is about 5/8 completed. The largest, ugliest stones have a nice home against the bank. I think I’ve already begun to wear out the point end of a brick hammer. It’s about 1/3 inch shorter than it was when I pulled it out of my drawer.

The amount of pins and hearting needed is actually a little shocking. I didn’t realize how small the pin rocks would end up being. I also got a warning from the stone. Safety goggles are not necessarily enough when using a heavy sledge. A sliver of stone whizzed up and shaved off a bit of beard (without cutting the skin). Yay for beards, and for full face shields.

Progress pictures below:

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A lot of people cry when they cut onions. The trick is not to form an emotional bond. This tiny ad told me:
A rocket mass heater heats your home with one tenth the wood of a conventional wood stove
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