The unique building method of constructing structures from natural stone without using mortar to bind them together is perhaps the oldest building technique around. When you think of dry set masonry, you may think of old English farmers setting boundaries on their fields, but this technique can also be used for building retaining walls, terracing, dry stone sculptures, bridges, and even buildings in Dana Point, CA.
What is Dry-Laid Stone?
When this method of construction is applied, individual stones are laid on a bed of sand and gravel, held together by the compacted sand. Many homeowners choose this method for building landscape elements because of its flexibility and the ability to correct mistakes and imperfections over time. The dry-laid stone method can require higher maintenance as stones that become dislodged will need to be reset.
The strength of the structure is drawn from the friction between the interlocking pieces of stone. If the construction is unstable, there is a risk of the structure becoming hazardous, which is why it is always best to hire a knowledgeable contractor who is experienced in masonry, and who is skilled in this particular technique.
When done correctly, a dry set masonry structure can be a point of pride in any landscape and offer a unique, natural aesthetic.
In the past, the most common use of this technique was the building of low border walls around pieces of land. It has also been widely used for the construction of older buildings. Today, it is used for constructing retaining walls, footbridges, terraces, and steps. One of the many reasons homeowners embrace this technique is the unique, rustic look it adds to the landscape. Dry set masonry creates elements that effortlessly blend with the environment, adding an unforgettable, antique touch to the property. Masons don’t normally need heavy equipment for this construction method as the technique requires only minimal tools.
Mortared Structures vs Dry Set Structures
Compared to mortared structures, dry stone relies on the skill of the craftsmen which aesthetically complements and enhances the landscape. Dry set structures have a longer lifespan than mortared structures because they don’t suffer damage from the weather in the same way. Rain can penetrate into mortared seams and over time push the joints apart. When this occurs, mortared structures tend to break in large sections. With dry set structures the materials remain re-usable and resettable.
Dry-Stone Wall and Steps
One of the most popular landscape elements built with this method is the retaining wall. Walls are strong, attractive, and can last for hundreds of years. A dry-stone wall has a natural look and is used for fencing or marking the edges of a backyard so it’s typically higher than 4 feet. Using slabs, dry set steps can be created to link areas separated by a dry set retaining wall.
Using local stones for building dry set walls is a great option if possible. This will help lower transportation costs, reduce the carbon footprint of the build, and help you retain the distinctive character and charm of the area.