Stone Wall Restoration – New England

Stone Wall Restoration

Here in New England a common request that we receive is to do stone wall restoration, or to rebuild existing stone walls.  Most commonly these are drystack retaining walls that have deteriorated over time and need to be taken down and rebuilt.  Fortunately the stone is perfectly re-usable, so stone wall restorations are comparatively less in cost than building new.

Why do stone walls need restoration?

In our experience the stone walls built in this area within the last 100 years or so were done without much attention to base material, backfill, or drainage.  When we dismantle older stone walls, what we usually find is dirt backfill mixed with stone.  Dirt or soil does not drain well, it holds moisture and will expand with freeze/thaw cycles.  Soil also promotes plant growth and invites vegetation and roots.

Soil erodes and overtime will rinse through the stones towards the front of the wall.  As it mixes with the face stones, the freeze/thaw and root growth will cause more and more movement in the stones. Eventually stones fall off the wall, plants and soil show through the front, and/or portions of the wall collapse altogether. At that point there isn’t much one can do to repair the wall other than dismantle the wall (or just a section) and rebuild.

Fortunately the stones can all be re-used, and a rebuild poses a great opportunity to re-design the walls in a favorable way. This will often mean pushing the wall back to create more space, raising the height to create more level ground above, adding stairways for access, etc.

Below are photos of various walls that show the conditions before restoration.  As you can see, these walls are not the most visually appealing, and some of them are starting to deteriorate or collapse.  

Collapsed Stone Wall in Bolton, MA in need of restoration
Collapsed Stone Wall in Bolton, MA
Deteriorating stone wall in Wayland, MA
Deteriorating stone wall in Wayland, MA
Existing Soil Backfill
Existing Soil Backfill
Deteriorating stone wall in Newbury, MA
Collapsed stone wall in Newbury, MA
Deteriorating stone wall in Stow, MA
Deteriorating stone wall in Stow, MA
Deteriorating boulder wall in Townsend, MA
Deteriorating boulder wall in Townsend, MA

Restoring the Wall:  

Excavation + Prep

To restore a fieldstone wall we first dismantle the wall and save the existing fieldstone.  The stone will go into a pile nearby while we excavate the base and backing.   For the base we make sure to excavate deep enough until we find solid/well draining subsoils.  We then compact the subsoils and add a layer of compacted crushed stone to set our base stones in. 

Behind the wall we excavate far enough back provide room for clean stone backfill.  A general rule of thumb is that the thickness of the wall should be at a very minimum 1/2 of the height. But more width is better whenever possible.   At the back of the excavation we install heavy duty filter fabric.   This is a construction grade fabric that allows water to flow through but does not allow dirt or roots.  This means dirt/plants will never migrate or mix into the backfill or wallstone.

We haul away excavated soil or stockpile on site for grading behind the wall.  Often in restoring a stone wall we will raise the height to achieve a more favorable grade behind and so saving the fill is useful.

Take a look at the following stone wall restorations in various stages of excavation or prep:

Stone wall prep and wall construction Bolton, MA
Stone Wall Excavation in Wayland, MA
Stone Wall Base Prep in Wayland, MA
Stone Wall Base Prep in Stow, MA
Stone Wall Prep in Sudbury, MA
Boulder Wall Excavation in Townsend, MA
Stone Wall Prep in Carlisle, MA

Building The Wall:

To build the wall we start with the largest stones and set the base course. These stones are the heaviest and sturdiest and form a solid foundation on which to build the rest.  Next we stack up the face.  We build the face of the wall by carefully stacking the stones with the bulk of the stone tying back into the wall. Each stone should be stacked on top of the joint below for added strength. Additionally, we use smaller stone or “pinning” to shim and lock the stones in place.   We backfill with more fieldstone, rubble, smaller stones, etc.  We don’t use gravel or crushed stone behind the wall because it is too small and can flow or erode through the face of the wall.  We want our backfill to be tightly packed stone or rubble that is solid, adds mass to the wall, but drains water freely.

In most cases, all the material we need to bring to the site is a bit of crushed stone for the base, and additional backfill to replace any dirt we have removed.  We may also bring supplemental fieldstone to mix in with the existing. This is necessary whenever the wall may be increasing in size.

Fieldstone Wall Restoration Bolton, MA
Fieldstone Wall Restoration Bolton, MA
Fieldstone Wall Restoration Wayland, MA
Fieldstone Wall Restoration Wayland, MA
Fieldstone Wall Restoration Wayland, MA
Fieldstone Wall Restoration Wayland, MA
Fieldstone Wall Restoration Stow, MA
Fieldstone Wall Restoration Wayland, MA
Fieldstone Wall Restoration Concord, MA
Fieldstone Wall Restoration Concord, MA

Completion

As we reach the desired height we stretch a cap line, and use our largest, flattest stones for the top.  These large flat stones help hold everything in place, and give the wall a clean finish.  The result is a sharp looking and long lasting New England stone wall. 

Stone Wall Restoration Townsend, MA
Stone Wall Restoration Townsend, MA
Stone Wall Restoration Stow, MA
Stone Wall Restoration Stow, MA
Stone Wall Restoration Newbury, MA
Stone Wall Restoration Newbury, MA
Stone Wall Restoration Wayland, MA
Stone Wall Restoration Wayland, MA
Stone Wall Restoration Bolton, MA
Stone Wall Restoration Bolton, MA
Stone Wall Restoration Carlisle, MA
Stone Wall Restoration Carlisle, MA

Thermal Bluestone Patio w/ Granite Curbing

At this home in Concord, MA the existing back yard has too much slope to enjoy seating, and there is no good access to the house. After determining grades and discussing options with the homeowners we settle on a plan for a raised bluestone patio, edged with granite to hold the grades, and bluestone stepping stone walkway to meet the door.

Thermal Bluestone Patio Preparation

To prep for the bluestone patio installation we excavate the area and use the excavated dirt to raise the grade below the patio in order to further reduce the difference in grades. We also use this opportunity to tie in all downspouts to an underground drainage system which will transport all roof runoff to the far end of the yard.

Next the granite curbing is installed to hold the grades around the edge of the patio. At the top of the patio by the house a row of cobblestone is raised in relation to the patio in order to hold the existing planting bed by the house. The rest of the patio is edged with granite curbing which comes in longer lengths than cobblestone but has the same width and texture for a good match.

The granite curbing is set flush with the surface of the patio, and there will be an 8″ step off down to the yard, and down to the walkway.

Completed Thermal Bluestone Patio and Granite Edge

One the granite is in we finish filling the patio base, and then lay the bluestone. This is thermal bluestone in a random pattern with polymer sand joints. The result is a sharp, classic looking patio that creates much more useable space and access to the house. Great for entertaining and giving the residents somewhere to sit while watching children in the yard.

Outdoor Kitchen Installation – MA

At this Organic Farm in MA we build an outdoor kitchen area. It will consist of bluestone counters, natural stone veneer, an Argentine style grill, and a pizza oven. Along with regular cooking and entertaining the owner will use this outdoor kitchen for cooking demonstrations and videos as well.

Outdoor Kitchen Installation:

To build the kitchen we install a concrete base, and then block up the form. The counters are designed to stand on columns so that there is space below for wood storage. It also has a small set of shelves and a firebrick cutout for the Argentine grill.

Outdoor Kitchen Prep
Outdoor Kitchen Prep

Once the blockwork is done we install the natural stone veneer. This is a 1″ thick sawn stone in the stacked stone style. We use a mix of sizes, run the stones mostly level, and break the joints to give it an authentic drystack stone wall look.

At the same time we install the firebrick to line the open grill. Firebrick is a special heat resistant type of brick that is used to inside fireplaces, ovens, etc. It can withstand a very high heat without cracking and crumbling like regular brick/concrete/stone. As an extra detail we lay the firebrick in a 45 degree herringbone pattern.

Outdoor Kitchen Stone Veneer
Outdoor Kitchen Stone Veneer
Outdoor Kitchen Open Grill
Outdoor Open Grill
Natural Stone Veneer
Natural Stone Veneer

Once the veneer and firebrick is on get ready to install the counters. We use 2″ thick thermal bluestone and the kitchen is designed to use several standard size pieces. We also add some steel to the spans b/c there will be a stone pizza oven on top.

Stone Counter Prep
Stone Counter Prep
Outdoor Kitchen - Stone Counters
Outdoor Kitchen – Stone Counters

The grill is an Argentine Style grill or sometimes called a Gaucho Grill. It is an open grill with large adjustable rack. The pizza oven is a pre-made oven from Forno Bravo that we set on top of the re-enforced counter. Once the grill and oven are in the wood fired outdoor kitchen is ready to use.