A well-built rock and mortar wall will last more than a lifetime and enhance the value and beauty of your home. Whether you are building retaining walls for terraces or freestanding walls, the concrete and rock structures will be an excellent addition to your landscaping. The project will be labor-intensive project and take time and preparation but, when done correctly, the result can be something to be proud of.
Calculate the amount of stone you will need to complete your wall. Most stone translates to about 15 cubic-feet per ton. Use this calculation to estimate the amount of stone you will need: Length x Height x Width = Volume. Divide the volume by 15 to estimate how many tons of stone you will need. If your planned wall is to be 40 feet long, four feet high and 18 inches wide, the calculation will look like this: 40 x 4 x 1.5 = 240 (cubic-feet). Divide 240 by 15; your estimate is 16 tons of stone.
Before you begin to mix mortar or put one stone on top of another, you need to dig a foundation trench or footer. It should be at least six inches wider than the finished wall. It also needs to be deeper than the frost line. So the necessary depth will vary depending upon where you live. Placing the footing of the wall below the frost line will prevent the wall from “heaving” and cracking the mortar during winter freezes. Two inches of packed gravel in the bottom of the trench will help drainage and lessen the possibility of water pooling underneath the footer. Pour two inches of wet mortar on top of the gravel and you are ready to set your stones. When hardened, the mortar will bond with the packed gravel and form a solid base for your wall.
Begin with a stiff mortar mix. The mortar should be able to hold a mounded shape without sagging when placed on a flat surface. Set the stones firmly in place. If a stone wobbles or seems unstable when placed in position, use a smaller piece of stone to steady it in position. Fill all gaps thoroughly with mortar. Use a wet sponge to clean excess mortar off the face of the stones and use a stiff, wet brush to clean the joints between the stones. Keeping the face of the wall clean as you work is easier than chipping dried mortar after you finish setting the stones.
Shaping the Stone
Use a short handled, five-pound hammer and a stone chisel to ease the job of fitting stones. Unless you are working with naturally flat stones or rounded smooth stones, most pieces will need to trimmed a bit to fit securely in the wall. Wear gloves and eye protection while chipping or splitting stone. A secure fit is key to a solid, long lasting wall. No matter what type of stone you use, check the fit of each one as you go.
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