Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Merrymount - Roland Park MD, Project Story, Dry Laid Retaining Wall 11/2012

Merrymount Project Story. In the middle of 2012 I was contacted in regards to building a small 18" retaining wall. The Landscape contractor who brought me on to the job had a plan in mind for the space. 

With a photo of the area and a computer rendering I made some suggestions. The original plan was to use PA blue stone ( which of course is blue) create a wall which was 18" in the backyard (shown above) to include a curve.  In front of the curve a PA blue stone patio would be built by the landscape company. The wall would then travel down the walk stepping down in size to the front (side) of the house. 

After hearing this I suggested a brown stone because the blue stone with all small space, overwhelming amount of trees on the hill the area would look very closed in and dark. The brown stone would open up the space making it feel larger. I also suggested bring the wall around to the front of the house (side door) in order to created more of a room feeling. (see green paint on first photo) This would help to define the space instead of letting the flow or energy travel out into the yard. The next suggestion was to build the wall all at one size I suggested 20" which to me was a more comfortable seating height. In addition it would make the all feel more substantial in size.  After meeting on sight and going over the same suggestions to the home owner it was agreed apon to be a great solution.

Next the plans were sent off to the Roland Park home owners association for approval. Months later I was ready to move from my Beechdale project in Roland Park to the new Merrymount project. A short drive threw the neighborhood with my trailer and skid steer. I set up shop. (3rd picture down)

When I had the first meeting with the client about the space and stone. I was sure to have in the back of my car a nice little stone selection to set up. The choice was Butler Stone or Western Maryland Stone. The client choose Western Maryland. This would be the first chance to work with the WM sand stone. Earlier in the year 2012 a friend and I traveling back from KY from doing an Advanced Stone Shaping workshop stopped in at the quarry to see this material. 

As soon as I got the green light to go and a signed contract with a deposit I placed an order for the tri-axle (dump truck with 3 sets of wheels in the back) load of stone. 

After many delays from the quarry with down trucks I finally got my dump truck load one earlier morning at 4 am. Yup that's early for me!  I was sure to warn the neighbors ahead of time. (even thow we live in the country) Not to be alarmed if they heard something that sounds like roaring thunder - as the stone slides out of the back fo the truck. I felt with such an long trip in the middle of the night a tip in his pocket for his 4am morning road trip - should get him one large cup of coffee to keep him awake for the long ride home. 

Back at the job site while I had been waiting (weeks) for stone I started my dig out of the foundation. I dug 4" down 28" (retaining) - 32"  (free standing) wide. Yes ofcourse I called Miss Utility before I dug 811. Its the law! 

With the foundation dug I now needed stone. This site created a few logistical challenges. 1) no place for stone to be stock piled (easily). 2) Now way to get equipment on the site to move the stone. 3) Limited space to back in a dump truck to dump stone. 4) just enough room for my work trailer and the client to still park both cars in the driveway or get one in and out of the garage.

(Job Site Tip: When looking to price out a job be sure to look at the space. Overhead wires, staging area's for material, space for large equipment, vehicle access from venders, staff, trucks and trailers, type of soil, parking, on site port-a-potti space?, hills, climate, tree's, rain gutters, water flow, material handling.... just to name a few.) 

Stone was dumped at the only possible place right off the driveway in the yard. I went out and purchased this wagon in order to move the stone to the backyard. I had just purchased a dingo ( which was in the shop for some repairs during this job) I didn't want to even use a machine for this job since the concrete walk was so new and nice and white. I felt it was better to leave a smaller foot print on this job site. More manual labor would be the solution to avoid any costly damage to the sidewalk. 

The handy wagon did all the stone moving on site and my to hands. This proved to come in very handy having to move the stone over 90 feet to the backyard. Some might ask why not use a wheel barrow? I own 2 one with 1 wheel the other with 2 wheels. We use them all the time at the farm for sawdust. Honestly I've never used on a stone job to move stone. ( I did use it finally to help clean up the site when I had to move all the stone in the back of the house to the front yard and dump it into my skid loader bucket to load on the dump truck to haul home)  The hole idea of bending over to see whats inside and having to lift stone over the sides - Sure sounds like work. With the wagon I could see everything, work right out of it, move larger quantities of stone and never worry about it tipping over. Very easy to pull.

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I begin to build my foundation. On this job I started at the back to work on the hardest section first (furthest away from my stone pile). With foundation stones you alway want to find the larges stones you can with out compromising your selection. What do I mean by this? I used stones that are a medium size but with some thickness for this job most stones are 12" with a 3"-4" thickness. I'm not using any of my cap stones I've put aside. With the foundation stones I'm also looking to use stones that might not have as nice of a face or may have uneven surfaces not as suitable for the upper wall building.

I'm digging down into the earth to set my stones on earth. The benefit with setting your stones on earth - less cost no extra material such as aggregate, the stones help the wall be a flexible system. I also build all my foundations stones to protrude 4 inches at the bottom of the wall. You can not do this with all types of stone. Since this stone is so flat it makes it easy to do so. The biggest benefit is a larger foot print for the wall to sit on.

Just think - your walking in deep snow with boots..... Now put some snow moccasins on.....Which will help you float on top of the snow better?

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After all the foundation was built I then began building my wall section in the  back of the house. This was the first time using Western Maryland sand stone. Like any new material it takes time to understand what it's trying to telling you. 

With my wall frames in place and my plywood and stall mats down I began the straight section into a curve ending at the back into the bank. With a stock pile of stone piled up in next to my build. Making it easy to look over to find what I felt was the right stone for my next move. 

The PA Blue stone patio was put in by the landscape maintenance company that brought me onto the job. They built this just as I was finishing up the foundation section. (Job tip: When working with any other contractors be sure to communicate your time line to not interfere with your building process) I used my stall mats to help protect the new patio as I built  my wall not to damage any of there new work.

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Back wall curve being built. The curve was built around a Dogwood tree on the hill. Being sure to avoid any damage to the roots.

Top of wall shot into bank. This photo really shows all the packing in the middle of the wall.  Most walls fail due to lack of packing. 

Related Blog:

How To - Wall Stone Ingredients

Flat cap stones with 2" over hang begin to go onto the back curve. I like to do the over hang when possible to help keep water off the wall. I also feel it helps give a little more visual effect. 

Related blog:

How To - Set Flat Cap / Cope Stones

Back curve section finished. Now I head back to the front of the wall section to begin building. 


? Pa Blue stone patio with vertical stones for edging? Ya ok. No I didn't build the patio.....

Back curve finished just waiting for fill dirt and landscaping.

This photo is the front section of the home (side of house). After finishing the back section with the curve I wanted to move up front. Since this section is double sided freestanding wall w/squared up cap stones, a 90 degree corner, cheekend (wall head) and a lintel.  I only started the curve section first because it was so far away from the stone pile. Also being the stone was new to me this gave me time to get to know it. Now I could begin the next section with a little more stone confidence. More importantly I could make sure all the choice stones I had been stock piling I could now start to use. Yippie I was tired of tripping over them. I also know the lawn maintenance guys couldn't wait to mow the grass around them. 

Now it was time for another load of stone. This job site was a bit of a challenge. I was just happy my dump truck could at least back up the driveway to dump 5 tons of stone at a time. In this photo and the one below you can see all the large cap stones I had been setting aside for the top of the wall. 

Next I chalked out my spot for a lintel. Normally a lintel would have a large stone on the base (at bottom - future blog to come). I was building a cosmetic lintel to help open up the wall visually. I was happy the home owner approve the concept. Just as well for my certification with the DSC (Dry Stone Conservancy) I'm required to build certain wall features. The lintel was just one of three left in order for me to reach my Journeyman title. 

Cheekend (wall head) on right - lintel in the middle - and 90 degree corner on the left. Notice the first section of wall with the curve in the far back round. 

Here I'm gathering up all the cap stones which I need to make the same size for the freestanding wall. I lay out all the stones on the ground to understand what I have and will need for this section of free standing wall top. (length and average size) Then determine what will need to be done to fit them correctly.

Shaping stones can always be a joy when you have the know how and the methods to shape them. I started with the first stone by using feather and wedges to square up this stone. First method of choice for shaping.......

Related blogs:

How To - Wedge and Feathers Voodoo Magic

Well it kind of worked. The sand stone was just a little to soft and ended up putting a under cut and a fracture line down the side. Just look at the water mark across the photo. Now look for the " . " between rockinwalls and com. You'll now see the fracture line crack. As much as I like this method to shape stones. This stone was not hard enough to have the results I needed. One stone gamble was good enough for me to stop while I was ahead. Hard lesson to learn to know when enough is enough and pull the plug. 

Time for the Stihl gas saw. Sad to say I had to revert to power tools. I square the cap stones up, Then use my Rocko chisel to take off as much of the saw marks on the stone as possible.  

Related blog:

Tool - Rocko Chisel

Squared up cap stones going on top of wall for a fitting. By fitting them I can really get a sense of how much more I need and an over all visual.  (Job tip: I'm building my wall in one direction - towards the back curve section.)

Corner 90 degree - notice how my stones tie back on each side like a dove tail in wood work or your two hands inter locking with your fingers. Just like a wooden drawer this helps to strength the corners. 

Above is a replacement stone for my upgraded lintel. The stone I had used was not thick enough. I was working to use all my stone I had on site.  With a limited supply of choice stones to build with, I built the lintel with a thinner stone then I should have! (wrong choice)

 After some consulting with two masters - I had the help with the guidance I needed to remember to always follow my instincts. Remove the old stone and build it right!  (Thank you little Kia Soul for the deliver of the beefy lintel stone) Its just another other opportunity to do it again. 

To bad most contractors don't follow this same theory.  

It wasn't a hard decision to know I wanted to make it right! After all this was how I was raised. It's not about the money but having the pride and confidence to see it threw.

First lintel with thin stone across the top of hole. 

NEW lintel stone! Now you can really see in this section how tight all the stones are around the new lintel compared to the first one. I went as far to even replace some of the stones on the inside of the lintel because some of the first ones I used didn't have nice corners. Working with the stone you have on site is key but sometimes not having the right stones may cause one to compromise. Never second guess yourself when you have that doubt. 

This is a shot of my cheekend or called wall head. I had hosed off the wall with water. Amazing how the colors change so much with the stone. This photo happens to show the first lintel with the thin stone.

Next part of my build I was working back towards the curved section. The client had talked about how they went up into the woods some times to do walks. After hearing this I decided with there approval I would build steps for them. I determined the labor evolved would be not much more time then just building the wall. Plus I really looked forward to the challenge. I also wanted to do one more thing in the wall. Originally I knew I was going to build the steps but I let the stone tell me what size. So I went with a 7" rise 12" tread and 2' wide. A total of 3 steps same height of top of wall. Then I used 2 large stones in the wall with 2 others at top to give one more sense of the space. The top 2 stones are from the site. I always enjoy finding answers as I build. Not all things can be planned other wise you'll never grow.

Boy how those leafs make it look like this wall has been around for some time. But the stall mats are the dead giveaway I was just working in this section. Leafs yes that was one thing I haven't talked about or the acorns that would just fall out of the tree to pelt you on the head. I had to keep a leaf blower on the job just so I could clear my work area. One the wall was up it sure did a nice job keeping them all contained until the wind kicked them up again.

I continue to build the last of my wall section as I head down the walk towards the back curve past the steps.

Heres another angle. I had brought up (early on) a bunch of back wall stone which I put by the house making it easy to grab as needed. You will also see a few buckets of packing stone. This was the best thing about getting a loose stone brought onto the job site in a dump truck. Your guaranteed to have every type of stone you will need to build a dry laid stone construction. As I like to say - the walling ingredients. Very few stones are wasted when building a dry laid stone construction they all have a place and job.

I'm also working to connect the two sections of wall in the middle.

Related blog:
How To - Wall Stone Ingredients

The full middle section built. Next onto the flat cap stones with an overhang.

Caps stones can be a challenge  working to fitting everything together.  I was sure hoping all the large stones I put aside would fill the top wall. You notice some of the stones I would square up others I would try to use the stone the way it was - fitting it  next to a match.

When you get bulk stone you have to work with the hand your dealt. This can be a great  learning lesson. It can be easy sometimes to want to use all the best stone - Best what doesn't that mean? Ok the stones that one would want to pick first, the ones that seem to be the best for the job, the easiest to fit, the stones that have beautiful faces, the one you eye up and you only dream about..... The ones you skip over are the ones you might find a challenge to work with. They all teach you something. Just like us!

The caulk shows what I'm thinking about when it comes to shaping these. The best part about the sand stone a few little hits and you'll have the stone you wanted. With out the likely hood of loosing one. I can't say thats the same with all stones I've worked with.

The brick and string line is my guild to built to. Making sure I'm on target to match my built section further down. You will also see a few of my small plates by the hammer which help when working to get my cap stone to the height I need.

Related blog:
How To - Set Flat Cap / Cope Stones

You can see the brick and the rock with string. I'm now filling the void. This is always a challenge for me when I have to find that one stone that fits. Some times you look down and find the one you need with out even looking. Most of the time I stress this task knowing  the challenge I'm about to deal with.

Top view middle. 

Hard to believe 43 photos we are back to the first one! Yup if you made it this far in one sitting your have a stone addiction like me!! or you drank a Red Bull, cappuccino...  You know there's help for people like us. Just play with more stones. That will cure all.......

Final Wall Specs: 78' long x 20" high retaining wall with freestanding wall, Western Maryland stone mixed with PA Blue stone and local. Lintel 11" wide x 12" high. 90 degree corner. 3 steps 7" rise 12" tread and 2' wide. Curved section. Foundation stones 4" thick with a 4"  protruding at base (grade) Walk followed grade of sidewalk.

More importantly this blog of photos and story has been a great joy for me to share. I really enjoyed seeing this space change with the work I created. All the little things that helped make a space a space!

A wall to sit and reflect life.  Follow your love - share your dreams....

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Equipment - Bobcat MT55, Mini Track Loader, (dingo)

Contributing Author: Dean McLellan: Certified Dry Stone Mason DSWA UK - Located in - Holstein, Ontario, Canada

I purchased my Bobcat MT 55 with the thought that I would be able to make money with it and it would make my life easier...  Well  it has definitely made my life easier but I have had no luck making money on it really.  

I find that clients are less likely to want to pay the full rate to me for it on top of the cost of the stonework. They have little problem paying the rental companies for some reason what I used to have to charge them to rent one... 

I love the machine as it has proven extremely useful for the work I do.  Makes working alone a pleasure again.  The labour time has decreased as well as the wear on my body.

The Bobcat MT55 version was the best one I came across after testing a lot of them out.  I can pull it along with a 5 ton dump trailer with my toyota tacoma and still be under my weight limit.

I purchased the larger size bucket 44 inches along with set of forks and also the platform to stand on behind it.  The platform saves time walking on long stretches.  I've used it a great deal on the Stable build (StoneWurx 2012).  It fit right inside the building doors making it easy to bring stone in for the build.

Maintenance has proven fairly expensive with it.  I have had an issue with the starter which is frustrating but fixable.  Other than that it has proven to be very handy and I'd hate to be without it.

It cost about $25,000 to purchase after tax etc....  Which is very steep.   I could have gone with a used one I suppose.  Used are pretty hard to find and I didn't want to get into a lot of repair issues.  New was the choice I chose. 

I would definitely buy one again! 

Sure be nice to have clients understand the value . There for cover a normal rental cost for the use of my machine.!

See more of Dean McLellan's work:

For more about the Bobcat MT55, specs, and other products - visit Bobcat's website - click here!

Editor Note:
These machines sell used for around $15,000 +/-

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Bobcat is a register trademark of Bobcat.

Thank you Dean for taking the time to contribute to my readers. Keep up the great walling work - You Rock!! MJ