Monday, March 25, 2019

WHY I DO WHAT I DO EVERY DAY! Myersville Straw Bale Home, Backyard Patio Systems Current 2019

Current - March 2019 5'ft now underway above 4'ft wall below

The back end work can take months and months of building and planning. To often when you see a finished project it is hard to image what really goes into a project of this size! Currently I believe I'm well over 200 tons of JUST back wall stone to build this out. To avoid settling over time and the cost difference. The plan to go with straight stone instead of compacted earth just made sense long term. I've included a few pictures to help tell the story along the project journey currently still on today. The process of this project with the stone has taught me so much everyday about myself. What I'm should I be doing, Where I'm at in my skills and speed, How I should be doing it, Who I am as I work in the, freezing temps, snow, rain, sick, dark and WHY I DO WHAT I DO EVERY DAY! THE LIFE OF A CERTIFIED PROFESSIONAL WALLER.

Let me tell you a bit about the project I first meet the clients back in 2015 when the home was first being built. Like anything it was so hard to image what was being created by Sigi Koko, WHO specializing in designing natural buildings, plans and hands on workshops. See more

As my part of the project started I encouraged the clients to reach out to a few artist to determine the best way to go about the railing system. They felt most comfortable with their builder and his ability to create amazing woodwork on the 3 inside steps and railings.  The felt he would be best fit to handle the job. When we meet he explained to me some of the requirements for the original clay model design. I soon realized a lot of things just didn't make sense. While I don't build rails and never have I quickly learned some new things. To start if you have more then a 2' ft drop you need a railing. If you have more then 2 steps you need a handrail. I also believe there is one in there if the span is to far a way say the steps you can't touch both sides you need a handrail on both sides. From county to county, state to state this can vary I'm no expert. For the most part many of these are just common sense. So when designing the retaining walls or stairs be sure to consider including the contractor if you can. So you can design around his/her needs to install properly without frustration. This is what I did and in the process I quickly realized a lot of things just wouldn't look right or made any sense. For example the seating wall on the clay model is the right lower wall. A 3' railing would have to be installed on top of this since the overall height would have exceeded over 7' ft. from the ground. Talking about blocking the view when you walk around the house to the backyard. Or just sitting on the wall with a railing behind you YUK! Ya that just wasn't going to work. So with a few hours sitting in the seat of my mini excavator, staring, thinking, thinking some more, imagining.  I came up with a rough quick sketch (seen below) where new design needed to go. 

The new plan simplified some things but also complicated a few others. The removal of the floating steps. To more master curved steps in the middle lower walls. The left lower wall would be dropped by 12" to match the right 4' wall. Which now added a smaller circle plan at the bottom of the upper strait steps (as seen in drawing above where you see the word DOOR) So much to think about so hard to see. Just like the first day I saw the home being built in 2015. I could have ever imagined what it looks like today. WOW! So while we had a clear path, we let the stream guide us down the the now river as we occasionally bummed a few rock on the way. Adapting to the space. I could go on on and on about every little thing which really is a big thing when it's all finished. Just like the saying the butterfly theory. To often I think of those large landscape firms that have a design team who come in, measure it all out, sit at a desk in front of computer using some software to create the perfect plan. Is there ever a perfect plan in life?  The crew sticks to it and when it's all said and done it looks planned. Just like it was. Life is full of surprises, everyday we make choices good ones bad ones but are they really either or just the river taking us on a new journey. Allowing to be open, listen, feeling, trusting your gut that's what living is all about. Follow what feels right. If you don't like something change. Have a plan just be open to letting in the light and making changes. It will always show in those who do. 

In the beginning - nothing but burlap on the walls to protect the lime plaster from drying to quickly.
This was my canvas when I started. Not much in the way of any compacted earth over the 5 years of home being built. The biggest challenge how to create a upper patio that you could walk out on but also get to the lower level master bedroom. ONLY 9'ft below. Wait and lets not forget there is the lower breezeway doors limiting how far you can really come out on the upper patio. Sure yes you could build a 9ft retaining wall. Most walls you would divided the height by 2 and get how wide your base is. Yes 4.5 ft wall at the bottom wide. I've ever heard from engineers about gravity walls add 1 ft to be safe 5.5 ft wide base. Thats alot of walling and stone. Thankfully nothing had to be dug out. There is nothing there to start really. Hardscape patios for future plans boulder back walls layered in reduced sizes of stone as I got closer to the top. 

The placing and setting of locally quarried limestone boulder set by a my mini excavator became a new process for me. I can't begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this back wall building with boulders. It was like a arcade game sitting on the mini excavator using the joysticks to set each large stone in place.  

I will say it goes quick - just like any placement of stone you have to look for similar sizes and be sure to break the joints as you go. A few safety tips particle board to avoid the 10' tall doors from being damaged. I can't image the replacement cost.  The $40 dollars wood and $4 for the pool noodles were a smart safe investment. This photo also shows the protruding foundation set on earth not gravel. The gravel is only outside the walls incase you don't know how much rain we have seen in the last year. Hard to work in mud with machines or walking safely with stones in your hand. You can also see the white pipe. This is perforated schedule 40 connected to the builders black corrugated french drain so it now has daylight out the wall but can handle any weight load if by chance the bridging of lintel stone settle. 

As I made progress on the job I had to consider daily the planning of the site to be sure to best optimise my time. For example the placement of the bulk stone, The banker table the generator, the stone splitter the job box with tools not in the job trailer around the front. Every step adds time. How best to save a step helps with time management when possible. Not all things are possible on every site. Always think about one's movements on your projects. 

With winter season at hand many of the stones were placed on pallets to avoid breezing to the ground.  Later more large gravel was put down to minimize the bulk pile from freezing to the earth. Now as seen the shape is starting to come together the first small onsite boulder was a hit with many more to follow as they kept getting bigger and bigger (as seen above in pic with mini) . The mini excavator was push to the limits but with a few little learned techniques it all come together nicely. Thank you mini for making my job easy except when you drop a boulder it breaks the wall and you have to repeat the steps twice to build a wall drop a boulder fix the wall, try to place the boulder - drop the boulder to fix the wall. Ok make that's 3 times the charm. NOT I know I used some words I never use. Like jungle gym or buttermilk. Ok maybe not those exact words might have sounded like that over the running engine of the mini excavator ...

The start of the master circular steps were next on the list to build. With a total of 30 stones all saw cut on the sides, natural faces, feather and wedge faces or dressed faces. Build time about 1 month. Nothing easy about making steps unless you pre-order them to size. Which can be the easier route to take when you get what you want. I don't like to have my design dictated by my opinions. This can really limit your creative ability. Each option has pro/cons. Just stick with what works for you and the client. This is always a win win solution. 

Hard to believe I started this build back in Sept 2018. When I meet again with the clients, Serge and Joan in Myersville MD. To come up with a patio system which would fit there needs and the homes style. As seen in this clay model as I began this blog. Little by little each new section was being created almost like a room in a house. It felt so great to have a section done. Giving that new sense of space. I'm sure this blog has really helped to give a bit of sense of the timeline involved with such a build. Walling is very quick when your just walling! It's everything else that adds up. Stating that fact I lost count (my invoices didn't) of how many 14" diamond saw blades I used. All adds up! 

8 Pound Hammer,,  Swanson Levels,  Analog Inclinometer in my hands, Gorilla Step Platform

Close up of the first wall and small boulder. Plus the schedule 40 french drain to daylight. As mentioned above the white pipe. 

Upper steps will have 5' retaining wall now started. This will be the upper patio to back doors. In this same pic you will see what I like to call mountain shadow the title for the walling around the large boulder on right with all native stones placed around to give a timeless feature in the wall. Notice that banker table and stone splitter keep finding new homes as I build. Why you forgot already... every step should be made into a small steps. Less movement saves you time and the client money. 

Second of 2 walls finished with built in stainless steel railing rods for the home builder to build on. I call them plug and play. 

Mark Jurus in Large Planter
Eamon Espey in Small Planter
The larger planter is about 4'x5' and the small planter is 30"x 36" this is for unknown planted shade vide on upper system as see in pictures with full house in view. 

Now in the home stretch as I've started the last of the 3 walls of which is the upper patio to the back door. I'm so excited to so you more. I have a great deal of Vblogs I've created and will show up on my YouTube channel to come. Please subscribe to stay tuned. I'm really excited about the Pro Series intend for those of you in the trades or learning the trade. My goal helping others as others have helped me.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you found information in the blog helpful to you. 

The clift note specs on this project:
2019 March, Myersville Straw Bale home, 2 of 3 retaining walls 4 ft + including many large local boulders from the property. 1:6 batter wall, flat caps, stainless steel railing rods built into wall 3 courses down, all tie stones plumbed with electrical pipes for future Low Voltage Led lighting. Protruding foundation below grade. Small planter built 3' x 30" at end of wall by house for above vine trellis system. Dollar store pool noodles just for the fun of it. To protect the stainless steel all thread rods which the home builder will be installing 3' Locust logs for post from property. Stainless steel rods to be installed 4" spacing for code and to tie in with upper vine trellis system. 7 custom cut onsite - feather wedge faces curved steps 7" rise w/ 16" tread 30 stones cut to fit singles with some double stacked. Railing rods also installed. Wall built on steps. Boulders built out from home including bridging of 2 french drains and 1 out of wall lintel. Wall to be built behind this patio 5' tall for upper patio to back door as seen on background.

Monday, March 4, 2019

2019 Mailchimp Newsletter Workshops

Spring / April 2019 Workshops 

In 2017 Neil was our first visiting instructor to the training center. We offered two workshops -  Contractor workshop and a freestanding wall workshop. WE SOLD OUT. Neil has worked extensively here in the US working with the Dry Stone Conservancy for over 15 years. During this time both past and present he continues to offer his expertise in directing and supervising larger projects many of which are with the National Park Service. You don't want to miss this rare opportunity to learn and ask key questions from a master of stone. DON'T MISS OUT! 
(read more about Neil on Preservation Trades Network)

April 6th 2019 1 Day Fundamental Building Skills workshop (Saturday) $300 All Levels, Homeowner - Contractor, 1-Day  8:30 am - 4:30 pm  
Mark Jurus (Maryland) Advanced (Level 3) DSWA-GB - Journeyman (Level 2) DSC-US/ Instructor DSWA-GB.

This is our most in demand workshop every year. We highly recommend this workshop to everyone even if you're a contractor. Learn all about different wall frames, how to use them, build them and why you need them. What is a batter and why. This workshop will be hands on how to build 2 styles of foundations with the best tools for the job. Basic overview of tools of the trade. How and when to best use them and with what types of stone. Last but not  least how to read stone and how to put it to the best use. Hands on sorting and palletizing material.

BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE!!!.... Assessing Space, Planning, and Wall terminology. Learning the Fundamentals are the starting point for any waller. A skill set which will be needed for any project regardless of size.


April 26th 2019 - 1 Day Shaping Workshop (Friday) $375 All Levels, Homeowner - Contractor, 1-Day  8:30 am - 4:30 pm  
Neil Rippingale (Scotland) Master Craftsman ~ DSWA-UK, DSC-USA Examiner.
Mark Jurus (Maryland) Advanced (Level 3) DSWA-GB - Journeyman (Level 2) DSC-US/ Instructor DSWA-GB.

This Workshop will help the participant look carefully at the stone before choosing it for a specific use. This helps increase productivity and the economy of effort.

• There are many ways in which we can mark stone, this will be described and demonstrated throughout the workshop.
• Which Hammer should I use? What is its purpose? When should I use it? Which one should I buy? All part of the workshop.
• Which Chisel should I use? What is its purpose? When should I use it? Which one should I buy? Again, all part of the workshop.
• Using Diamond Blade Saws and Diamond tipped Grinders, Do’s and Don'ts.
• Working on Banker Benches, design and ease of use and practicalities.
• Texturing Stone for a finished surface.
• Tips on Drilling Stone including Feather and Wedge...and so much more!

• Shaping workshop, Hand Tools, Power tools, feather wedging and so much more!
(Note: YOU MUST HAVE - PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for this workshop.  Safety and use of this equipment is of paramount importance during the workshop.)
April 27-28 2019 2 day (Saturday/Sunday) Freestanding / Cheekend Workshop $450 All Levels, Homeowner - Contractor, 1-Day  8:30 am - 4:30 pm  
Neil Rippingale (Scotland) Master Craftsman ~ DSWA-UK, DSC-USA Examiner.
Mark Jurus (Maryland) Advanced (Level 3) DSWA-GB - Journeyman (Level 2) DSC-US/ Instructor DSWA-GB.

Freestanding Wall workshop is an Introduction into the Basic skills of Dry Stone Masonry. Over two days we will cover the fundamentals of Dry Stone Construction, Theory, History, The Uses of Dry Stone in the present day, How to determine the size of a batter frame for your project, how to make a frame, selecting the right stone for the right place in the wall which develops confidence, efficiency and the importance of rhythm and minimizing unproductive actions, but not at the expense of quality.
(Note: this workshop will be a strip out and rebuild of existing wall, tools will not be covered in this workshop)
- 7 spots remain - Freestanding workshop All Levels

- 3 spots remain for Advanced Level - Cheekend (2 people per cheekend)
(Note: you must have your own PPE, along with tools for shaping and dressing stone)
A cheekend / (wall head) is the most common way to end a wall.  Cheekends are one of the most important first features to learn. This two day workshop will cover strip out, rebuild and the proper method to finish off the end of a wall. In this workshop you will be partnered up with one other person to take on a traditional freestanding wall cheekend. You will learn how to tie the end back into the wall along with understanding how to pick, choose and make the stones you need to make it right! This workshop will also cover the setting up of a wall frame. This workshop is great for those gearing up for their Level 2 DSWA Certification. 
• Read more about workshops Click Here!
• To Sign up for a workshop Click Here

Dry Stone Certification WHAT TO KNOW for DSWA Level 1 TESTING

With the new year in front of us. This is a wonderful time to consider the steps needed to becoming certified as seen in the video above. The one question which comes up often is what do I have to do to become certified?

Many times we see folks think it is just as easy as taking a test. Yes and no! If you have never taken a workshop and you happen to be an experienced stone mason or just looking to start into a new trade. We suggest taking a freestanding wall workshop first.

WHY? The workshop will teach you the terminology, the steps of disassembling a freestanding wall-which is a very important process or organizing your stone before you rebuild your wall, learning to keep tooling to a minimum, making good choices quickly, and working next to someone just to name a few. All which will happen during the testing process. Watch the YouTube Video above to learn more. I've put this together to help others understand the steps to becoming certified.

  2019 Rockin Walls has started a Pro Series of videos.  This is intended to help other professionals with tricks, tips, tools and techniques to name a few - Get on the fast track of learning today. Please Subscribe!

Read More about Cheekends links below.

Professional Column Wall Ends Part 1
Professional Column Wall Ends Part 2

We stock and sell carbide chisels (CLICK HERE), $70 Rebit Pointer, Spartan $80 Tracer and $95 Heavy Duty Chipper. Please call or email for more details.

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