Still, building with stone can be a rewarding project for patient first-timers. In most areas, you can have pallets of stone delivered. And a few inexpensive tools, such as a mason’s hammer, will make the work go more smoothly. Stonewalls can be stacked dry using stone and rubble for backfill.
Dry walls are built on a base of compacted gravel. It’s important for hidden backfill stones to be stacked just as securely as visible “face” stones. All voids inside the wall should be filled with rubble.
Another option is to stack the face stones dry, then backfill with stone and mortar. This type of construction requires a deeper (24 in.) compacted-gravel base. Finally, you can mortar the joints between stones. These walls should be built on a poured-concrete footing with rebar placed horizontally in the footing and vertically to extend through the wall as it is built up. All “wet” walls need a drain in the backfill or weep holes to relieve pressure from water that seeps behind the wall.
These retaining walls come in a variety of styles, patterns, and colors. There are tumbled blocks of uniform size that simulate the look of quarried granite; blocks of varying sizes that form patterns to look like natural stone; and split-faced blocks that look like what they are: concrete. In fact, these blocks are made from really strong concrete; most have a compressive strength of 5000 psi.
Block retaining-wall systems are available from a number of manufacturers. Prices vary between manufactures styles. Each company sometimes each style has its own interlocking system. Allan blocks are probable the most widely used.
Most systems are comprised of a few different components, including the basic wall blocks, corner blocks, and cap pieces. The good news is that neither of these walls are so complicated, that you can’t do it yourself.
The trick is to get the first course level. Then it is mostly a matter of stacking blocks and backfilling. Many systems even incorporate a setback into the design so that as you build up, the wall automatically pitches back into the retained earth behind. It is hard to avoid cutting blocks, but the only specialty tools you’ll need are a masonry or diamond blade for your circular saw and a mason’s chisel.
These interlocking systems are versatile enough for most designs. Curved walls can be built, and matching steps and walks can be incorporated. Some manufacturers will send a representative to help you figure out just what you need for your project.
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