Planning Tips For Building A Dry Stone Retaining Wall In Your Backyard

If you don't want to deal with messy cement or mortar but need to build a long-standing retaining wall in your backyard, then a dry stone wall is exactly the solution you are looking for. As the name implies, dry stone walls are made of just stones without any mortar. This type of retaining wall is held together by gravity and the sheer weight of the stones.

Use these tips to plan a successful dry stone retaining wall building project for your backyard.

Planning Tip: Acquire the Proper Safety Attire for the Project

You might think you can build a stone wall on a warm spring day wearing just shorts and a t-shirt, but nothing is farther from the truth. Masonry projects require you wear an appropriate level of safety clothing to protect yourself from mishandled and dropped rocks, including:

  • steel-toed workboots
  • leather gloves
  • denim jeans
  • a hat

In addition to the above, you also need to wear goggles to protect your eyes from flying rock shards. As you shape rocks with your pick or bang them together, small shards of rock will fly around and can blind you if one hits your eye.

Planning Tip: Plan for Your Dry Stone Wall to be Twice as Wide as It is High

When you build a dry stone retaining wall, it must be twice as wide at its base as it is at the top. Without this "wedge" type of shape, the wall would be top heavy, and the weight of the dirt behind it would continually push it over. A wall that is wide at the bottom has a lower center of gravity and can withstand the forces pushing it from behind without tumbling down.

Planning Tip: Outline the Wall's Base and Clear the Site

Your dry stone retaining wall will last for decades as long as it is not pushed up from above by tree roots or overgrown by vegetation. To ensure it has the best chance for longevity, outline the base of the wall using marking sticks and contractor's string so you can get a good idea of how much space it will take up. 

Finally, once the outline is in place, remove any trees or large bushes that are near enough to the site that they or their roots will cause problems with the wall in the years to come. Remove the vegetation on the surface and dig away the topsoil if possible to expose the bedrock layer.

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