Here at the off grid living homestead we love to use materials that we have on hand and create something lasting and permanent. One of our favorite jobs, one that lets us use our creative side more than you would first imagine is learning how to build a stone wall.
The simple process of putting one stone on top of another and binding the mix with mortar or concrete is both satisfying and demanding at the same time. For those of you contemplating self sufficient living any and all building skills can be learned. Here is how you get started.
You can see by the photo on the left that we were working on getting some footprints made with small stones as our top design. It is rather striking how a simple design like this can set off an otherwise uncreative process. If you simply add concrete to the forms, fill them to the top, yes, you will have a wall , or steps in this case, but can you do better.
It does not take hardly any more time to make a permanent design that will provide a lasting impression for your visitors off the grid. Collect up some stone that is just lying around and start working on the ground to make something out of it first, before you begin to mix cement. The only criteria is that the top of the stone, whichever side you use should be flat and smooth, nothing else really matters.
Wherever we are in the area we look for stone that we can use for building, it kind of gets to be a bit of an obsession for us since we have a lot of time since we began living off the grid.
It’s always kind of fun to see a project come together before you even begin. Kind of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle only you get to pick the pieces you use.
First, you need to build a form. For this (and you can reference the top photo) you should use old or used lumber if possible as you will not be able to use it for anything else after cement touches the wood. We use old wood and we build with it until it rots, keeping it out of the weather as best we can. Remember to brace it properly as stone and concrete exerts a tremendous force outwards after it is in the forms. Another thing to remember is to build with wood screws so it can be carefully disassembled after a couple days.
You can see by this wall that it is a bit of a rough job until you do the pointing. This is the process afterwards or filling in the exposed joints with mortar to add a very finished look. This is our root cellar which we built to accommodate or garden produce for the winter here at the off grid living homestead. It was our very first large stone building project but we completed it in just over 2 weeks. We did one round of stone per day adding about 8 inches in height each day.
Remember that you have to work from the outside in. Place your form boards for the exposed wall (the part you see) and place your flat surface of each stone to that board. It really is a simple process whether you are placing stone or using concrete and simply finishing the top portion with stone or design. Mixing concrete you will use a mix of crushed stone, sand (which your local contractor can deliver) . In our area it is known as A gravel, just tell them it is for concrete. Use this mix at 5 to 1 to portland cement and you will have a great finished product.
If you want to fit stone then you need to use masonry sand (again from your contractor, he can deliver it by the square yard). Most of this material is used to do cement foundation blocks but the mortar is basically the same. Use this sand 3 to 1 with type S masonry cement, or you can use type M cement too.
The great part is that this material is relatively cheap in most areas and the resulting building is truly permanent. Practice on small projects first and you will get the hang of it.
In the next article we will show you some finished projects, and more detailed plans for building stone walls, all of which we did around our off grid living home.