How to Build a Stone Wall
A freestanding mortared fieldstone wall blends strength with the natural look of a dry stack
Q: "I'd like to build a fieldstone wall. What's the best way to do it?"
—Norma Laren, Blackstone, Mass.
Roger Cook replies: Freestanding stone walls are a handsome way to define and improve your property. Building them is backbreaking work, but if done correctly, the wall will last a lifetime, if not a lot longer.
I like to set stones in mortar because you can't beat a mortared wall for strength, which is important if a wall serves as seating or holds back earth. To preserve a dry-laid look, I set the stones in a mortar that's pigmented a dark gray and then rake the joints clean.
Freestanding mortared walls, like the fieldstone one I'm building here, need a stable, frost-proof footing to prevent shifting, and that requires a lot of digging in cold climates.
Ask a stone yard to help determine how much material you'll need, and have it delivered as close to the site as possible. Once built, you'll have a rock-solid wall without all the heavy mortar lines.
Prepare The Footing
How to build a stone wall: Dig a trench that's below the frost line and 2 feet wider than the wall. Line it with landscape fabric overlapped 12 inches at the seams, add a 6-inch layer of ¾-inch stone, and tamp it with a plate compactor. Add and tamp more layers until the footing is about 8 inches below grade. About a foot beyond each end of a straight wall section, drive two stakes, separated by a distance equal to the width of the wall.