Bluestone Patio

A drystone patio of Pennsylvania bluestone and full-color by Asheville masonry company Hammerhead Stoneworks

A drystone patio of Pennsylvania bluestone and full-color by Asheville masonry company Hammerhead Stoneworks


Gary and I built this small patio a few years ago. It’s dry laid over gravel so that it will last longer and drain better than a mortared or concrete slab. The stone is a Pennsylvania mix, comprised of bluestone and full-color, which runs green and brown. A handful of locally sourced mini boulders are included to create visual interest and accent points along the edges. A small, inexpensive project, it really changed the space and made the entry more welcoming.

A dry laid patio of bluestone by Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks

A dry laid patio of bluestone by Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks

Dealing With Drainage On A Stone Patio

One way to address drainage concerns in a stone patio

One way to address drainage concerns in a stone patio


Usually it is fairly easy to ensure a stone patio drains properly. Pitch it away from the house- making sure that sub grade drains away from the house as well, and the job is done. But sometimes the patio area is captured by garden beds, sloping yards and other land forms that make it hard to get water away from the home. I have used this drain design a handful of times to provide water with a path away from the patio.
The cobblestone/trench drainage system works off water’s tendency to follow a surface. The cobbles provide rainwater runoff with numerous opportunities to flow down into the pipe below and out into the yard.
A couple of things that help to keep the system working properly.
• Make sure you have a reasonable amount of slope in the pipe. Two percent works well.
• Keep the drainage material (gravel and pipe) free of debris and soil. Water needs to percolate through. That’s why you wrap it in filter fabric and put a sock on the pipe. Use a good grade of filter fabric. The plasticy stuff big box hardware stores sell for under mulch beds is not up to the job.
• Use white PVC pipe, not the thin-wall, cheapo, black corrugated pipe contractors favor. It’s crap.
• Put the holes in the perforated pipe down. The trench fills with water from the bottom up. As soon as it reaches the height of the holes, it starts to drain into the pipe and flow out.
• Keep the daylight exit clear.

A cobblestone detail that covers a trench drain in a dry laid stone patio

A cobblestone detail that covers a trench drain in a dry laid stone patio

Here’s a cobblestone system installed. Done right, it can provide an intriguing visual design element to a patio. This particular system begins and ends with grinding wheels. In this case the patio and cobble stones are sandstone from Tennessee. Cobbles are not necessary, though they do provide increased opportunities for the water to perc into the drain system.

I have installed similar systems at the edge of patios where grass or mulch beds have created puddles or soggy soil. The one pictured is in the center of a patio that is stuck between the house and a steady rising slope.

A grinding wheel starts a cobblestone trench drain.

A grinding wheel starts a cobblestone trench drain.

Balancing Stone Benches

A balancing stone bench

A balancing stone bench by Hammerhead Stoneworks in Asheville North Carolina.


River pebbles support large sandstone slabs to create sturdy stone benches. A hidden steel armature supports the slab, making it as solid as our other stone benches. These two benches adorn the frontyard of one of our favorite Asheville clients.

Balancing stone bench

A balancing stone bench by Hammerhead Stoneworks in Asheville North Carolina.

On Making Labyrinths

Labyrinth paths loop back at returns called labryses.

Labyrinth paths loop back at returns called labryses.

The places where the labyrinth path returns, turning back on itself, are called labryses. This name reflects their shape, which some see as similar to an ceremonial ax. What’s interesting about cutting them is that those shapes –which we creatively called D’s– are all the same. Each of the eleven paths has its own radius, but they all meet the labrys stones in the same way. We only needed one template to cut all of the D shapes.

In the Labyrinth

The Asheville Labyrinth under construction at the Hammerhead Stoneworks shop.

The Asheville Labyrinth under construction at the Hammerhead Stoneworks shop.


Hammerhead Stoneworks is proud to be building a full-sized rendition of the Chartres eleven circuit labyrinth for the First Baptist Church of Asheville. I call it a rendition because it’s not a replica- we are using different stones and spacing. I can’t says ours is “inspired by” either, since it is our goal to very accurately approximate the 800 year old design and dimensions; we are borrowing too much of the original to just be “inspired by.” I like rendition because it suggests to me a musical performance. This is our adaptation of one of the great works, written and performed centuries ago by gifted artists. Our rendition is our earnest attempt to honor their amazing artwork. And like any good musical performance, our rendition should have its own flavor. It will be informed by our talents, our tools and techniques, and the times we live in. I hope that someday our rendition will be considered worthy of its lineage.
The labyrinth will be all natural stone, laid dry in a bed of gravel. We are aiming for a 1/8″ tolerance on the joinery. When completed it will be forty-four feet across.

Stone Path on a Gradual Grade

In the mountains of western North Carolina, where Hammerhead Stoneworks is located, we often deal with awkward slopes. Gradual grades, like the one pictured here, are common. The best solution usually involves striking a balance of steps and landings. This walkway features several small stacks of slab steps with flagstone landings spaced throughout. It’s important to take the rhythm of walking into account. The rise and run of steps are an agreement between the builder and everyone who uses their steps. It should be predictable and within a ratio that we are familiar with. Stuttering steps- those awkward ones that are too short or too close together or weirdly spaced- drive my crazy. (A common thing here is the two inch step at the top of a run of stairs. WHY?!)
Of course, there are other variables as well. You want to steps to fall naturally into place along the slope. If your steps are too far ahead, then you have to do a lot building up with retaining walls to support the steps. Likewise, if you get too far into the slope, there’s a lot of digging needed and you may have to install some sort of edging to keep the soil and mulch off the path. Sometimes this can’t be avoided, but often, by taking the time to pay attention to those details in the design phase, you can have a stone path that has a natural rhythm, is safe and easy to walk and is strong and durable. Like this one in the pictures!

Stone path and steps

Drystone pathway with steps. Balancing bench in the background.

stone pathway and steps

A view of the stone path and the mountains

stone pathway

Tennessee sandstone pathway with steps slabs and site boulders

Sunflower Mosaic for Frankie

Frankie on her sunflower mosaic patio

Frankie on her sunflower mosaic patio

This mosaic patio was created for my friend Carmen. She needed something to cover the muddy space just outside the doggy door that leads off her porch. Frankie, the puppy in the picture, is an enthusiastic digger and was tracking in altogether too much mud. I had wanted to try a sunflower design in stone and this seemed like a good opportunity.
Sunflower mosaic made of natural stone

Sunflower mosaic made of natural stone

The seeds are Mexican beach pebbles anchored in concrete. I cast that piece in an retired plastic flower pot. The rest of the stone is laid dry on a bed of crushed stone and sand. The background is Pennsylvania stone and the flower petals are sandstone from Tennessee. I might simplify the design if I were to revisit it. There’s a slight “S” curve on the petals that required more time for cutting and shaping than a straighter line might have, though if it were bigger, that curve would be easier to cut.

Stone Columns for an Automatic Driveway Gate

Stone driveway columns with automatic gate

Stone driveway columns with automatic gate

Hammerhead Stoneworks recently completed these stone columns to anchor an automatic driveway gate for an Asheville homeowner. The two columns are set on a single slab of concrete that extends across the driveway. Called a grade beam, this slab ensures that there’s no differential settling. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen driveway columns settling away from each other, veering off in strange directions.
Driveway gate stone column

Driveway gate stone column

Each column has a steel armature inside it that is bolted to the slab/grade beam. Affectionately called ‘aliens’ for their many appendages, the armature is an awkward looking thing, until it is hidden by the stonework. The armature to the left is more involved as it has arms that extend to the outside of the column to support the gate as well as the gate operator. The armature allows us to center the gate on the column; in many cases a gate is set at the back of or behind the column as a convenience to the builder. We just thought it looked better in the center of the column. The stonework is structural, with only the steel armature- and some conduit- inside it. I think it gives a stronger, more integral look than a standy-up veneer. Almost all the material is sandstone from Tennessee, which is colorful and easy enough to square off for a clean edge.
Stone column for an automatic driveway gate

Stone column for an automatic driveway gate


Conduit runs through the center of each column for future lamps. Since it wasn’t in the homeowners plans as we built, we set a secondary cap on top, to cover the conduit and protect the opening from the weather. Should lamps be desired, the topmost capstones will be removed and the wiring can be installed with minimal fuss.

Moon Gate Entry Sign

A moon gate by Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks.

A moon gate by Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks.

The Town of Weaverville brought Hammerhead Stoneworks on to design and install an striking entry sign to welcome visitors as they enter town along Merrimon Avenue. The design features a moon-gate- a full circle arch. Originally meant to evoke the fresh growth and unlimited potential of a newly sprouted fiddlehead fern, it also looks an awful lot like the water wheel that’s just below the lake in the background. That’s a happy accident of the design process.

This project is still in progress. Tomorrow we will pick a beautiful slab of sandstone that will be engraved with the town greeting message and then installed to the left of the moon gate.

A moon gate by Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks.

A moon gate by Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks.