Stone Workshop with Clemson Landscape Architecture Students

Stone Workshop

Photo by Mary Padua

Mary Padua, a professor in Clemson’s landscape architecture department, brought her students to our shop for a brief tour. We talked about stone and craftsmanship, including slightly odd aphorisms, like ‘construction is emotional’ and ‘get good at failure.’ After that they went to the First Baptist Church to see the Sacred Garden, where Hammerhead completed several projects. They also met with Vision Design Collaborative’s Ryan Blau, one of the Garden designers who involved us in the project.

(Check out some of our work in the Garden here and here.)

Stone Workshop

Photo by Mary Padua

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Crew members from left to right: Jonathan Frederick, Tony Costa, & Michael Sellars


Written by Marc Archambault

We spent about a month this summer building steps around a recently completed modern house in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Designed by architect Scott Huebner of Brickstack Architects, the house has majestic views from its steep lot. Our primary job was to provide access for the homeowners so that they can tend their gardens and landscape. Really it was more like backcountry trail construction than our typical more finessed style of work. However, the real fun was when we got to replace a very sloppily built boulder wall at the driveway.

To hear it described, the wall in question was a last-minute add-on. It certainly looked very thrown together, with large gaps, no attention paid to bonding, and lots of gravel between the stones as if using ball bearings as a substitute for mortar. It was nothing to look at, for sure. Adding insult to injury, other tradespeople had mistreated it. Someone had smeared a lot of polyurethane on a few stones, presumably cleaning their brushes. There were similar concrete stains in other locations. All in all, it was a very ugly wall.

So we took it down and rebuilt it. I would say it’s built in the style of our typical walls, but at an uncommon scale. Some of these pieces weigh over 1000 pounds and it required an excavator – a small one – to help move the material into place. The stones with the stains were either removed or turned around to hide the mess. We used hammer and chisel and- as appropriate- the big saw to sweeten the fits and to ensure good bonding. The previous wall had no attention paid to batter or a clean line to the face of the whole wall. We took care of that and the results are pleasing.

I should have done a before and after post, but the original wall so ugly I never thought to take a picture of it. If I find a picture, I will surely add it.
To me, true craft is about caring. The devil is in the details.

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Photo by Jonathan Frederick

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Photo by Jonathan Frederick

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Crewmember Tony takes a rest on the newly completed wall.


Special thanks to Fred Lashley for operating the excavator on this project.

Natural Stone Mosaic Yellow Wakerobin

Natural Stone Mosaic Yellow Wakerobin

natural stone mosaic yellow

Mosaic Commission

Natural Stone Mosaic Yellow Wakerobin was commissioned as a Mother’s Day gift for a family in Maryville, Tennessee. Named after the species of trillium featured on the piece, it now resides in a niche on a brick fireplace. A conversation with the Mom to be celebrated inspired the design. A heart survivor, she loves the mountains and is devoted to her three kids. The heart shaped leaves of the trillium, which grows wild in these mountains, seemed like a perfect match. And the white dove very much fits the family’s values and aspirations.

natural stone mosaic yellow

Dove and Trillium detail

Mosaic Design

I tried a new technique when I was creating the Trillium Mosaic. Once all the pieces were cut, I flipped them over and placed them on a reversed template. Since I take all of my pencil sketches into a digital space to create my patterns, it’s very easy to reverse the design and have it printed as a mirror image. Working backwards or upside down like this is a very common technique for mosaic artists, but it was the first time that I’d ever tried it.

One immediate advantage is that you can see how well the pieces are actually cut and make quick adjustments. Once I had the fits as I liked them, I applied fiberglass mesh. I used a special epoxy that I trust with stone to adhere the mesh. In the picture you can see tons of little scraps resting on the fiberglass as it sets up. Many mosaic artists will take the piece in that form and bring it for installation. I felt like my pieces of stone were too heavy for that, so I applied it to the backer board right there on the table. The fiberglass mesh was to prevent the stones from moving while I set it.

Mosaic Fabrication

Piecing together the dove

The images below show the two color options for the petals of the trillium. I sent these photos to the customer and they made the call between purple or yellow.

Whoops! I mixed my thinset too wet and then got impatient. As a result some of it used through the joints (pictured below). When I flipped it over, it was well adhered but still green, so I was able to scrape the excess mortar out. It was my penance for impatience.

The mosaic with mortar

natural stone mosaic yellow

All grouted – the dove’s eye is a tiny black stone marble.

Yellow Wakerobin detail

Mosaic Installation

natural stone mosaic yellow

 

Check out some other natural stone mosaics completed by Hammerhead Stoneworks:

Birds of Every Feather

Praying Mantis

The Boy with Antlers

Birds of Every Feather

Natural Stone Mosaic Birds of Every Feather: Fabrication Process

natural stone mosaic birds

Natural stone mosaic completed for Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia.

This collection of images is from the fabrication process of natural stone mosaic Birds of Every Feather, which was designed for Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk, VA. It is the first in a series of six mosaics I will make for schools in this area as part of a public art commission.

natural stone mosaic birds

American goldfinch, white-breasted nuthatch, American robin

natural stone mosaic birds

American robin, red-bellied woodpecker, mourning dove

As with all of my mosaic work, I fabricated this at my shop before bringing it to the installation site. Making the birds was so much fun! The background, not so much. The eyes of the birds are either glass marbles or small pebbles. In order to save epoxy, I would do several eyes all at once, leading to this weird-looking photograph.

natural stone mosaic birds

The little brown bird is the Carolina wren. While building this at the shop, a Carolina wren built a nest on one of the shop’s storage shelves.

Read more about Birds of Every Feather here and here.

Hammerhead Stoneworks Featured in the Slippery Rock Gazette

The Slippery Rock Gazette recently featured Hammerhead’s Green Man mosaic completed for Green Man Brewery. The article explains in great detail the process of creating the mosaic from the imagineering phase to the finished product. Additionally, readers can learn about why certain stones were selected as well as what a project of this scale entails.

Access the full feature here.

Special Thanks for the Slippery Rock Gazette Feature

We extend our gratitude to Peter J. Marcucci for authoring this feature as well as to Braxton-Bragg, who both publishes the Gazette and regularly supplies Hammerhead Stoneworks with cool tools and cutting supplies.

The full size mosaic in the space as featured in the Slippery Rock Gazette

The full size mosaic in the space Photograph ©2016 David Dietrich

GreenMan Mosaic: Brewery is open!

At long last the GreenMan Brewery has officially opened, meaning I can legitimately post images of the natural stone mosaic we built for them. I already had, but really wasn’t supposed to! It is one of our most ambitious projects to date. The 320 square foot mosaic is comprised exclusively of natural stone, all cut and fitted by the Hammerhead crew. Much of the stone is regional, including a lot of stuff from North Carolina. The yes are malachite found in local gem and mineral shops, though it most likely originated in Africa.

Exploring stone choices for the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

Exploring stone choices for the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

This is actually the second full scale face I printed and assembled. The first one showed some clear design concerns, particularly in terms of the size of facial features. It’s one thing to draw at screen size. Blown up to eleven feet across and hung up over my head, it was clear the lips were too big compared to the eyes. This printed version fixed those issues and was used to host a meeting with the designer, Krista Lablue and Wendy from GreenMan. The stone samples on the ground helped us choose the palette for the final mosaic. The whole Hammerhead team took part in this meeting, which I think helped us move forward smoothly with the process; everyone had input in the stone choices and had a good understanding of the customer’s vision.

Creating the malachite eyes for the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

Creating the malachite eyes for the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

I ended up making the eyes twice. The first time became a test of the concept, which worked! But because the malachite was so costly I only bought enough to make one. I bought more and made the second eye, but there were clear differences in the color and look. I took them apart and rebuilt them mixing the stone randomly and got the look I wanted. The eyes are the only place where we used a more traditional mosaic style, making tiny tesserae. I like the effect though, it is evocative of ancient mosaics, populated with characters like Dionysus and Bacchus.

gren-man-final-17

Here’s a close up of the eye installed.

We built the GreenMan Brewery mosaic at the shop first, right on top of the Labyrinth!

We built the GreenMan Brewery mosaic at the shop first, right on top of the Labyrinth!

We cut and laid out the mosaic at the workshop, detailing the fits as best we could, prior to installation. Space was limited, so we had to build the GreenMan right over the top of the Labyrinth. The green insulation foam guided the fitting of the pieces, all of which had been cut from templates. It proved useful on the installation too…

We used foam insulation as a template and setting guide at the start of the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

We used foam insulation as a template and setting guide at the start of the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

Installation began with the eyes, as they needed to be level and centered on the wall. The green foam was perfect for supporting the mosaic pieces on the wall while they cured.

The GreenMan mosaic stares out through the scaffolding as we near the finish line.

The GreenMan mosaic stares out through the scaffolding as we near the finish line.

Even through all the clutter, it was amazing to watch the GreenMan’s towering visage appear on the wall.

The GreenMan mosaic is 20' tall and 16' wide. The face really fills the space.

The GreenMan mosaic is 20′ tall and 16′ wide. The face really fills the space.

The finished mosaic is twenty feet tall and sixteen feet wide. It is opposite the main entrance of the brewery’s new downtown location. It’s the first thing you see coming in the front door. It’s kind of imposing!

A detail of the leaves in the GreenMan mosaic showing several of the native stones we used.

A detail of the leaves in the GreenMan mosaic showing several of the native stones we used.

The face is made of marble from Tennessee. The leaves that surround the GreenMan’s face is mostly native North Carolina stone, though we used a fair amount of slate reclaimed from an old house in Asheville. I’m not sure it’s source. The eyebrows are serpentine. Again, I’m not sure where it comes from, but there’s some of the same stone on older buildings in downtown Asheville, making me think it’s at least regional. The background surround is sandstone from Tennessee.

A close up of the GreenMan mosaic face.

A close up of the GreenMan mosaic face.

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.