New Patio & A Garden Box

A sandstone patio gets a final rinse off before we finish the project.

We built this patio last week at a cute little urban homestead in West Asheville. It’s amazing the amount of garden space these people have carved out of their small lot. They have a bounty strawberry plants which are overflowing their beds sending out runners. They gave me a whole batch of little plants. I brought them home and had to make an on-the-fly garden box. I am a fan of raise beds and this is a new idea that I’ve been working on, using reclaimed stone and bits of steel to create the bed. The strawberry patch is my second bed and better than the first. The stone is three-quarter inch thick cladding that I scrounged from the Tennessee Marble Company. it’ll be more permanent and Wood, that’s for sure. And it takes up a lot less space than the traditional fully bedded retaining wall. And as I get better at it, I can make them relatively quickly. At some point I can imagine making nice decorative planting boxes using a similar technique.

A garden bed made of reclaimed stone, held in place by angle iron.

Fire Pit, Patio and Stone Wall

A drystone wall with a low fire pit and patio

We finished this project on Friday of last week. Jonathan took this picture of the completed wall and patio, with a a low fire pit in front of it. There’s a water fall and koi pond to the left that was already there. The wall behind the fire pit is laid dry, a labor of love by Jonathan. The wall to the right is mortared and separates the driveway from this outdoor room.

North Asheville Stonework Project

A couple of years ago we did this major project to create a backyard garden for a home in North Asheville. The site was such that we needed a crane to sling the stone up to the backyard. And it was still a long way from the actual wall location!

I was revisiting the site this week, discussing some additional work and got to see the gardens. They have really gotten established and look great.

Two drystone walls frame a backyard garden.

We also built a small patio/landing to the front of the house. Our friend Mardi Letson maintains and couple of container gardens for these clients, which are popping with color in the foreground.

This drystone patio features a lot of Pennsylvania bluestone, blended with the PA full color as well.

While we were working around back, they asked us to fix up a short walkway of sandstone slabs that had fallen into disrepair. Mardi has planted it with ground cover, including Corsican mint. I like the way it looks now.

Slabs of gray Tennessee sandstone make a stepping stone walkway

Stone Cap Templates

An image showing our templating process for capping shapely walls.

I think it was my on-line friend Karl O in Pennsylvania who first suggested this, but I like to use roofing felt, aka tar paper, as a templating material. It is more rigid and durable than paper, which is handy when doing capstones like this, with an overhang. Paper would droop and tear and we’d never be sure if the final fit would be on target or not. Even with the felt, we have adjustments to make once we get the stone in place; the actual fit is never the same as the template fit. But the more accurate the pattern, the more efficient the installation will be.

These images were taken at the Beast Wall project. This sitting wall frames a new patio we just recently built there.

A formal cap for a seating wall

Stone Slab Bridge

A slab of sandstone crosses a small creek.

Here’s a better picture of the bridge we built- whose construction process I documented in the last post. The abutments are shown completed. The base stones are huge, easily 700 pounds a piece. Small drystone walls extend the abutments. These walls retain the yard as it approaches the bridge. They also provide resistance to erosion, should the creek rise. I’m looking forward to seeing it when the greenery grows back.

Slab Bridge

Last week we started this stone slab bridge. It took several trips to the stone yards to find the right piece for the bridge. It needed to be long and thick. The only one I found that seemed appropriate was 10+ feet long and five feet across. As it turns out, it was too big! They couldn’t really handle moving it at the yard and were unable to deliver it. We went to the yard and cut a foot off of it using feather and wedges. This also made the piece more in scale with the yard where it’s installed.

Old school technique for cutting stone.

We rented an excavator for the day, a 10,000 pound machine. It was strong enough to lift the stone, but not really extend it very far. Fred lifted it straight up and we pulled the truck out from under it. It was a very deliberate operation. We take great pains when moving a stone this big; everything has to be strategized. We talk a lot and work through scenarios. I think we all enjoy the process and challenges. Personal safety is a key component and doing everything we can to protect the stone from getting damaged. We moved it down the yard a few feet at a time.

The bridge slab is rigged to be hoisted from the truck by an excavator

The trickiest part of the operation was extending the stone across the stream. The excavator didn’t have the leverage to extend it fully across. We used a couple of 4″ by 4″ posts that rested on the abutments and stretched across the span. Fred would extend the stone a couple of feet and set it down on the beams. Then she’d move the excavator forward until she was right up to the stone and hoist it again, extending it a couple more feet, until it was all the way across. Then we lifted it enough to get the 4″ by 4″ posts out from under the slab.

The big slab just after being placed as a bridge

This is the slab in place but the bridge is not finished. Small retaining walls will flank the abutments and protect the structure from the rising water during a downpour.

Moon Gate Sign

I’ve been driving by this sign a lot recently, working on a small project in Weaverville. I finally stopped by to take a closer look. We built it five years ago. It’s holding up well. The moon gate itself is an excellent location for spiders to build their webs. Orb weavers had strung up elaborate structures on each side of the opening. We used sandstone from Tennessee for all the components of the sign, including the engraved slab. I drove up there to pick out that piece. Our friends Jeff and Ben at Martin Monument did the engraving work and helped us sling that piece into place.

One of two Welcome to Weaverville signs

Moongate as part of the Welcome to Weaverville sign

Moongate made of sandstone

All the pieces of the moon gate laid out in the back of my old truck.

Recent Project: Pennsylvania Stone with Hooper’s Creek

A set of Pennsylvania stone step treads supported by Hooper’s Creek risers in an Asheville front yard.

Earlier this winter we completed this dramatic re-imagining of the front yard of an Asheville home. This project was another collaboration with local landscaping company B.B. Barns. I call this a ‘Public Craft’ project. Located at a busy corner in a prime dog walking neighborhood, everyday we spoke with several passers by about our work. Perhaps some of those contacts will become future projects, but more important to me is the chance to share the craft with people. Since I started Hammerhead, I’ve believed that the best marketing I can do is educating people- customers or not- about the craft. I try to share the values of drystone construction and help people understand what good work is. Even if they don’t hire us, I hope they have some new insights to help make informed decisions. Bad work damages the standing of the craft, good work enhances it.

These step treads are Pennsylvania stone, with risers of Hooper’s Creek, a local granitic gneiss. The lower landing contains an engraved stone that was already on site, hidden in a grassy corner of the yard. This home was once the parsonage for the First Baptist Church, where we built the labyrinth a few years ago.

Native North Carolina stone used as a drystone retaining wall in Asheville.

Dry laid retaining walls flank the steps. Made of Hooper’s Creek, these are my favorite kind of wall, even though they are the most intensive to build. Rare is the stone that arrives to the site ready to go into the wall. We spoend hours sculpting useful blocks out of the material. We mix some of the Pennsylvania into the wall; it adds color and offers some helpful thicknesses that are hard to get from the Hooper’s.

Pennsylvania stone used as a drystone paving surface.

A long walkway extends from the street to the front entrance. This semi-circular landing opens up to the front steps. This is Pennsylvania stone, what they call ‘full-color’- a blend of blues and greens, with some browns and rusty bits in there for good measure.

Backyard Transformation

Backyard Transformation

We are just finishing up this large backyard transformation. We’ve been collaborating with BB Barns on this project. All of the work is laid dry, except there is mortar utilized in the fire pit, to stabilize the refractory brick and to ensure the cap does not move.
There’s at least 30 tons of Tennessee sandstone used in the walls flagstone patio’s in paths and steps. More pictures to come when BB Barns has completed planting and mulching around all of the new stonework.

Backyard Transformation

Stonework Backyard Transformation

Stonework Backyard Transformation


Stonework Customer Testimonial

Stonework Customer Testimonial

This past winter we completed a stone path and wall for a customer named Tom in North Asheville’s Beaverdam neighborhood. Here is what Tom had to say about our work:

Stonework Customer Testimonial

“Hi Marc. Here is an “in progress” pic for you. It’s a bit messy from the rain. I’m probably half way through planting everything in. My guess is fall will be the time you will want to photograph. It’s really remarkable how much time we spend in the front of the house. We sit on the wall, we sit in the woods… The work you and the team did has way exceeded our expectations. All of it is so well done and done in an extraordinarily perfect way.  We love it. Please pass this on to your team.”
And here is the same area, looking from the opposite direction, before we completed the work:
Stonework Customer Testimonial