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.

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.

Black Mountain Patio

We just finished transforming this Black Mountain backyard from a ragged old deck with drainage issues into a dynamic living space with a fire table. Over the course of the last year we have been using larger and larger slabs of flagstone, but keeping our very tight tolerances for the joints. The results are more like a floor in terms of level and walking comfort than the typical concept of a patio, which is often as much filler as stone. All of the work here is drystone, except for the fire table, which has some refractory mortar in the fire brick for stability. I’ll post about that when I have some good images of it in use.

Getting started on a large patio.

Getting started on transforming this backyard in Black Mountain.

Big flagstones in a patio in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

A panorama from above the Black Mountain patio, from above

Black Mountain patio completed

We transformed this Black Mountain backyard with a patio and fire pit. Many of the flagstones are huge and all the work is laid dry.

A large patio is supported by a tightly fitted retaining wall.

This crib wall supports a large patio in Black Mountain.

Pebble mounted into a larger stone.

A pebble mounted into the face of a small boulder.

Weaverville Nature Park Stonework

Drystone wall and path in Weaverville.

We built this wall and sidewalk in Weaverville at the Downtown Nature Park.

Hammerhead Stoneworks recently completed this wall and sidewalk for the Town of Weaverville’s Downtown Nature Park. My boys and I take frequent walks there looking for bugs and snakes and tree frogs, so this was an exciting opportunity to make public work that I’ll get to enjoy.

The wall is a two sided, free-standing structure. Except for the seating cap, which is mortared in place, the wall is all drystone. It’s a very labor intensive approach to building a retaining wall, but I know well how kids will run and jump and scramble along the wall. We wanted to make the most durable and sturdiest product we could. I think it’s pretty too.

Drystone wall and path in Weaverville, North Carolina.

We built this wall and sidewalk in Weaverville at the Downtown Nature Park.

Drystone wall and path in Weaverville, North Carolina.

Drystone wall and path in Weaverville, North Carolina.

The pathway is also laid dry, over crushed stone. We used very large pieces, to give visual impact and to make the surface very, very stable. We used a wide variety of stone types, to give it different colors, patterns and textures. All the stone is sedimentary, which generally makes good walking surfaces.

Van accessible parking area with a drystone sidewalk.

The stone sidewalk fades down to the same level as the asphalt, creating an accessible parking area at the Downtown Nature Park in Weaverville, North Carolina.

The stone sidewalk fades down to the same level as the asphalt, creating an accessible parking area at one end of the new parking area. I like the abstract shape formed by the stone against the asphalt. That last section is a parking area for a van that can just pull up parallel to the stone sidewalk.

Seating wall

Stone sitting wall built in Weaverville by Hammerhead Stoneworks.

Stone River Step

Stone step with large landing

A river of bluestone runs through a step and landing.

This is the top step and landing that leads into a home in Fairview. The river is cut from Pennsylvania bluestone and runs through a field of Tennessee sandstone. We cut steps slabs in half lengthwise to create the edges to support the flagstone landings.
Steps and landings that lead into a Fariview home.

A bluestone river runs through a set of steps and landings.

Two New Fire Pit Panoramas

The ceremonial stone circle fire pit seen from above.

The ceremonial stone circle fire pit seen from above.

We finished this huge ceremonial fire pit just as winter faded into spring. These panoramas show the fire pit at rest and in full use, during the dedication ceremony, where every inch of bench seating was filled. It was very moving series of ceremonies and prayers.
Click images to enlarge.
A panorama of the fire pit dedication ceremony.

A panorama of the fire pit dedication ceremony.

Cobblestone Driveway

14 tons of cobblestones comprise this driveway in Haw Creek.

14 tons of cobblestones comprise this driveway in Haw Creek.

We recently finished this large stone driveway/parking area in East Asheville. It’s comprised of tumbled cobblestones from Tennessee. There’s fourteen tons of cobbles there! Cobblestones are more labor intensive than the more commonly used concrete pavers, but they are really colorful and I think more beautiful.

Homemade Patio

It’s rare that I feature other’s work on my web site; I am uncomfortable taking credit (or blame!) for work that’s not my own. I am making an exception to this guideline to feature a patio built by a homeowner in southern California. Drew contacted me in the summer with questions about dry laying a patio and some concerns about drainage. I answered as best I could, though it’s hard to offer too many specifics without having firsthand experience of the stones, soil and slope of the area. I linked him to the handout I made for my flagstone classes. Drew ran with the info I provided. His words: “So many people told me that the flagstone must be set in concrete. I knew that wasn’t the case, but I was still apprehensive about building it that way until I found your website and saw that other people were building dry-set patios the way I wanted to. Once I saw your work, I said “Ok, I can do this…” It definitely gave me the courage to ignore the “nay-sayers.” Now everyone who sees it says, “Wow!” We’ve had some rain recently, and the drainage works exactly how I hoped it would.”
Drew reports that the stone is quartzite. He used a Skilsaw to cut the shapes, and then roughed up the edges with a hammer to give them a more naturalistic look.
Nicely done Drew! And thanks for sharing the images.

Dry stone patio by homeowner Drew in southern California.

Dry stone patio by homeowner Drew in southern California.

Patio by homeowner Drew in southern California. Well done!

Patio by homeowner Drew in southern California. Well done!

Drystone Retaining Wall: Before & After

In addition to providing a more rustic and artistic aesthetic, a drystone retaining wall is actually a more sustainable choice as well. In the fall of 2013 Hammerhead replaced a failing mortared retaining wall that was in an advanced state of decay. Hydrostatic pressure- a build up of water in the earth behind the wall- eventually tore the wall apart and was pushing it over when we stepped in to finish the job. Neighborhood reports vary, but the existing wall was no more than twenty years old- a baby in stone years.

A Drystone Retaining Wall Prevents Hydrostatic Pressure

We replaced it with a drystone retaining wall which will allow water to pass through the face- avoiding the damaging build up of hydrostatic pressure. We used Hooper’s Creek stone, a granitic gneiss from these mountains. It’s a favorite material for wall building because it belongs to these mountains and fits with the crazy geology of this terrain. That said, I did select sandstone from Tennessee for the steps, seen below. It’s so much flatter than the Hooper’s making it a better choice for steps, particularly for clients concerned about access as they age. We can build a very predictable and comfortable set of steps from these big slabs.

drystone retaining wall

A drystone retaining wall in Asheville’s historic Albemarle neighborhood by Hammerhead Stoneworks.

Drystone retaining wall for prevention of blowouts

A blow out in a mortared retaining wall caused by hydrostatic pressure. Build dry, by Golly!

drystone retaining wall

Stone steps and drystone wall by Hammerhead Stoneworks.

 

Read more about retaining walls.

North Asheville Retaining Wall

 

North Asheville Retaining Wall

North Asheville Retaining Wall

This large drystone retaining wall replaces an old block wall that was being slowly pushed outward by hydrostatic pressure. Located in a quiet North Asheville neighborhood, this is the largest single wall Hammerhead’s done to date, at over 300 square feet. The yard slopes quite a bit and so the wall had numerous steps in it, as the wall maintains the same relative grade as it goes down the road. This is practical too, as it ensures that the wall is never taller than 48″, the maximum allowed by code before engineering is required. The wall is built of 30 tons of Hooper’s Creek, a locally quarried granitic gneiss.

North Asheville Retaining Wall