Daggett Mountain Stone Walls

A view of the whole area. We didn’t do the koi pond.


Last week we finished this project on Sunset Mountain in Asheville. We built two small patios of Tennessee Crab Orchard stone, a gray sandstone from Tennessee. There’s a long low fire pit. And plenty of wall.

A low fire pit framed by pieces of Hooper’s Creek


The walls are made of a local stone that comes from Daggett Mountain. It’s a fun material, lending itself to interesting fits and the opportunity to work a bit more freely, less reliant on the level. It can be challenging for the same reasons. It’s a hard stone to get in good supply. Everyone has it, but the supply is very junky, at least for the types of walls we like to build. Buying it in bulk or even on pallets, half of the stone we would get- if not more- would be wasted. So we go and pick every piece individually from stone yard piles around town.

A mortared wall of Daggett Mountain Stone


There is a freestanding wall that separates the driveway from the patio. That wall is mortared. There is also a retaining wall that leans against the bank, where the fire pit is nestled. That wall is laid dry.

Three walls meet at this boulder (there’s another drystone wall on the opposite side.)


The two walls intersect at a boulder, that was already on site, but needed to be relocated. 

A patio of sandstone from Tennessee, sometimes called Crab Orchard, is framed by Daggett Mountain Stone walls


In this picture you might notice that the patio is two toned. In the foreground is an existing murdered walkway but the owner didn’t care to replace. We took out a couple of stones so that our new patio could be connected to that walkway. As the stone weathers it will blend together better.

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

Daggett Mountain Stone

Two walls meet at a corner boulder. Drystone wall to the left, mortared free-standing wall to the right.

We are currently working the Cherokee Road section of Asheville on a small patio area. We are building two walls to contain the patio. A tall drystone wall (left in image above) retains the bank above it. For the height on the wall (42″) is doesn’t really have to hold up much. We got into live rock quickly as we dug out for the wall. (Live rock is a term for stone that’s still part of the mountain, akin to bed rock.) There’s a boulder at the corner, hidden by Jonathan, who has been enjoying the change of pace working with Daggett Mountain stone. This local rock has an unruly, but attractive grain and comes in all manner of odd shapes. It lends itself to a more rustic, informal, dynamic wall-building, than our more traditional coursed treatments. We are mostly hand picking the pieces to work with from piles at the stone yard. Buying pallets of this stuff ensures tons of junk stone at the end of the project.

The wall to the right in the picture above is mortared. It separates the driveway from the patio. It will be the same height and ties into the same boulder as the drystone retainer. It is a free-standing, two-sided structure that you will see as you approach down the driveway.

Drystone Wall of Daggett Mountain Stone

North Asheville Stone Steps

Hooper’s Creek risers support Pennsylvania stone treads in this North Asheville staircase.

I recently visited an older project, I think from very early 2019. I recall it was crazy cold. The client let us hide out and warm up in their garage. He often made us tea. The project is located in an out-of-the-way corner of North Asheville, off Beaverdam Road, not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway. We built a drystone wall, mortared steps and a dry laid pathway. The wall and step risers are Hooper’s Creek stone. The step treads and pathway were made of Pennsylvania stone, the full range variant.

I used my real camera for this images, but I think I had it on some weird preset, because everything’s a bit fuzzy. Sorry!

I have posted about this project before.

A dry laid path of Pennsylvania full range flagstone

While I was there, the neighborhood bears came through. Momma led the way. This cub sat lazily in the a street, and then flopped over onto his back. He was then tackled by his sibling and they wrestled in the middle of the road. Momma ignored them and kept on walking.

Momma and a cub, who laid down on his back in the middle of the road, only to be tackled by a sibling.

Biltmore Forest Walls and Steps

Some more pictures from our friend Emily at BB Barns. They just finished this big project we worked on together in Biltmore Forest. It was our biggest collaboration to date! The picture at the bottom gives a hint as to what was there before. Not pictured- a dysfunctional water feature and walkway with treacherously large spaces between the stones.

A drystone wall by Hammerhead Stoneworks in Biltmore Forest, a collaboration with BB Barns.

A drystone wall by Hammerhead Stoneworks in Biltmore Forest, a collaboration with BB Barns.

The Biltmore Forest project before we started.

Niche Wall Rock Collection

We built this drystone retaining wall recently for an Asheville couple who have two kids, both of whom have a things for rocks. I can identify. As part of the design development, I proposed that we add a handful of niches to the walls, as a place to store a small rock collection- or anything else. The niches are about 4″ by 4″. We’ve done this before and they have been used for hot wheel cars, candles, and antique glass insulators from power lines that were wired to glow at night!

The wall itself is made of sandstone from Tennessee. A set of slab steps cuts through it allowing access to the upper yard. There’s a small patio below the wall, that I call the antechamber, as it serves as a hangout spot just below their expansive deck. Building niches is a pleasing departure from straight walling. And it was fun to find treasures to place in the niches. I am confident that this collection will be dismantled, amended, lost and replaced over time. That’s the point; I like that the wall has an interactive component.

Niche in a drystone wall, with elephant carved in slate

This niche has a small slate elephant I carved a long time ago. This guy has been looking lonely at the shop, so I’m happy he has a new home. The dolphin totem came from an old necklace. I guess this is the stone mammal niche.

Niche in a drystone wall, with banded onyx sphere

There’s another wall, not pictured, that runs near the driveway and connects up to the antechamber. This orb of banded onyx is in that wall, as a teaser of the larger collection visible above. I found this- and several other treasures, at Enter the Earth, a local rock and gem store here in Asheville.

Niche in a drystone wall, with heart of stone

Four stone hearts for the four members of the family.

Niche in a drystone wall, with fossilized coral

Petoskey stone- a fossilized coral from Lake Michigan. Great for bug eyes in mosaics!

Niche in a drystone wall, with cool fossils

More fossils. That’s a tiny sand dollar out front. I’m a big fan of the orthoceras fossils, the long tubular seashells in a black matrix. I just discovered that orthoceras means straight horn.

The last couple of pictures show the wall itself, with the niches visible. We just finished, so the land needs a minute to recover. Some ground cover and mulch and the rock collection will be complete!

A section of drystone wall, with niches for a rock collection

A sandstone wall, laid dry, with niches for a collection of cool stones

BIG Drystone Wall

We called this wall Fort Faulkner because of how much it resembled a castle battlement in shape and scale. It is a very tall, at least from the outside, where I took this picture. On the other side, it’s only eighteen inches above grade and surrounds lawn and a patio, acting as a seating wall. The lower section supports the yard and patio. To ensure proper structural integrity, the whole thing is built as a free-standing, double-sided wall. To be honest though, the lower inside sections- below the yard and patio- are ugly as heck. We knew it would be hidden so we didn’t fuss with the look of the faces. Still a few tons of work, forever hidden. The cap is mortared on to eliminate any movement when people sit or walk on it.

This tall wall is part a retaining and part a free standing seating wall

Biltmore Forest Garden Terrace Wall

We recently completed this large drystone retaining wall in Biltmore Forest, a small community if high end homes just south of Asheville. We built this project with Emily Gregory of B.B. Barns Landscape Services, a frequent collaborator. The wall is made of Hooper’s Creek, a locally quarried stone. We mixed in Pennsylvania stone as well, which makes up all of the steps and walkways, which are not really visible in these photos. There are over twenty steps leading from the lower lawn through the garden up to the house.

A stone retaining wall by Hammerhead holds up a lovely garden in Biltmore Forest, NC

This retaining wall holds a lovely garden at this home in Biltmore Forest

Thanks be to Emily for taking and sharing these pictures!

North Asheville Stone Staircase

We built this project several years ago, in collaboration with Mardi Letson of Gardens By Mardi. This was a radical transformation of a sloping, grassy front yard into a main entryway and thriving garden. The big retaining wall to the back- barely visible now behind plants- was set with an excavator. The retaining wall at the street uses the same materials, Daggett Mountain stone, but in a smaller scale. The steps are slabs of gray sandstone from Tennessee, often called Crab Orchard. The staircase is four feet across. To create the a sweeping opening and a welcoming entrance, we widened the steps at the bottom. The bottom step is six feet across- two three footers butted end to end- and the next step up is five feet across.

This project won an award!

Slabs of gray sandstone make up this set of entry steps

A short wall of Daggett Mountain stone laid dry in North Asheville

A drystone wall turns a corner and frames a set of slab steps

Before and After

Pink Granite and Impulse Buys

Close up of a drystone wall made from salvaged pink granite.

I have a small problem with purchasing things that I don’t truly need. I have been fortunate that this impulse control problem has been localized to two things: I buy books and I buy stone. (It is worth noting that often the books I buy are about stone.)
I have managed to curb my book buying urge. Three years ago we moved. It was intended that we would be moving again in about two months, so we put a bunch of stuff, including all my books, in storage. Three years later my book collection still resides in storage. I have a rule that I can’t add to the library until I have a library.
My impulse is to buy stones have been harder to manage. It will happen in the gem and mineral stores that are scattered around Asheville. I find colors and textures and fossils that just absolutely belong in a mosaic somewhere someday somehow. I got to get them. Happily these purchases are usually small and often do find their way into mosaics as eyes or small colorful details in a larger piece.
My stone impulsivity also arises as I walk the margins of the many stone yards where I shop for my project materials. I just find cool, weird pieces that have latent potential. I have trouble walking by…
One time for reasons that remain unclear to me I was compelled to buy several tons of pink granite. No, it wasn’t especially cheap. No, I had no immediate or projected need for it. I just thought it was uncommon and cool and so I bought it. It ended up hanging around taking up space at the for a really long time.
A recent customer owns a house built in the 1920s that was made of the same pink granite. At long last, a use for this stone. We built them a retaining wall that connects part of the original house to an addition. The house is mortared of course, but the wall is dry stone. Many of the pieces of granite I had were enormous four feet by five feet and 10 inches thick. You will see drill holes in the face of the wall from the feathers and wedges. There are similar drill holes throughout the granite on the house as well.

A drystone pink granite wall in front of a mortared pink granite house.

My brothers and sisters of stone craft will notice more long vertical joints that are customary in a Hammerhead wall. This is a byproduct of having only three thicknesses of stone to work with. All of our source material was either 4 3/8” thick or 8 1/4” thick or 10” thick. It was a real puzzle to align these dimensions in a pleasing and structurally sounds way. Luckily we had some pink Tennessee marble that we could mix in. It was about 3/4” thick but it helped. We rarely work with granite. It’s a hard material but it has such a lovely and predictable grain that it was easy to chisel compared to our local stone.
And I cleared some space in the yard for my next random purchase!