New Panoramas & A Marketing Class


This is a photo montage/panorama of the steps I built this past winter in the Montford district of Asheville. The step treads are made of the full-color variant of Pennsylvania bluestone. The wall, columns and step risers are made of granitic gneiss, mostly from the Hooper’s Creek quarry in Fletcher. The steps and columns are mortared; the wall is completely dry.

Sandstone steps and wall buried in snow. Looks positively comfortable right now.


Last Friday I led an hour long workshop for craftspeople and artisans on how to market their work. It was part of Handmade in America’s Art, Craft and Design Expo at the North Carolina Arboretum. The main push of my talk was that marketing is education and that craft artists should focus their marketing efforts on the 3 P’s: product, process and person. I also talked a bit about setting goals, making a cohesive plan and punk rock.

Radial Steps in the Newspaper

I spent most of the winter in the historical Montford district of Asheville, building a set of radial stone steps, three big columns and some drystone retaining walls. The house is featured on a tour from HandMade: The Western North Carolina Craft, Architecture & Design Expo taking place June 25-26 at the N.C. Arboretum. The Asheville Citizen-Times ran a story on the house that featured an image of the steps and mentions of Hammerhead and its marbles!

Mailbox Vault Done: Stone Theory

Mailbox Vault Done

Here’s the scene at the entrance to the Rock Hill horse farm. The connecting wall will top out at about 28 inches, so there’s a bit more to go. The far column has some sample caps resting in place. Columns of this volume might require a massive cap to help visually anchor them. That decision hasn’t been made yet…

Mailbox Vault Done
Here’s a front-on view of the mailbox vault shortly after completion. I’m very partial to this style: structural quoins, solid stone lintels, serious gravity. It’s a mix of old school and new style. My conservative estimate puts each column weighing over two tons.

This is a plan from my tiny notebook that I eventually scrapped, in favor of thinner stones for the quoins, adding an extra pair of stones in order to make full height. I worried that at almost 7″ thick, the quoins as drawn would be out of scale to the rest of the work.

Detail looking down the quoins.

This Northern Fence Lizard spent the night resting in a nook in one the block I used for my low scaffolding. It was a very safe place until I started work in the morning. I had to move him because he was too cold to move himself. His tail is obviously shortened, perhaps by a predator, perhaps by not being careful enough around the stone pile.

Monolith Wall Photo Op!

Monolith Wall Photo Op


Yesterday, I spent the day with photographer Steve Whitsitt taking pictures of stone projects I have worked on around Asheville. He is putting together a coffee table book of stone work, hopefully to be published in 2011. It was fun and educational to spend a day with a pro photographer. We visited several projects and I got to take some shots too. It’s always good to revisit the work as it ages and weathers in.

Monolith Wall Photo
I have been tying for a while now to get a good panorama of this project. It’s in a very tight space and I can only get a small bit of it in each image. Yesterday, while wandering around taking pictures with Steve, I got the best panoramic view of it I’ve done so far.

Monolith Wall Photo

Column Theory: Stone Mailbox Vault

Stone Mailbox Vault

Last week I spent a good bit of time creating this structure within the column to house the biggest mailbox I think I’ve ever seen. I cut these quoins from step slabs, using petty much every technique I know how to tim them down. The cut-off saw was too loud and dusty and the line would wander over the full 36″ of the stone. Using the hand tracer chisel worked, but was really only efficient when I was cutting the shortest lines. Eventually I settled on cutting a clean line at each edge with the small grinder and then using feathers and wedges to cut the rest. This allowed me to keep my quoins fairly symmetric, but let me go more quickly than I would with chisels alone or even using the saw. Perhaps someday I will do a time trial to see which is faster, though I suspect the old school wedges (and an electric hammer drill of course) are faster than my Stihl saw with a diamond blade on it. Feathers are more fun too.

Stone Mailbox Vault

This is a detail of the armature that I am building the columns around. This is intended to provide a place for the wooden cross pieces to be hung and held away from the stone work. By doing this, the wood is more easily maintained and switched out as needed. It also protects the stonework, by reducing the chance that the wood will soak up a bunch of water and hold it against the mortar. Whenever wood juts into stone work, it inevitably creates a weak spot in the stone structure. This armature design also provides a place where I can mount my corners template, a piece of plywood with string stretched plumb to the footer. I got this idea from Fred Lashley; I don’t know if she invented it or adapted it from some other source.


A banker is a mason’s work table. You can’t see from this angle, but this table is minutes away from falling over; it has a significant, persistent lean. That’s a chunk of Arkansas Hackett sitting on the corner.

Stone Column Theory

Stone Column Theory

Stone column for an automatic driveway gate

Stone column for an automatic driveway gate

My latest project is the entrance to a horse farm just outside of Rock Hill, South Carolina. Mortared columns and connecting walls frame the main gate. I’m using a Tennessee sandstone as well as Arkansas Hackett, a type of sandstone akin to Tennessee Crab Orchard but darker in color. The client already had a supply of this stuff, snapped strips about 5-6 inches tall and about the same thickness. It makes a lovely cornerstone. The metal fins sticking out the side will hold wood fence rails.

I’m working on a theory that columns- which I find to be one of the most challenging and intriguing expressions of stone- are like short stories, compared to the long form of walls or novels. There’s a different rhythm and a greater attention to detail is needed to achieve the desired result. You need all the same elements in a short story as novel- strong characters, a compelling plot, beautiful language, but you have less space to develop it and if you miss it, well it’s painfully obvious. And multiple that by four, since each side of a column is its own piece, but visually and strucutrally connected to the other sides. Stone columns are a common item in around here, and yet few capture the imagination. I’m hoping that this set will really pop.

Radial Steps Column on a Sunny Day

Radial Steps Column

Radial Steps Column
The Montford radial steps are all in place, awaiting some serious clean-up and grouting. The two columns that frame the steps are up to height, awaiting caps. The third column in within inches of completion. I have shifted my focus to the drystone retaining wall between the columns.
Pictured above: looking down one of the radial steps columns next to the steps.