Water Feature, Stone Paths, Steps & Bench

Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks recently completed this water feature with a natural stone bench, paths, drystone walls and steps.

Dry Stone Paths & Steps

This dry stone pathway connects the homeowner’s driveway with their favorite hangout spot, on their back deck. A single slab of sandstone provides an easy step up to the deck. The regular shape of the slab lends an air of formality to the entrance, sometimes used by guests. This serves as a counterpoint to the more natural looking stones that make up the adjacent steps, walls, water feature and bench.


The bench is found at the bottom of the water feature. It is very organic, a natural slab with a patina of lichen. The area is fairly shady and so I am hopeful that the lichen will survive. Two rugged boulders were topped and anchored in concrete to provide the bench supports.

Water Feature Before and After

 

This pair of images shows how we transformed this unused space. The drystone retaining wall at the bottom raised the overall grade. This allowed us to hide drainage pipes running from the house’s many downspouts. We used heavy duty solid white PVC pipe to extend the drain pipes. Though more expensive, these pipes have never failed me. Everytime I have dug up a black corrugated drain pipe it is either collapsed, perforated or clogged. Or all three. Next spring, once the plants have been chosen and given time to establish themselves, this will be a lovely view.
Click on the image above for a larger view of the water view and overall design.

Coming soon: more pictures of the water feature itself.

Drystone Pathways Over Bad Concrete

Drystone Pathways Over Bad Concrete

A broken down piece of concrete magically disappears under a stone pathway laid without mortar or cement.

Drystone Pathways

I am frequently asked to remedy concrete walkways. Sometimes these concrete paths are old and broken down, in other cases, they just aren’t the look the homeowner desires. In most situations, the existing walkway, broken down or not, needs to be removed. This can be expensive and bad for the environment, if a good use can’t be found for the broken concrete. Whenever possible, I try to leave the concrete where it lays and place my stone over it. Dry laid flagstone is stronger and more durable than mortared paving, and it doesn’t matter how messed up the concrete is underneath it. (Mortared flagstone should only be applied to solid slab in good condition.) Laying drystone flagstone over ugly concrete saves money, and avoids filling the landfill with concrete waste. There are two main issues that can come up when taking this approach that we’ll explore below: clearance and drainage.

Drystone Pathways

BEFORE: This little used path wrapped around the back of a lovely Asheville home. The homeowners wanted to pretty it up and maintain access to their backyard.

Drystone Pathways

AFTER: A loose stone pathway winds its way through a field of pea gravel. Instead of removing all the concrete, I placed my flagstone over the top. Stucco became a quick fix for this ugly wall. You might see that it’s being pushed over by the bank behind it. Someday we’ll replace it with drystone!

Dealing With Drainage & Your Stone Pathway

Drystone pathways and patios allow water to run over them and percolate through. This prevents pooling and reduces slick spots on the walking surface. It’s important that the top surface of the stone pathway be able to slope gently away from houses, foundations or other areas sensitive to moisture build-up or erosion. It’s equally important that the substrate below the flagstone is also pitched in the proper direction, as some moisture will pass through. This means, when I go over a concrete walkway with stone, I have to be sure the slab is draining in the right direction. This is easily assessed with a level and tape measure. A host of solutions can be considered if the drainage situation isn’t ideal.

Clearance Issues For Flagstone & Steps

Clearance issues are usually the deal breaker for whether a dry stone surface can be laid over concrete. The height of existing thresholds, curbs or steps must be taken into account at all points along the flagstone surface. The risks being that one could create weird little steps, make a trip hazard, or block a door so that it no longer opens! As it happens, so much settling occurs in Asheville homes, old and new, that I can often find the clearance I need, sometimes by replacing awkward and uneven steps with stone stairs that are uniform and solid.

Drystone Pathways

In the image above, the large stone slab that acts as a step was the key to getting the clearance needed to build the path that circled the house. Previously there had been an awkward three inch rise- too tall for a threshold, but not tall enough to be a step. This stone step, at six inches tall, is a real step, consistent with those at the street and that lead into the house.

BEFORE: A broken down set of uneven concrete steps lead to the street. There’s a fourth step hidden in the shadow of the telephone pole. The top step is coming apart and is off center with the steps below it.

Drystone Pathways

AFTER: I had to tear out the bottom three steps, but that was the only concrete removed for the whole project. (Reclaimed by a friend who needs clean fill for another project.) I set the steps further back from the road and gave them a consistent rise over run. I rebuilt the wall, opening the main entryway and making it more welcoming. The steps are now aligned with the path. The steps and wall repairs are mortared; everything else is laid dry.

The homeowners are both craftspeople- he’s a woodworker and she’s a potter. As we stuccoed this old block wall, we embedded ceramic tiles made by the potter. This is a picture of my favorite, a relief print made from a gravestone carving she found at Riverside Cemetery.

A Stone Fire Pit That Saves Patio Space

Invisible fire pit in use

Invisible fire pit in use


Hammerhead Stoneworks offers a stone fire pit design solution for small patio spaces. This past spring I built what I call an Invisible Fire Pit. This is a design solution for a small patio area. A typical stone fire pit can take up a great deal of space. In a small area, this can be problematic, as it limits the amount of outdoor furniture one can use, or make it hard to entertain in the space at times when a fire isn’t desired. The Invisible Fire Pit is built down into the ground, but has a stone cover, so that when not in use, it really isn’t noticed. You can walk right over it with no indication that the space beneath your feet is hollow. Of course, this raises the issue of how to access the fire pit. I had my blacksmith friend Lynda Metcalfe make wrought iron handles. These are drilled through the stone and rest in a small groove I cut into the top of the stone. With the handles recessed in this way, there’s no trip hazard. The stone is still heavy, so it’s best to lift it with a friend! Last weekend the client had us over and my boys roasted marshmallows over the fire with his daughter. It was a great fun and the fire pit will get plenty of use in the coming months, as the nights cool off so perfectly.

Lid for the invisible fire pit

Lid for the invisible fire pit

Invisible fire pit cover

Invisible fire pit cover

Recessed handles for the invisible fire pit

Recessed handles for the invisible fire pit

Lid of the invisible fire pit

Lid of the invisible fire pit

Contact Hammerhead Stoneworks for all you patio and fire pit design and construction needs.

Stone Steps

Stone Steps in Sloping Yard

I’m nearing completion on a stone steps, wall and patio project in downtown Asheville. Living in the mountains, there’s generally a slope in every yard. This patio required a small drystone retaining wall to create a flat enough area for this patio. Two big slabs of Tennessee sandstone are integrated into the wall, allowing easy access for the homeowner and guests coming from the backyard.


I built another short stack of stone steps at the back of the house, allowing access from the driveway to the deck and into the house. With big chunks of stone like this, I am able to get the proper rise and run, so that these steps walk comfortably, just like the steps in your house. Prior to installing these, there was a muddy slope to the deck stairs, and a ten inch step up. More pics coming soon of the flagstone area above the steps finished.

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps
I just completed a project in Saluda, North Carolina today. The home was built some time in the 70’s and the existing concrete steps were broken down and needed replacing. New stone walkways were in order as well. I built most of the new walkways over the existing sidewalks, dry laid on a pea gravel bed. The image above shows the new steps; the image below shows the area before we got started. Note the awkward spacing of the original steps; it was hard to hit your stride walking them.

Saluda Stone Walkways & Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps

Saluda Stone Walkway Steps
The brick pathways wrap around the house, from the formal front entrance (shown above) to the opposite side of the house, which receives most of the traffic.


This short stretch of concrete was poured recently and broke up quite easily under the jackhammer assault. Most of the sidewalks were poured when the house was built and were a pain to break up. They crumbled into dust and would absorb the jackhammer’s impact. It didn’t help that they were up to nine inches thick.

Gainesville Public Art: Blue Spiral

Gainesville Public Art

Gainesville Public Art

Blue Spiral patio- an art project in Gainesville, Florida

In April I got a phone call from the Art in Public Places Trust (APPT) in Gainesville, Florida announcing that I had been selected to complete a public art project. I am going to build a mosaic stone floor in a courtyard adjacent to a new building on the campus of the Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU). In May I visited the site and met the APPT board and toured the campus/construction site. Back home, I set about drawing.

During my visit to Gainesville, I found myself drawn to the local stone. The area limestone is dense with the fossilized remains of ancient sea creatures. I took pictures of fossil-rich boulders and sketched from them, looking for forms and relationships that might translate into a patio surface. My source photographs and fossil books opened up interesting explorations, but always led me to the same place. By the very nature of seashells, their forms are instantly recognizable and iconic. I strived to sidestep that iconic nature, for fear of creating a floor that looked like wallpaper. The APPT encouraged me to explore natural shapes, but avoid graphic depiction. The seashells were too graphic, too decorative, too obvious.

The design I proposed for the Gainesville public art feature contains a central spiral element, drawn from my fossil sketches. I have shattered the form with other shapes, lines that intersect it and obscure it. It is a form emerging from a background. Like the process of discovering a seashell embedded in an ancient rock, so the nautilus shape emerges to the eye slowly. The intersecting lines suggest water steadily wearing away the matrix surrounding the fossil, stone slowly giving up its secrets. I hope to capture that same magic of discovery for people first venturing upon my mosaic.

Biltmore Forest Walkway

 

Biltmore Forest Walkway

The Biltmore Forest Walkway project entails replacing a 40 year old walkway leading to the front entrance of a house in Biltmore Forest. The existing walkway was set in sand on soft soils and had settled, shifted and recently been overrun (underun?) by moles. After removing the old stone- to be reused- I dug out the sand and soft soil. I replaced the substrate with road bond and compacted it with a jumping jack tamper.

Wednesday Morning

Biltmore Forest Walkway

I’m using pea gravel as my setting bed. The compacted road bond and the pea gravel in combination create a very unfriendly environment for moles. It’s also less attractive for their favored foods, like worms. This is what the area looked like after the prep work was done, before I started setting stone.

 

Thursday Morning

Biltmore Forest Walkway

The original material is no longer quarried, but a similar stone, a granitic gneiss called Hooper’s Creek, is a good match. The key to mixing different types of stone is to make the mix consistent throughout. It’s obvious when you introduce a new type of stone halfway through a project. But if you have all the varieties in play from the first stone, it usually works out fine.

 

Friday Morning

Biltmore Forest Walkway

My Friday goal was to finish the matrix, what I call the edges and the big stones that connect the sides, leaving only the fill-ins and details for Monday.

 

Friday Quitting Time

Biltmore Forest Walkway

Except for that one area at the very end, the matrix is done. Monday is all about filling the gaps.

Biltmore Forest Walkway