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

 

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Crew members from left to right: Jonathan Frederick, Tony Costa, & Michael Sellars


Written by Marc Archambault

We spent about a month this summer building steps around a recently completed modern house in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Designed by architect Scott Huebner of Brickstack Architects, the house has majestic views from its steep lot. Our primary job was to provide access for the homeowners so that they can tend their gardens and landscape. Really it was more like backcountry trail construction than our typical more finessed style of work. However, the real fun was when we got to replace a very sloppily built boulder wall at the driveway.

To hear it described, the wall in question was a last-minute add-on. It certainly looked very thrown together, with large gaps, no attention paid to bonding, and lots of gravel between the stones as if using ball bearings as a substitute for mortar. It was nothing to look at, for sure. Adding insult to injury, other tradespeople had mistreated it. Someone had smeared a lot of polyurethane on a few stones, presumably cleaning their brushes. There were similar concrete stains in other locations. All in all, it was a very ugly wall.

So we took it down and rebuilt it. I would say it’s built in the style of our typical walls, but at an uncommon scale. Some of these pieces weigh over 1000 pounds and it required an excavator – a small one – to help move the material into place. The stones with the stains were either removed or turned around to hide the mess. We used hammer and chisel and- as appropriate- the big saw to sweeten the fits and to ensure good bonding. The previous wall had no attention paid to batter or a clean line to the face of the whole wall. We took care of that and the results are pleasing.

I should have done a before and after post, but the original wall so ugly I never thought to take a picture of it. If I find a picture, I will surely add it.
To me, true craft is about caring. The devil is in the details.

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Photo by Jonathan Frederick

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Photo by Jonathan Frederick

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Crewmember Tony takes a rest on the newly completed wall.


Special thanks to Fred Lashley for operating the excavator on this project.

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

Biltmore Forest Stonework: Retaining Wall

Boulders and drystone retaining walls blend together seamlessly in this Biltmore Forest stonework project built by Hammerhead Stoneworks.

 

Biltmore Forest Stonework: Before and After

This pair of images show how this stonework project evolved. The boulders were already in place, but ineffective at slowing erosion on the bank above. Mulch and leaves were constantly washing into the driveway. We decided for aesthetic and cost-savings reasons to leave the largest boulders and build our retaining walls to meet them. Smaller boulders were removed to make way for the retaining walls.

The space before

The space after

The space after

Stonework Project Getting Started


This image shows the calm before the storm. There’s about 9,000 pounds of stone there, (more than we need, but there are other projects planned we will use the excess for.) This is a drystone wall. Note the black geo-textile drainage fabric laid over the exposed bank. This fabric allows water to pass through, but captures silt and other fine particles that would wash through the wall. Drystone retaining walls are more beautiful and more durable than a mortared wall installed in the same situation. In effect, the whole wall is a drain, allowing rainwater runoff to pass through. Hydrostatic pressure never builds up. Hydrostatic pressure is a powerful force and is responsible for pushing over so many of the older, mortared retaining walls that we see around Asheville.


This image shows us making progress on the lower wall. The string line is level across, though the wall shrinks and grows as the driveway rises and falls.

Stonework Project Details

We used a metamorphic stone called gneiss, quarried in Fletcher, North Carolina. It’s a native stone and looks just right used for landscaping walls like this one. All of the stone is laid in its bedded plane, meaning the stones are set laying the same way they were formed. Face bedding (standing up) a stone like this can result in major problems, as water can work its way into the stone and cause layers to delaminate and peel away. In the background you can see a rough old wall, a jumble of stones really, that will someday soon be replaced with a wall like this one.

Drystone Retaining Wall: Downtown Asheville

retaining wall

Springtime wall

I built this drystone retaining wall a couple of years ago, just outside of downtown Asheville. I like to visit it when I can and I have been working in that neighborhood lately (more updates to follow.) My friend Betty Sharpless, owner of Good Help Landscaping, maintains the site and is responsible for these beautiful irises. The wall is made of a variety of sandstones from Tennessee and Virginia with some Pennsylvania bluestone thrown in for fun. See more pictures of this wall here.

Benefits of a Drystone Retaining Wall

A well-crafted drystone retaining wall will have a smaller carbon footprint and will outlast a similarly sited mortared wall. Here are some of the other advantages of drystone masonry:

  • Flexible, moves rather than breaks in response to outside stresses
  • Drains water effectively, preventing build up of hydrostatic pressure, the force that pushes over mortared walls
  • Doesn’t require concrete footings or slabs or block wall backing
  • Weathers better and lasts longer
  • Easier to repair work or reuse the stone at a later date
  • Requires no waterproofing
  • Looks more natural in the landscape

Read more about drystone here.