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¿How to build a dry stone wall?

¿How to build a dry stone wall?

Before starting to build a dry stone wall, we must take into account several issues to learn more about this technique and thus make the wall correctly, stable and safe. That will be the goal of this article. But if you want to know more about the dry stone technique, we invite you to visit our blog article on dry stone – tools, techniques and construction manuals.

It is important to start from the basis that in a pile of stones we find pieces of all types and we must know how to recognize and select them. Each of the stones that will form our wall will have its place in the building. They are all useful, even the cumbersome, the shapeless, and the brittle.

The first pile of stones is, without a doubt, the most important, since after a great deal of work, the stones that obstruct the arable land of the hillside are deposited. From this pile we will extract what we will need to build the wall. To better capture its composition and verify that we are not missing elements, we will sort it into sub-heaps, by size and shape.

The great secret of traditional construction is the fit between the stones and not their union with mortar. Even more so in dry stone construction. This concern for a good fit forces us to look for flat surfaces, well-adjusted stones, fill the thickness of the wall row by row, distribute and place small and medium-sized stones between them and, finally, use small wedges as a last resort.

Families of stones used in the construction of walls

Before starting to make a dry stone wall, we have to know the different families of stones that we can find.

  1. Masonry

It is the queen stone of the wall, the parameter stone that has a flat face that is called “in masonry”, the one that is left visible. It also needs a good support, on which it rests with stability on the wall under construction, an upper face suitable to receive the continuity of the wall and a sufficient depth to be well anchored.

  1. Matacan

The machicolation remains in the lower part of the wall, it lays the foundations for it, it resists the thrust from behind the slope or the water, if the wall supports a terrace. Using ramps we can climb machicolations to two courses or even three. However, a machicolation that is integrated halfway up a wall runs the risk of breaking its coherence and the solidarity of its elements: it will be too heavy in relation to the surrounding stones and will not intersect well with them.

That is to say, it is a stone with a good face, but being too big to be lifted, it remains in the lower part of the wall.

  1. The great reports

First cousins ​​of the machicolations, but without good faces, they take their place at the base of the back padding, where they also contribute their weight. They fit well into the floor, even hollowing it out, for a better fit. The medium and small reports are located between the large ones, arranged as tightly as possible.

  1. Brands

They are masonry that penetrate the wall in depth, anchoring it. There may be counters that, locked with them, take over from these in the anchorage of the cigar: thus prolonging the anchorage in depth, but with an articulation that will adapt to eventual internal thrusts. In fact, the risk that a long stem runs is that it breaks if the wall in its depth, less homogeneous than in the parameter, is compressed. The post must therefore be chosen for its length, but also for its robustness.

  1. The auctions

The upper part of the wall plays a role of pressure, resistance to erosion, the passage of animals, humans, wind... Visually, it indicates the finish of the wall, by the line it follows and by the choice and organization of the materials that constitute it. The crowning must be foreseen from the initial phase of the mound and reserve the stones of the auction.

Rock & Tools tools to assemble a dry stone wall

We are specialized in the construction of dry stone walls and we offer all kinds of services, advice and tools for its correct execution. Next, we highlight the following products from our catalogue, but on our web you can find many more.

  1. Mace dry stone edge

One head in hammer, the other in shear perpendicular to the handle. An ideal tool to use on light stones.

Imagen 1


They are all composed of a piece of tempered iron with a central hole where the wooden handle is placed. One part has a square and flat section (which can be used as a hammer to hit) and the other part ends in a point.

Imagen 2

3.Dry stone point hammer

It is similar to a pickaxe, however the blunt end allows for squaring to avoid builging. It is the basic tool of hard stone Works.

Imagen 3

4.Splitting hammer

Widia splitting hammers are used to split the stone into two parts. It can be used directly by hitting the stone, or it can be placed on top of the stone and hit the back with another mallet.

Imagen 4


Guillet Carbide Pitcher to work all types of stones.


In addition, on our YouTube channel you will also find tutorial videos on how to use some of these tools.

How to build a dry stone wall?

Once we are clear about the types of stones that we can find and the tools with which we should work, it is time to get down to work and build our stone wall. For this, it is important to follow the following steps.

  1. The place

The first decision we have to make when building a dry stone wall is to choose the right place. Once the place has been decided, with a mini-excavator we will dig lightly to lay the foundations for the wall, at the same time that we open the path of the work. This will serve to deposit from time to time the piles of stones that supply the segments of the wall under construction.      

Imagen 1.1                                     

2. Soil preparation and first row

Once the wall is founded on the clayey earth, barely semi-excavated less than 20 centimeters and naturally packed, the deep base of the wall and its flexibility will accommodate it.

The first row will be made up of especially heavy machicolations, but which have been carved previously to give them their own face and with sides that fit the adjoining stones. Next, on the back of these large face stones, the zaborra, both medium and small, is pressed.

Imagen 2.2

3. Placing a masonry

Stones that have a good face are used in the parameter. Here the masonry will rest on horseback on two masonry from the preceding row, to cross them well; good face in the parameter, triangular tip sinking into the wall.

Imagen 3.3

4. Placement of a firebrand

The purpose of placing a marker is to anchor the wall in depth with a long stone, crossing it at the same time with the stones of the lower row.

Imagen 4.4

5. Avoid gaps and order the faces well

When it comes to correctly avoiding gaps, we must fill an oblique gap with a masonry that is not very large but very well adjusted in width and height, completed behind by two small zaborras.

Imagen 5.5

6. Filling of the internal part

In the construction of the internal part of the wall, zaborra is used. After the selection of stones, we will place them on the wall. The large stones, interlocked with those of the row below, constitute a basic framework. The medium ones fit the big ones. The small ones are messy only during their transport in a bucket. Next, each of them is placed as well as possible between the large and medium ones so that the whole is well tightened and locked.

Imagen 6.6

7. More Padding

It is important to fill our wall in all its thickness with masonry, blight, counter-blight, large, medium and small zaborras. In this way we will make our wall safer and more stable.

Imagen 7.7

8. Fine padding

It is important to highlight the importance of a good final filling to finish supporting the stones with each other, placing the smallest ones last and giving them a stable place. In the case of placing them in disorder, they will have a tendency, in the event of deformation of the wall, to slide downwards, thus aggravating the deformation of the parameter, which we call the “bag of marbles” effect.

Imagen 8.8

9. Assemble the ladder

In case we want to include a staircase in our wall, it is important to know that the part of the step that remains inside the wall must be heavier, even before ballasting it with the following rows of the wall. At least two-thirds of the stone should be inside.

Imagen 9.9

10. Finish off

For the crowning of the wall we must have previously reserved some heavy and tall stones, with quite regular upper, lower and lateral faces. In turn, it is recommended to measure in advance the height of the auction that we will have to look for in our pile of stones. For the rest, the way to build the auction is the same. Work the last stones with those of the lower row, regularly introduce firebrands that will anchor the wall in depth, frame the back of the wall with large, medium and small zaborra.

Imagen 10.10

Contact Rock & Tools so we can help you build a stone wall

We are specialized in the construction of stone walls, so if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us so that we can advise you on everything you need.

And finally, to anyone who wants to know more about the dry stone technique, we encourage you to read our blog articles. In turn, we also invite you to join both our Social Network community and our Art Space, a place where you can share the results of your works!


You can find this and much more in the Rock and Tools La piedra seca book.


Last modified on: June 17, 2022

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