How to build a dry stone wall


Building garden stone walls, if done well, is both functional acting as a boundary, as well as a work of art.  Furthermore it should last several hundred years if the natural wall stone is good, and the wall has been well built. The walling stone, a critical ingredient, needs to be weather resistant, strong and preferably flat.


First clear the ground where you are going to build your stone wall of any obstructions. Then mark the line of the wall out with string. A shallow trench is then to be dug, for the foundations, graduating from about 8 inches for a stone wall over four feet high to 5 inches for a wall under 4 feet high. This will vary depending on the ground conditions, and extra stability may be needed by using a concrete base. The width of the wall at the base will depend on the height of the stone wall. It will be about a third of the height at the base.


It is best if the natural walling stone or Cotswold walling stone is grouped together in sizes, with the largest closest the wall, it is then easier to select the appropriate as the stone wall is built.


The main principles of building a drystone wall are:


  • Keep the joints between each stone as tight as possible  
  • The face (smartest and straightest) stone is to be selected for the out side of the wall
  • The stone at the bottom of the wall will be the flattest and largest (a concrete foundation should be considered in some situations).
  • A lime base mortar should be used.
  • The stones on either side of the wall should slightly lean outwards to spill the water out.
  • The gap between the two outer facing stones, in the middle of the stone wall should be filled in with appropriately sized infill stones or knappings to prevent any movement.
  • The two outer facing stones need to interlock (not overlap) in the middle as much as possible.
  • Each layer of the outer facing stones should have the principle of 'two over one and one over two'.
  • The stone wall should narrow as it gets higher.
  • The capping or coping stones need to be preferably heavy and should also help push the rain to the outside of the stone wall.  The stone wall cap is essential for the longevity of the wall as well as the aesthetic look.  Cock and hens, or flat paving can be used.


Most of the principles above will promote the strength, and stability of the natural stone wall that should last for generations and look beautiful. The stone wallers in each area of the country will have their own style, largely dependent on what has worked over the generations.  


If you need help to build your garden stone wall, we work with many artisan drystone wallers in Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Surrey, and beyond.


Good luck

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