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How To Build a Stone Wall That’s Stylish and Functional

Geoffrey Gross

POP Projects is a collection of new and classic projects from more than a century of Popular Mechanics. Master skills, get tool recommendations, and, most importantly, build something of your very own.


Stone walls have marked boundaries and defined borders for millenniums. At countless sites, from Hadrian’s Wall in Britain to the Native American ruins in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, well-crafted walls still stand after a thousand or more years.

Today, stone remains an attractive and durable building material. However, few do-it-yourselfers build with it, partly because it’s difficult to transport and heavy to lift. In reality, though, the process is manageable and fun-if you choose the right project.

The stone wall planter shown here is functional, beautiful and relatively easy to build. It’s designed to hide an exposed concrete foundation, and provide a place to grow plants and shrubs.

We built the planter with flat fieldstones, which come in sizes ranging from 1 to 3 in. thick and 8 to 18 in. long. Fieldstone is typically sold by the pallet, and each pallet holds about 25 cu. ft. Plan on using two pallets for a 10-ft.-long planter like ours, and set aside three or four days to do the work.

To find stone, check with landscapers and gardening retailers. If you live in the country, you may find a supply from a local farmer, but be prepared to haul it yourself.

These Tools Will Help

Prepare the Spot

Measure 36 in. from the foundation and drive wood stakes to represent the outside of the stone planter. Mark the outline of the wall by sprinkling white flour [1] along the line of stakes.

Evacuate a 12-in.-wide x 8-in.-deep trench along the inside of the outline. Line the trench with large, thick fieldstones. Fit the stones together as tightly as possible [2], but don’t overlap them.

To ensure that the first course creates a solid stable base for the stone wall, use a length of 4 x 4 to pound each stone into the soil [3]. This is the only course that must be tamped down.

Start the Wall

Lay the second course, bridging the joints of the stones below [4]. Use long, flat stones at the corners. Don’t use mortar in the first five or six courses so that water in the planter can drain out.

With three or four courses in place, set up a string to represent the top of the wall. Drive stakes at the planter corners, attach the string to the house and stretch it around the stakes [5].

Hang a line level on the string to create a level guide line for the top of the wall. Then mark the wall height on the stakes [6] and remove the string until the last courses are ready to be laid.

Ensure a Good Fit

Mix a batch of mortar in a wheelbarrow [7] by combining portland cement, sand, and water, following the instructions on the cement bag. Blend to a thick, smooth consistency.

After the wall is 4 to 6 in. above ground, use a pointed trowel to apply mortar to the rear half of the stones [8]. Keep the mortar away from the front to create the look of a drylaid wall.

To ensure that the stones fit together tightly, it’s often necessary to use a small sledgehammer to break off a corner [9] or interfering protrusion. Wear eye goggles when breaking stone.

Continue to spread mortar and set stones, overlapping the joints. After every three or four courses, check that the wall is plumb [10]. Use the sledgehammer to tap the stones into alignment.

Finish Things Up

Save the longest, flattest stones for the top course. Spread mortar across the entire width of the course below. Tap the stones to bring them into alignment with the layout string [11].

Fill the joints along the top of the wall with mortar [12]. The neatest way is to use a mortar bag. Squeeze the mortar into the joints and use a putty knife to smooth the application.

Let the mortar cure overnight, then use a garden sprayer to apply masonry sealer [13], paying particular attention to the top. The sealer will help keep the mortar joints from cracking.

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