Traditional drystone masonry made of natural stones
Building dry stone walls is a craft, an art and a science at the same time. The environmentally friendly but labor intensive construction method does not require any mortar at all. Only the raw split stones from quarries (or, as in the past, stones collected from fields, rockslides and the like) are stacked on top of each other and form the masonry. The stones do not have exact geometric shapes, as they are worked as little as possible. The appearance, texture and color of the dry stone walls are strongly dependent on the type of stone and the degree of shaping the stones with hand tools. The stability and durability of the drystone masonry depend on how well the building rules are followed.
Dry stone walls are elements that structure the landscape. As natural stone from the area is used and the walls are visually structured by stones that correspond in size and weight to the human scale, dry stone walls fit harmoniously into landscapes. The preservation of dry stone walls is important for the protection of the landscape and in the field of eco-tourism.
The most important tool of the dry mason is the eye and a good spatial imagination. The stones should be joined into a masonry structure with as little dressing as possible. Therefore, the right stone must be found to fit into the gap or on top of the stones below. The dry stone mason usually works with the locally found stones. He tries to respect the characteristics of the rock and the local wall patterns.
Dry stone walling is strenuous work. During one day a dry stone mason moves between 3 - 4 tons of stones. A healthy back and stamina are prerequisites for practising dry stone masonry. Although the amount of working the stones should be as low as possible, some of the stones have to be adjusted. This is done in order to optimise the bed and butt joints. Stable supports and closed butt joints increase the stability of the masonry and reduce maintenance costs.
The dry mason needs masonry tools for working the stones: the mallet, the chase or tracer chisel and the punch chisel. With certain types of stone, a toothed chisel can also be used. In this respect, the activity of the dry mason is related to the five stone-working professions that are trained in Switzerland (stone carver, stonemason, stone sculptor, stone technician, paving mason). Like these, the dry stone mason must know the characteristics of different stones, the tools and how to use these tools to achieve the desired result. Depending on the stone and the construction site, machines may also have to be used. To split large stones, holes are drilled and the stones are split using splitting wedges. Heavy stones are moved with excavators or hoists. Transport is done with a wide variety of tools.