How To: Build a Dry Stone Retaining Wall

Build a retaining wall with dry laid stone in order to establish different levels in your landscaping.

By Bob Vila | Updated Jul 9, 2013 11:20 AM

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How to Build a Retaining Wall

Photo: Flickr

Depending on the size and weight of the stones used to construct the retaining wall, the tools and materials for the project will vary. Landscape fabric and a crushed stone or gravel are commonly used to create a base that allows moisture to drain. Proper drainage is essential. Water buildup can exaggerate freeze and thaw cycles, forcing the wall out of its intended shape, or worse, toppling sections altogether.

Smaller stones can be transported via wheelbarrow and moved into position by hand. Larger stones require mechanized lifting equipment. Strings, stakes, brick hammers, hammer drills, and chisels round out the remaining most-used items.

Stone Retaining Wall Construction Basics

• With a gravel base for drainage in place, heavy base stones are maneuvered into position with the help of a front-loading tractor.

• A hammer drill is used to bore holes in large stones prior to splitting them into smaller pieces. Holes are drilled 2-1/2- to 3-inches deep.

• Special wedges are placed into the holes bored in the stone and stuck with a three-pound hammer in sequence. As the wedges drive into the stone, they split the rock along the path of the holes.

• Once split, the smaller sections of stone are positioned in the wall.

• As the height of the wall rises, smaller stones able to be positioned by hand are put in place. Care is taken to stagger joints both for appearance and strength. The wall does not need to be a uniform thickness from front to back. The void not filled in with stone is backfilled with gravel and soil.

• Small stones are chinked into place to fill gaps. Each row of larger stones can be leveled using smaller stone pieces like shims.