Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dawn of the Stone Age

My B-I-L and I were hanging from the end of a crane, fabricating the very last piece of copper ridge cap for the roof when a truck pulled up in the driveway. One of the guys stepped out and yelled up "found a stone mason yet?" "Uh no, not really, I started on the fireplace myself... have a look around... be down in 40 minutes... got to finish this roof!" This is how the stone age (aka the next phase of our house project) began last week. When I got to the ground, I walked around the house with the two masons (a father and son pair) and told them what we needed. I also showed them the stone that we had quarried from the farm. (see archived blog entry "Rubble Rousers", May 14th 2006)

The next day, the elder stone mason dropped off some photographs of his previous work. In one photograph, all of the vehicles were late 70's and early 80's models. "Maybe he's been doing this for a while," I thought to myself. The limited set of pictures included some nice brickwork and stonework, but nothing very close to the style that we were looking for our house. When he returned, I described the style we wanted, and then showed the mason some pictures of stonework that I liked. He felt confident that he could do it. I agreed to let him do a patch of stonework on the back of the house first... you know... just in case.

Within the two or three courses of stone, I could tell the look wasn't exactly what I had described, but to the degree it differed, it was in some ways better. The more stone that he laid, the better it looked, so I decided to bite my tongue and let him do his thing. He only grumbled once or twice about my stainless termite flashing, and he never once complained that the stones from our farm weren't suitable. In fact, he laid almost everyone he picked up. So far, we love it.

Most observers (masons included) now think we should cover the whole house with stone. Albeit the stone is free, but digging it out of the ground and paying a mason to lay it is not, so for most of the house we have decided to only go about 5 1/2 feet above the 1st floor (7 feet above grade) with the stone and then cap it with a thin layer of pitch faced stone. Above this will be stucco. (The window sill and capstones weren't mortared yet when this photograph was taken)

The highest hill on our farm is about 1100 feet above sea level, and the lowest creek is about 650 feet above sea level. Steep hills mean crappy farmland, poor roads, and low real estate prices, but it also means that a lot of geological time is represented in the layers of rock within the hills, and there are a lot of rock types to chose from. Due to the iron content, most of the stones here are tan, brown and rust colored, but we are fortunate to have several thin veins of blue stone as well. I picked up big slabs of blue stone out of the creek and faced them with a chisel to create the window sill and cap stones. Using a Stihl chop saw and a diamond blade, the masons cut the blue stones to exactly the right depth after I faced them. I put the extra capstones on an empty slate pallet and they look store-bought-- perhaps some day I can sell stones like this. My 9 yr. old son thinks they look like styrofoam, and I must admit to having the same thought - I guess we've been jaded by so much fake stuff in this world.

We decided to leave an airspace between the SIP walls and the stone wall (evident in this last photo) in case moisture should ever get through the stone wall. This also let the mason lay stones as deep as 8" and as shallow as 3". The bluestone caps had to be 9" to 10" to cover the top of the air gap as well as the top of the stone wall. Of course, every-so-often, there's a wall tie screwed to the SIP, and occasionally a stone touches the SIP - to give the wall extra support. The wall ties can move up and down a little - enough, I hope, to accommodate my still-drying sill timbers. Where possible, we screw the wall ties to 2x4's within the SIP, or even better, to timbers on the other side of the SIP. The masons are using S-type cement in the mortar which is considerably stronger than regular N-type cement typically used for blockwork.

More stone age chronicles to come...


Post a Comment

<< Home