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The Masonry Portion of the Foundation Nears Completion


Weeks ago, I called many local quarries to price stones because I was worried that the stones we had were too oddly-shaped and lacking in large stones to complete the foundation.  The sales reps from each of the quarries would ask why I needed the stones, I would tell them I was building a stone foundation.  Each would then discuss the specs of the various stones in terms of square foot coverage per ton.  I ask whether they could give me the specs in terms of cubic feet.  Pause.  Cubic feet?  Yes, I'm building a foundation out of stone.  You mean you're pouring cement and then covering it with a facade of stone?  No, I'm building an 18" thick foundation out of stone.  Nobody does that any more, son.  Really?  Nope.  No one?  No one that we know of.  I found this strange, a bit sad and somewhat scary.  Strange because you see so many stone foundations in older buildings, but no one builds stone foundations anymore in this country because they are prohibitively expensive in terms of materials and labor.   How quickly it became obsolete.  Sad because this age-old tradition is dying, its advocates and practitioner seem to be limited to a handful hobbyists, and it is being replaced by dishonest and dispiriting facades.  Scared because what the hell am I doing and am I in over my head.  I was given hope, however, because each of the sales reps seemed genuinely interested in my project and was excited for me.  Facade is quickly becoming my least favorite word.

Stone masonry is more difficult work than I imagined it would be, and I imagined it would be difficult.  There are, however, amongst the frustrations of finger-smashing and hours of stone-hunting, both producing much angry self-muttering, moments of inexplicable peace and joy when a tried-stone fits just right.  This produces happy self-muttering.  And while these moments and progress towards a realized Boden-Haus make the overall experience a pleasurable one for me, the work leaves me incredibly tired.  Tired, not just from the obvious physical demands of working with heavy stones, but also and perhaps more so from the mental energy required in stonework.  A day spent searching for and mentally rotating stones, analyzing the wall's joints, and planning how to develop the wall is as taxing on the mind as any day I spent at work or in school.  Basically, it's a 15+ ton puzzle.  Fortunately, I have always liked puzzles, and my friend, Sean, a stonemason with years of experience, helped me get started.  


Sean completed this portion of the foundation in one Sunday afternoon.  It would have taken me three days.  Just look how happy he is doing this.

Teacher and Pupil

While I'd read a few old-timey books on building stone (rubble) foundations, was familiar with terms and had a rough idea of how to do it, Sean's visit was worth 787.2 billion words.  Although this was the first time in his five years of stone masonry that he'd worked on an actual stone foundation, he was so skilled at laying the stones and his understanding of and ability to work with stones and mortar gave me confidence (i.e., okay, this can be done), and he showed me important guidelines and tips for building this foundation.  While he said he enjoyed himself, he did say that he hoped his next visit was restricted to company and a cookout.

So, after 2.5 weeks, here are some more photos of the current state of the foundation.  Robert, Rachel, Jacob (Rachel's brother), Michelle (Jacob's girlfriend), and Kate (Rachel's sister) have all contributed hours of their time to this project, and their work is greatly appreciated. If all goes as planned, it will be finished in the next 10 days.  After which time, I will cap it and the rammed earth portion will begin!


16 inches above the outside ground, 27 inches overall.

A view through the doorway to the completed wall.

A view down the wall.

Another through the doorway.


Me standing on the wall.

The doorway.

Reader Comments (10)

It's beautiful! There's one stone in particular that looks especially well-set. Bravo to whoever did that one!!

June 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJess

Lookin' good Aaron. Gives you a new appreciation for what our grandparents and beyond went through. Can you imagine building a 5 mile stone fence like you see in the Kentucky hills? Can't wait to see the rest of the project. Congrats on what you've done so far.

June 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEd Irvin

This looks fantastic, it reminds me of all these old houses in south Frances villages in the country side - they seem to have been standing there since ever and have been exactly those withstanding everything... who could imagine a ruin out of drywall?? there wouldn't be much left after a few years.... congrats - this is very impressive!!

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

My brother....helpful? Knows what he's doing? That's so......I mean.....are you sure it was him? But really, it looks cool. I'll look forward to seeing it come together.

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEric West

my back hurts just looking at all the stones!! absolutely amazing job!

congrats on losing the beard... you were starting to resemble a wookie.

June 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterregina

Well done baby bro! You are certainly earning our family name. Love ya!

June 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

Impressed, dear nephew. Hope to come down and see it first-hand. I said "SEE" not "WORK ON" it. Love ya, Uncle Warren

June 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUncle Warren

Looks great Aaron. When it is finished and filled with baked goods I would love to see it.

June 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBryce

When the roof of sod is installed the house will be finished, will you have to put a grass eating critter on the roof to keep it from growing into an unsightly mess?
What kind of grass eating critters are available in TN for this maintenance?
Like my brother Warren, I am interested in seeing the completed house, particularly after the bakers have learned to use it to bake goodies.


June 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDad

Reading that your building project i to be a 10'x10' building reminds me of the book, Hojoki, the classic Japanese work by Kamo No Chomei, and written in 1212.
In English, the title may be translated as "My 10' by 10' Hut, or variations of that.

Hojoki Wiki:

You can download the short book here:

It's definitely worth reading.


July 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris Green

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