A dry stone or dry stacked stone fireplace, for many of us, is the ultimate fireplace surround. Carefully assembled by human hands, the placement of each stone reflects the skill and artistry of its creator. Each hand-crafted surround is truly unique and -- in many instances -- a veritable work of art!
Stone Hearth pictured above by Peace Design
dry stone is a building method by which structures are con-
structed from stones without any mortar to bind them together. In practice, however, the stones used
to build a stacked stone fireplace -- though assembled tightly together -- sometimes allow for a very narrow mortared bed joint that is raked back deeply into the stone work so the mortar is undetectable.
The practice of dry stacking stone goes back thousands of years, in many parts of the world, and was often used to erect retaining walls and field boundaries or fences to contain livestock. The strength of a dry stacked wall relies on the weight of the stones and friction between each stone to those around it. Very strong and long lasting walls can be built with this method, with some existing English Cornish "hedges" believed to date back to 4000 B.C. or before. To build an enduring wall, care must be taken to make sure it's on a solid base, the stones fit tightly together, and basic rock wall building techniques are adhered to.
There are several methods of constructing dry stone walls, depending on the quantity and type of stones
available. Most older walls are construc-
ted from stones and boulders cleared from the fields during preparation for agriculture (field stones), but some were also erected from stone quarried nearby. Thousands of miles of such walls continue to exist, many of them centuries old.
While the dry stone technique was generally used for field enclosures and retaining walls, including the attractive undulating wall pictured below, left, it has been utilized in a multitude of other ways, as well. For example, the benches around the fire pit in the photo below, right, employ dry stone bases capped with large stone slabs for seating.
In addition, it has also been used for buildings, such as shown in the two storybook cottages pictured below.
Since at least the Middle Ages, some bridges capable of carrying horse or carriage traffic have been constructed using dry stone techniques. The beautiful arched example pictured below is of much more recent origin and was constructed in Ontario by members of the Dry Stone Wall Association of Canada in 2007.
One of today's finest stacked stone fireplace artisans is Lew French, who resides on Martha's Vineyard. The design pictured below, with a close-up on the right, is a striking example of his artistry!
Dry stone or dry stacked stone fireplace designs can be created from vir-
tually any stone type, shape, size and color . . . . in nearly any configura-
tion. As shown in the following examples, the stones can range from small river stones in varying colors carefully assembled in a symmetrical arrange-
ment (below left) . . . . . to large monochromatic stone blocks arranged in a random, asymmetric manner for a much more rustic look (below right).
The following two designs, crafted from river rock and beach pebbles, are perfect for a small beach cottage . . . . .
while the monumental designs pictured below, crafted from massive round boulders or large rectangular blocks of cut stone, are right at home in a sprawling mountain lodge.
Outdoors, as with dry stone walls, a stacked stone fireplace is a perfect complement to the surrounding
scape. The unique design pictured
at right is from Champlain Stone . . .
. . . while the more traditional design shown below was created by mem-
bers of the Dry Stone Wall Associa-
tion of Canada.
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