Build A Mortarless Retaining Stone Wall

What You'll Need
Flat-nose shovel
Garden spade
String level and stakes
Carpenters level
Hand tamper

A retaining wall can add curb appeal and value to your home. By carefully following these steps, you can make your own beautiful stone wall that will last for decades.

Step 1-Design the Wall

Plan, plan, plan! Measure the area, make a sketch. Consider any openings or curves. Lay a hose to test your layout. Keep in mind that you may have to check with your local municipality before building a mortarless wall, although often you don’t need approvals for walls under three feet high.

Step 2-Choose the Stones

Whether you want the wall to look layered or random, you will want each stone to have a generally flat “top” and “bottom” so they stack well. Get a variety of sizes so you have some large flat ones for the bottom row and the top row or “cap.”  The rest of the stones can either be of similar size or varying sizes, depending on the look you want.  

Step 3-Calculate

Bring your wall measurements and sketches to the stoneyard so a stonecutter can help you calculate how many stones you need.

Step 4-Lay Out the Wall and Trench

Lay out the wall contour with hose, string, etc. Dig a trench deep enough for at least half the stone’s height. The first course needs to be a firm foundation for the following rows; the rule of thumb is the depth of the base of a stone wall should be half the wall’s height.  So for a 3 foot wall the base should be 18 inch deep. Get the trench as level as possible, and sweep away any loose dirt so your first course has the most solid footing it can have.

Carve away the slope behind the trench so you will have space to work.  You’ll use this soil to fill back in as you go.

    Step 5-Lay Out the Stones

    Lay some of your largest, widest stones first to make a solid base for the wall. The stones should be generally level with the horizon and with each other. They should also fit together snugly. Fill the excavated slope back in after this row (and after every row), using soil and small stones. Tamp the fill to “cement” the stones in place.

    Step 6-Place Second Stone Layer

      Lay the next course, whether it’s random or layered, so that the stones are staggered. Avoid having spaces directly above one another. Make sure you “step back” each succeeding row slightly so that the wall leans back into the slope.

      Step 7-Reverse Stones

      Continue laying courses, fitting the stones as you go and aiming for the greatest stability possible. When the wall is half its total height, for the next course add occasional stones laid the long way rather than the wide way so that they are set into the dirt of the slope. These “deadmen” will improve the integrity of the wall with the slope. The guideline on deadmen is one per 16 feet of wall face.

      Step 8-Lay Flat Stones

      Finish the wall with another row of large flat stones to serve as the top or “cap” of the wall. The more substantial these stones are, the better they anchor the wall.

      Step 9-Landscape

        To further integrate the wall, plant ground cover, flowers or vines behind and in the spaces of the wall. The roots, as they grow, tie the soil together.