Build a Stacked Stone Wall in 5 Steps

Build your own stacked stone wall for retaining purposes or for a rustic aesthetic in your landscaping. Before you start designing and building your wall, consider how it will be used. Will it be a retaining wall, used to hold back a bank or earth around another yard feature? Retaining walls need other structures to anchor or secure them to the ground so they don't fall over under the pressure or weight of the ground behind them. Follow these steps to build a stacked stone wall, but remember to incoporate features like anchors and "dead-men" systems if it is a retaining wall.

Things You'll Need to Build Your Wall

  • Stakes
  • String
  • Stone
  • Hammer
  • Trenching tool

Step 1 - Lay Out Your Wall

Determine where your wall will go. Place a stake at each end of the wall and run a level string between the stakes as a guideline.

Step 2 - Lay Your Foundation

Using the staked string as a guide, dig a 6-inch deep trench as wide or wider than your selected stoneabout 12 inches for a wall up to 3 feet high. For walls up to 2 feet high, the width should be at least 12 inches wide.

To ensure your wall is structurally sound, the base of the wall should be equal to half of the height of the wall. So, a 4 foot wall would be 2 feet wide.

Step 3 - Lay the First Course of Wall

Place your largest stones along the wall outside the trench so you can see you have an even distribution of stones along the wall. Take your time and put your largest stones in the trench as flat, tight and level as possible. Begin building at the end of the wall that slopes most and build to the side up. These are your foundation stones and must be level and unmoving. Use a hammer to chip or shape edges so they fit and interlock as tightly as possible.  

Step 4 - Lay the Second and Third Course of Wall

Lay your second, third and fourth courses of stone, overlapping stones so you avoid creating any continuous horizontal or vertical joints.  Not only are straight joints nearly impossible to get right, they're structurally unsound.

Freestanding stone walls should be no taller than 3 feet, and dry-stacked stone walls higher than 3 feet tend to fall over with time.

If your wall is a retaining wall, create a continuous back leaning slope or face. Set each higher course of stone back about ½-inch from the layer beneath it. This keeps the earth from forcing the wall forward and out. Level and stabilize uneven or "tippy" stones with handfuls of crushed rock or small stones as you build the wall. Use your staked string and a level frequently to ensure your wall is plumb and level.

Step 5 - Topping the Stone Wall

Use large, flat stones to top off your wall for a more finished look.