2005 - Volume #29, Issue #2, Page #09[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
"Easy" Ways To Put Up Stone Walls
"I would like to see much greater use of stone, since it is such a long lasting and beautiful material," Elpel says. "Old-style stone work was done completely free-form, usually using poles with strings as guides to ensure the wall was straight."
In contrast, most modern stone masonry is attached as a veneer on the surface of concrete or block walls. The problem with this, says Elpel, is that sometimes the veneered stone separates from its supporting wall over time.
In addition to tilt-up stone work, Elpel has perfected a method called "slip forming" which he says anyone can use to put up a quality store wall, even if you have no previous experience.
While slip forming may take a little longer than pouring a concrete wall and adding a veneer, Elpel says the cost is lower and the quality is higher.
"With slip forming you don't have to have the skill it takes to do the traditional hand-laid stone work," he explains. "With this system, you're using forms on both sides of the wall. You place the rock against the outside forms and pour concrete in behind it. It's up to you if you want a stone face on both sides of the wall, or just one. Rebar is used to properly reinforce the walls."
"With slip forming, you fill short forms (up to two feet tall) with stone and concrete, then slip the forms up for the next level," he says. "It makes stone work easy, even for the novice. It results in a random or ærubble-stone' appearance, without the uniform joints or sharp, clean lines of most modern masonry."
Although slipforming isn't a new idea, Elpel came up with a number of his own innovations.
He says slipforming is comparatively messy, "and you will often find cement drips permanently adhered to the face of the rocks when you remove the forms. But these stains giving the stone work an "antiqued" appearance." He says he rarely removes the drips, although he could.
Elpel and his brother, Nick, produced a step-by-step video of their slipforming techniques, and Thomas included an in-depth section about it in a book he authored, called Living Homes: Integrated Design & Construction.
After building a couple of homes using the easy but still labor-intensive slipform method, Elpel started dreaming of ways to mass produce highly efficient stone houses using modern technology. Tilt-up stone masonry seemed like a logical choice, and his brother Nick figured out how to do it.
The solution was to pour stone walls flat on the ground and set them in place with a crane.
Tilt-up stone masonry is faster than slipforming and eliminates the joints between sections.
Elpel emphasizes that tilt-up work is not for beginners. It requires an experienced carpenter and mason, and it is really suited for mass-production, where the same forms are used again and again.
"For one thing, you will not save any money on materials versus the slipform method described earlier, because there is just as much concrete, and usually more rebar, in a tilt-up stone wall, versus a slipformed stone wall. Lifting the stone walls is also dangerous," he adds.
"Nevertheless, for the experienced builder, or someone who wants to make numerous copies of a single structure, tilt-up construction may be the way to go. With the appropriate building site and a set of plans optimized for that site, there would be a definite savings with tilt-up stone work. More importantly, you can build a low-maintenance structure that will truly withstand the test of time."
Tilt-up construction is discussed more specifically in Elpel's book as well, as well as on his website.
His book is available for $30 plus S&H, and the 1-hr. 50-min. VHS video (also available on DVD) about slip-forming costs $25 plus S&H.
Elpel will be offering slipform stone masonry classes several times this year, the first ones beginni
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