How to Build With Natural Stone

Natural stone construction dates thousands of years and is still a popular and effective way to build walls, paths or anything that you want to last. Natural stone structures are typically built without mortar unless they will carry heavy loads.

Stone construction can be low cost and very long lasting.

Although ancient Egyptians and Mayans built large stone structures without mortar, modern construction codes require mortar in most stone structures, especially buildings. Smaller structures, such as stone walls, can still be built without mortar.

  1. Select the type of stone you wish to use for your structure. If you are buying stone from a home store or masonry dealer select stone of manageable size and weight. To calculate the amount of stone you will need, multiply the length of the wall by its width and height (plus six inches). The result is the approximate amount of stone you will need in cubic feet. If you are taking stone from a natural source you may be limited by the amount and size of available materials.

  2. Separate the stones into piles by category. Make piles of square stones, flat stones, angled stones, large stones and rounded stones. These piles will make stone selection and fitting simpler and faster during the construction process. Use a string and two stakes to mark the true line of your wall.

  3. Dig a six-inch trench along the full structure footprint for a wall that will be 3.5 feet or shorter. Dig your trench 1 foot deep for taller structures. Spread a layer of gravel or rock chips along the bottom of the trench for drainage. Place the largest, flat-bottom stones into the trench to form a foundation which will give the wall strength and stability. For strong stone walls, make the base at least two large stones wide, with three or more being preferable. The wider the wall, the more stable and long lasting it will be.

  4. Build the wall upward from the foundation starting at one end and building a second layer of rock along the full length of the wall. With the second layer in place, start on the third layer and continue in the same process making sure not to go higher in any one spot. Use your separated piles to find rocks that fit into the gaps left by the previous layer, making the flattest layer possible. Save your flattest stones for the top layer of the wall.

  5. Use your flattest stones for the top layer of the wall. Set them on top to create an even, shelf-like top to your wall. Using several layers of offset flat stones on the top of the wall will create more strength and stability at the top of the structure.

  6. Tip

    Use a wheelbarrow to move your stone from trailer to building site or from natural source to site. Never overload or risk serious injury. Test the stability of your wall as you build. Test each layer by applying pressure to one side and then the other. Any loose materials will fall out and weak places in the wall will collapse. Rebuild and refit different stones to create more stability. If using marble, slate or other soft stones, you will be able to do some shaping with your hammer and chisel. Practice will provide you with the eye required to see which stones can be chipped or broken to fit the gaps you are trying to fill.


    Try not to use oversize stones in your structure. These stones are often too heavy to be managed easily and their use can result in serious injury. Wear a back brace to move large stones.

    Always wear eye protection when cutting or shaping stone. Chips can fly into your eyes and cause serious injury.