How to Build Stone Houses

By Brian Adler
Building a New England Stone Wall

Stone houses are extremely durable. They resist fire and many natural forces such as wind and water. They are also resistant to insects like termites. There are essentially two kinds of stone houses--those constructed from cut stone and those made from natural stone. These require different skills and techniques. You can use the steps below to build your own stone house.

First, you have to decide which kind of stone you want to use. With cut stone, you will be selecting a sturdy building stone that can be carefully shaped. This kind of construction is much like brick. Individual blocks of stone are fitted together to make walls and other structural elements like columns and cornices. You will need special stone-cutting tools to shape the blocks. Different stones require different cutting techniques. Some, like slate, can be split easily, while others, like granite, have to be cut more slowly. Modern equipment, such as hydraulic cutters, makes it possible to cut even the hardest stone in a short amount of time. Be careful what you choose--some stones do not last as long as others. Sandstone will wear down after years of rain, and limestone is affected by the pollution in the air.

Take your cut stone and get ready to assemble it. Mark where any unusually shaped pieces should go. It is kind of like assembling the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Start with the walls. Lines of stones should be set so the ends of the blocks on one row overlap with the ends of the blocks on the row below. This helps to balance the whole wall. You can either assemble your stones with mortar or without. Mortar acts almost like glue and cements the stones in place. If you do not use mortar, you must cut the stones with extreme precision. This way they will fit together so perfectly that their weight and position will keep them in place. Many old buildings were built so tightly out of stone that you cannot even fit a coin in between the blocks.

If you choose not to use cut stone, or ashlar, you need to go out and find natural rocks. This technique is often seen in the Eastern part of the country. You find lots of small stones and begin to pile them up in the form of a wall. You want small stones, but not pebbles. The stones should have some weight to them. Though it looks simple, this is actually a highly skilled process. In a wall of natural stone, all the pieces must be fitted together in such a way that the different shapes hold in those around them. As an example, you can use the stone walls that form the boundaries of some old farms and estates. You need to keep everything even. Don't leave rocks sticking out. And once a row is done, make sure you can't just pull out a stone from one of the rows below. Use smaller stones to fill in any gaps.

Use mortar if you want. Many of the walls in older stone houses were built without mortar, but it is difficult to fit the stones perfectly. Mortar will help to fill in any gaps and compensate for the varied shapes of the stones. It will also be easier to use mortar when it comes to building your floors and ceilings. Again, you do not have to use mortar, but then the stones must be fitted precisely.

Building a house with a stone ceiling or floor requires making a vault. A vault is, in effect, an arch that extends the entire length of the room. To build a vault you have to shape the stones so that they support each other at an angle. Their weight and the weight of the outer walls will hold them in place. You normally build the vault over a wooden form. When you are done, take the form away. If you did it right, the ceiling will stay where it is. If not, get out of the way and start over. You can make the vaults extra-secure by applying some mortar.

Warning

Be very careful with the stones you select and how you assemble them. Inferior stone will not support the required weight. And with natural stone, you must be certain the walls are secure. You do not want your walls to turn into a rock pile.

About the Author

Brian Adler has been writing articles on history, politics, religion, art, architecture and antiques since 2002. His writing has been published with Demand Studios, as well as in an online magazine. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Columbia University.