Stone Walls
Daniel J. Dyke

During the depression many stone walls were built in the city of Cincinnati out of natural materials for the purpose of creating jobs.  Many of these still stand and are in active service until this day, but sadly they are reaching the end of their life either because they are in disrepair or they are not structurally sound or at least that is what we are told by city officials.  This is a blessing to the home owner as we can usually get the stone for free if he hauls it off.  I have been terracing my back yard with stone from various private and municipal deconstruction projects.

Well, how do I build a stone wall?

Step #1: A PLAN

A Dutchman doesn't go to the bathroom without a plan and so this Dutchboy is telling you his.  There are four things that need to be decided up front.  The first is the shape of the base of the wall.  To do this cut a piece of paper that fits in the area where the wall is going and use it as your pattern in step #3.  The height of the wall is next.  Conceptualize this in your mind by remembering a person is a little over 2" tall.  Do you want the wall taller or shorter than a person?  The third thing is the size of the stone.  This technique does not work well for walls constructed from relatively small stones.  The last thing is the color.  Is this wall going to be grayish, brownish or what?


The main material for this is the insulation foam board.  You can use either the pink or the blue stuff.  I pick mine up at construction sites as I don't need much and they throw it away.  I prefer the blue as it has denser texture.


On a flat side of the foam board I draw the base and cut ONLY the front surface out.  The back of the wall is not cut out until the end because you want some substance left in the material so you can push and cut on it and not break it.  I do my cutting with a bandsaw which leaves a nice smooth surface to work with.  There are cheap bandsaws from places like Homier orHarbor Freight, but a fine toothed hack saw blade can be used as well if you go slowly.

After the front of the wall is cut out, the stone pattern is drawn on the wall on the front, top, and sides with a ball point pen.  The pen itself will leave a depression and that is fine as this is to represent the joints between the stone.


A razor knife is used to cut each joint between the stones.  A single edge razor blade works just as well and on some parts better.  Remember to keep your knife sharp as they can go dull and not cut.

After all the visible cuts are made the back side of the wall is cut free from the main piece of foam.  The pillars at the end of the wall are a different width than the main wall and so the first cut is made at this thickness.  Once the wall is free I cut the wall a second time at the thickness of the wall.

From the left over piece I will make the opposite side of my fence and gateway.

A Popsicle stick or any blunt object can be used to press on the foam to expand the joints and give the rock texture.  I often do this while watching TV and just use the end of the finger.


The first step is to take the wall's primary color which must be a water based paint and mix it with water so that it flows into cracks, but will still cover.  This requires trial and error but if you get it a little thing add extra paint.

My belief is that stone walls are wonderful because the don't have to be perfect and in fact the imperfections are a part of the beauty of things.  Note that in the following picture there are five areas circled.  The one on the top left was a dent that was in my insulation and was left there to imitate uneven rock. The area circled on the top right and the one on the bottom left were blocks that were cut out with a razor blade and glued back in with Elmers Glue to imitate rocks that have shifted.  The dent in the center and the one on the bottom right are places where I pushed with the popsicle stick too aggressively and a chunk broke off.  Real walls have all sorts of imperfections like this and so mistakes can be viewed as features that were planned!


The method I suggest for a first time user is to buy a scenery painting kit from an electric train store and follow the directions.  The basic method is to paint the wall with one or more coats of the primary color and to dry brush or rub on other shades and colors.  Dry brushing is where you dip your brush in a color and wipe it off on a piece of scrap until the brush is leaving only a little paint behind.  On method I use is to progressively darken and lighten small amounts my base color with just a touch of another shade.  If you see the brush strokes too plainly just take a damp rag and rub that area.  If you screw the thing up, let it dry and start over.


You can obviously glue the thing down with Elmers Glue.  I use Elmers because it does not dissolve the foam.  A second way is to attack it to a piece of wood or plastic as in the following illustration.

The advantage of this is that if you want to move something or you build a new track the scenery can be moved with little damage as in the above piece which will see service on its second racetrack.  Just staple the plastic down and cover with ground cover or an object.  In this piece I will staple the piece down, attach the wall, and then fill in around the wall with ground cover.


This makes nice scenery that is cheap and uses construction techniques and materials which are within most people's ability and means.  If you have problems, suggestions or whatever please feel free to write me at  There are more wall types to come and updates to this article as well.

For more information on walls go here

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