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How to build a miniature dry stone arch

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Build a support with cardboard or half of a large plastic pipe. Gather stones that can be used as two springers, voussoirs, and a keystone. Extra cardboard can help as wedges. Then try building a mini dry stone arch. This tutorial by 10-year-old Nell Curran demonstrates all of the details.

Dry stone arches don’t use any kind of mortar, and Nell has clearly practiced. Don’t expect your arch to hold together the first time. Adjust your rocks and try again and again.

parts of a stone arch
This tutorial was shared by The Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland, a volunteer organization dedicated to promoting the art, craft, science, and long history of the construction technique. Their annual Miniature Walling Festival, called the Féile na gCloch or Festival of Stone, is online in 2021 and shares additional tutorials and tips, as well as a wide variety of photo examples.

a labeled stone arch
Some dry stone arch history from

“Arches are curved entrances or support structures. The Romans first developed stone arches thousands of years ago and they’ve been used in architecture ever since. You’ve probably seen stone arches used on railroad bridges and as decorative elements in gardens and yards.

“To build an arch, you start with two low wall sections of equal height on either side of a gap that’s the planned width of the arch. Then, use a wooden form, a half-circle cut in the desired curve of the final arch, as a support. Beginning at the wall edges, build up along the sides with wedge-shaped stones. If you don’t have wedged-shaped stones, use flat stones and place smaller flat stones at their outer ends to serve as wedges. Work on each side, bringing them closer together. The wooden form keeps everything in place while you work. When you get to the top, you place the most important stone, which is called the keystone. It’s the center stone of the arch that holds the structure together. The keystone, when placed correctly, locks the other stones in position. Then, you remove the wood support and the arch remains standing.”

removing the supports on the dry stone arch
Watch these arch and engineering videos next:
• How to make Leonardo da Vinci’s self-supporting bridge
Fun with Arches, a series of engineering demonstrations
• Red PaperBridge, a temporary installation
• Every Bridge For Every Situation, Explained By an Engineer

h/t @Kottke.

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