For a seating area, to hold up a slope or to give a naturalized look, a dry stack retaining wall is easier to build than it looks

dry stack retaining wall
A dry stack retaining wall is built of multiple layers of flat rock laid on top of each other with each successive layer gradually inching inward so that the top layer is a bit narrower than the base.

It is this tapering of layers that give it stability.

There is no mortar or other adhesive material used in this type of wall and therefore, it is inherently porous.

Because any excess water that may build up behind it can escape through the spaces in the stone, you don’t get the cracking you can get with a brick and mortar wall.

Keep in mind the excess water can easily escape through the spaces of a dry stack retaining wall but SO CAN DIRT.
It may be one of the prettier retaining walls but it is not the most efficient. You could line the inside of the wall with landscape fabric to help hold the dirt in yet still let the water through. Just something to keep in mind.

  • Measuring tape
  • Level
  • Shovel
  • Rubber mallet


  • String and stakes
  • Spray paint
  • Gravel
  • Flat stone
  • Gloves
  • Landscape fabric to hold back the dirt

The person supplying your stone will be able to help you estimate how much stone you will need when you tell him the dimensions.
The gravel will be spread out as wide as the base of the wall and 4 inches deep along the entire length. Again, your stone supplier will help you with the quantity estimate.

Make sure the gloves you’re using are pretty heavy duty. Even with gloves, your hands will take a beating. You will be sore the next day if your wall is of any size, but again, you will have done it yourself and with the pain here, is a lot to gain.

You will start to build a retaining wall by staking it’s outline using with the string and then spraying it out with the spray paint.
Go with a 2 foot width for every 3 feet in height. So a 3 foot high wall will have a 2 foot base. You will taper it off 2 inches for every foot in height for stability, so the 3 foot wall will be 6 inches narrower at the top than at the base of the dry stack retaining wall.

dig a trench
Dig a trench 8 inches deep within the outline you marked and fill it with 4 inches of gravel. This will give the stone good support and provide drainage as well.

Lay a stone that can span the width of the wall every 4-5 feet at the base. Starting at the front of the wall, begin laying stones perpendicular to the base stones and then do a row in the back of the wall.
Fill in larger gaps with smaller or broken stones and tap them into place with the rubber mallet. Keep the stones as level as you can.

Each successive layer should taper in by the amount you calculated at the beginning of the project.

Sorting the sizes and shapes of the stones at the onset will keep the project moving at a good pace. Don’t expect everything to look uniform; it is the casual, natural look that makes this dry stack retaining wall look beautiful.

If you can lay the topmost layer with just one stone to span the width, it makes for a nice seating area as well.
Occasionally, you’ll have to adjust some of the top layers since they’ll shift a bit especially if you sit on them a lot but overall, this is a very low maintenance wall to keep.

Check out our information on a wood retaining wall to compare.