Stone Masonry in Portland- Why So Expensive?

by Ben Bowen

Why Does Stone Work Cost So Much?

Note: this post was revised 9/22/16 and now includes some very interesting comments from a true stone mason, Matt Goddard of Poetry In Stone. You will find his thoughts on the struggle and commitment involved in working with stone here in Portland in the middle of the post (along with some pictures of his work and diagrams that illustrate his struggle)..

A couple times a month I get a simple request. Pure stone masonry- nothing else. The potential client is requesting a stone path, a drystack basalt wall, or a bluestone patio.

Stone paths or patios may be simple, they are definitely beautiful. One thing they are not? Cheap.

Of all the landscape services we offer, stone elements are most frequently beyond the budget of a potential client. The reason concrete pavers and retaining wall systems exist? Because the real deal (stone) is so expensive!

Ok, stone masonry can be a budget buster. Why? Two primary reasons:

  1. The material. Stone is not cheap. Slate, flagstone, and ledgestone are especially costly. Here is the other thing about stone as a material: each piece is different. So to build with stone you have to bend it to your will- there is no "system". Stone is not modular, not soft, and not easy to work with (which is why pavers exist). Do you have a "Brilliant Jerk" in your office? Yeah, stone is that guy.
  2. Skill. Working with stone is not easy (see point 1). The people who do it well, like our two stone masons, are highly skilled. Our head stone mason has been working with stone for over 20 years, first with Kurisu International and now with us. In a city the size of Portland I would bet that there are less than 50 people who can really work with stone. And guess what? When you hire them to work for you they get paid accordingly.

The Challenge of Stone Masonry

Why is stone masonry so difficult? Why are there are so few true masons in the Pacific Northwest? Matt Goddard emailed me after reading this post about the challenges he faces, and I have included some of his thoughts here:

I am glad that someone in the local industry stood up for our fringe vocation. I think you could even elaborate further with mention of the pure gravity of the material, the long visioned time commitment, patience, dust inhaling, back burning, finger smashing, ligament ripping, weather soaked, saw deafening, equipment busting struggle.

Not to mention the cultural hurdles of a predominantly timber oriented building culture within a fast, cheap, streamlined modular assembly building culture... the prevailing value system leaves little room for the stonemason to thrive in the modern world... and I think your # of 50 true adept stonemasons regionally is high.

 I do think that the east coast benefits from a wider range of usable geology, a more entrenched history of stone architecture, stone masonry... Here in [PDX] we are literally sitting on an ocean of good building material that is under utilized due to lack of dedicated infrastructure.

If you look at a resource and service to the end of it’s usable lifespan, stone is as “green” and cost effective as any material. You have to possess the “long vision”.

 Regardless, it is a beautiful struggle. I am proud to call my self a stonemason. 

Artist, Artisan, or Craftsman? An interesting conversation.

What Does Stone Masonry Cost?

The initial investment is just that, and investment. The figures and pictures below may give you a rough idea of the budget needed for your project.

And if you can't? Don't despair. We also offer hardscaping utilizing pavers, concrete, gravel, and wood. In some applications these are even superior choices.

Ross NW Watergardens is happy to schedule a free consultation to help you decide.

Cost of common masonry elements in Portland Oregon:

Bluestone Patio or Walkway. Set on sand these can be $28-$38 per square foot. Setting the bluestone on concrete will add at least $10 per square foot.

Stone Wall. Varies greatly by style, height, and site conditions. These ledgestone walls were $30,000.00 (and would be over $50,000.00 in 2018). Veneered stone walls, like these ones in Lake Oswego, are a little less costly. A boulder wall can be even less.

Stone Fire Pit. A simple stone fire pit, about 4' across can be $2500-$4500.

Stone Fireplace. A custom stone fireplace is $7000 and up.

Need to look at, or buy, some natural stone? Here are some Portland area stone supply yards!