Q and A - Dry Stone Walling and Certification
In response to a recent inquiry about stone walling and the DSWA testing scheme:
My professional walling life began in 1976. I became a member of the DSWA in 1986 when I spent a summer "dyking" in Scotland. I didn't start with the testing scheme until 1994, when again on a trip to Scotland I passed the Intermediate. I passed the Advanced and Mastercraftsman test in 2001 here in the USA. I guess that makes me slow to move through the scheme. I know others who have done the entire scheme in a year or two.
I think it's a personal decision as to how to go about it. It's worth remembering that the test compares your work to a standard. The stockproof-fence style of wall used for the test may not be one you'll ever build in your professional life, so it would be a help to prepare by either working in an area that has those types of walls or practice on walls that conform to those outlined in the test scheme.
Because it's a timed test it's important to be able to put up the required amount in the seven hours allotted. An incomplete stint can't be fully marked by the examiner so it receives a fail. It's better to do less than perfect work, and get passable marks for it, than to do a sterling job but only get it partially completed.
The Initial test is forgiving in the respect that it's not marked on "line and straightness". If the test applicant shows an understanding of the basic principles and can get the stint done in the time allotted they can achieve passing marks relatively easily.
The Intermediate test is often thought to be the most difficult of the four levels because it's the first time that both a battered wall face and a plumb cheekend are encountered. Keeping those two elements rising accurately and at the same time creating a pair of right-angle corners is a complicated task.
The Advanced and Mastercraftsman tests require progressively more refined craftsmanship but the objects made are not that much more difficult to achieve than the Intermediate test cheekend.
Good luck with your walling work. Keep your standards high, the jobs will come.