Shopping for Rocks

March 8, 2012 — 9 Comments

Sounds kind of stupid right…Shopping for Rocks?

Let me explain…my wife and I decided that it was time to add a stone patio over the giant dust bowl that has become the area right outside the backdoor of our house.

Dust bowlCurrent dust bowl backyard

new deckProposed new stone patio

For some reason I have serious reservations about buying rocks.  I grew up on a farm in the middle of a desert that was filled with rocks.  If I wanted, I could walk outside, pick up a rock and keep it.  I don’t ever remember my dad sitting me down and saying “Son, when you get older, you are going to be in need of a stone patio and you will have to pay for rocks”.  Yeah, don’t remember that one, but here I am.  So, I did a little google search and found the closest stone yard for us to go check out the goods.

For some reason stone distributors are all huddled together in the same part of town (kind of like strip clubs usually are)…and in Dallas, the stone yards and the strip clubs are huddled together. So if you’re ever out shopping for stone you know that there’s probably a cheap buffet nearby (don’t buy the drinks, that’s where they make all of their money).

stone yardCheck out that awesome pile of rocks


Here is a couple of things that I learned on my field trip.

– There are 4 basic types of stone…

ledge stone Ledge Stone (long thin and randomly shaped)


fieldstoneFieldstone (random shapes and sizes)


chopped stoneChopped Stone (rectangular random sizes)


flagstoneFlagstone (flat and irregular, mainly used for walkways and patios)


– Everything is measured and sold by the ton (much to contrary belief, they don’t sell gravel by the pebble).

– Stone costs vary considerably…at the place I visited they had stone from $100 a ton to $890 a ton.  I’m sure these prices will vary by region as well.  If you live next door to a quarry I am sure you’ll find it cheaper.  If you live in a quarry then you probably don’t need a stone patio to begin with.

– Flagstone comes in 2 thicknesses, thin at 1 ½” and thick at 2” – 2-1/2”.  Thin stone is typically more expensive per ton because it is more costly to remove from the quarry (or so the guy trying to up-sell said) however it weighs less than thicker stone resulting in more surface area per ton.

– Thin stone typically yields about 100-150 sq ft per ton and thick stone covers 70-100 sq ft per ton.  Your local supplier will have more specific estimates based on the stone.

Have you ever wanted your own boulder? I found out that this place sells boulders too!


This picture doesn’t really do these rocks justice….most of them are around 3′ wide and some are up to 6′ wide.  And if you’ve ever wanted to know how much a boulder costs, well, these stones start at $150 and go on up from there.


This trip was a great opportunity for me to see what stone products are locally available and it will help me make appropriate stone recommendations on future projects.  I suggest you go check out your local stone yard.

If I would have known how much rocks sell for I would have started selling them when I was a kid.  At hundreds of dollars per ton it depresses me to know that I use to literally throw dollars worth of rocks at my sister every day.


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  • Heather Large

    We bought an unfinished/unappreciated house last year and spent all of our summer trying to collect rocks from under the back deck, the side deck, around the shed, from (multiple) fire pits, around the driveway… you get the idea. Despite how beautiful and ultimately useful the stones in your post are, I couldn’t help but have a flashback to the anxiety of all… those… rocks. Good luck with your patio project. And if you need more rocks I know where you can get some (I’ll give them to you for free!). You just have to drive to Maine first. 😉

  • Paradigmgallery

    I am chuckling as usual when reading your posts and I particularly love this one.  I have a weird affinity to rocks, and they are useful for color palettes, and textures. 
    If you have a minute to see a true stone guru check out Eben Armer

    • Scott Taylor

      That is awesome.  Does he build those walls or does he hire the masons from Cuzco?

  • architectrunnerguy

    Looks like you have a nice project coming. A while back I built a 5’X55′ front walk for my house. By the time I got over the learning curve, the project was complete and I would never do another stone project again.
    Here it is (not the best shot of the walk but it’s all I have):

    First: Be sure to keep the joints all the same width and try to use as large as flagstone as possible. Try not to use little pieces to keep the joints the same width as these will look like “islands” in a river.

    Second: When you get the pallets, empty them all out and spread the stone all over the ground. When I started I just went to the top stones in the pallets (I had two) and it was hard to find the right shaped piece by limiting myself to the four or five stones on top. Once I spread them all around it went much better and faster.

    Third: If you place a stone on the morter bed (I had 4″ of conc. and then had a setting bed on top of that) and it doesn’t quite fit, clean off all the morter. That stone will inevitable be the exact one you need later and by then it will have dried morter all over it.

    Fourth: Do the edges first and work down and towards the center (my pallets had a percentage of stone with one straight edge).

    Fifth: If there’s a step (I had two. One at the door and one at the stoop you can barely see in the photo), make the riser by having the edge of the flagstone exposed. Do not lay it up with the face exposed. Doing the former will give the riser visual depth and won’t look like a cheap veneer. Allow about 6″ depth for the riser stones when you construct your conc. bed. 

    Sixth: Before starting, look for the thickest stones and set your setting bed to accommodate that. The only way to get a level walk is to vary the setting bed depth for each stone.

    I found I didn’t have to cut or modify many stones. It’s like putting together a big puzzle. Just a matter of finding the right piece.

    Another project was a 3′ high dry stacked stone wall (no morter) but I’ll save that for another time.
    Good luck!

    • Scott Taylor

      Great tips…I am still trying to figure out if this is something I can handle or if I should watch the sub contractors intently so I can figure it out for next time.

      • architectrunnerguy

        You can do it. The best thing architects can do for themselves is to get their hands dirty. Hey we had Bob painting his walls didn’t we? There’s something about “doing” that that puts things in perspective.


  • architectrunnerguy

    Edit won’t let me delete (had trouble with the photo). Should be below.

  • Another awesome post with great information mixed with humor.  🙂

    • Scott Taylor

       I hope I wasn’t too racy.