Dry Stone Walling Association Initial Certificate

Oct 5th, 2014

Dry Stone Walling Association Initial Certificate – as I explained last time the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain’s craft certification scheme has been designed as a progressive scheme so that candidates can move through the different levels as their skills increase with experience. The entry level qualification is the Initial Certificate sometimes referred to as the Level One Certificate.

The DSWA Initial Certificate has been developed over many years to reflect a basic knowledge and practical understanding in the craft of dry stone walling. Any candidate attaining this level of certification has displayed that they are able to take down and rebuild two and a half square metres of dry stone wall to an acceptable standard in a seven hour period in the presence of one DSWA examiner.  “An acceptable standard” being a structurally sound, serviceable field boundary wall. As the  Initial Certificate is the entry level qualification the examiner will not be looking at the level of finish as much as in the higher qualifications but rather at the strength and durability of the structure. This emphasis on sound construction can be clearly seen by scrutinising the marking schedule for the test in the DSWA Craftsman Certification Scheme booklet (available at www.dswa.org.uk), here one can clearly see the marks for the foundations are extremely high as are the marks for the first and second lifts. Note there are no marks for batter or camber as these are not considered as important at this level, although the examiner will make an allowance for the overall finish of the work in the marks given for the first and second lifts, there is also an element of finish within the cope stone marks.

As with all the DSWA tests it is important to be prepared for the test day, obviously you need to be at a skill level that will allow you to gain that level of certification. Hopefully your instructor or mentor would be able to advise you when you would be ready for the test, further to this you will need to be familiar with working to string lines and having the correct tools available. On the day arrive on the test site in good time; this will allow you to settle in to the day and be well prepared in advance. If you are not familiar with the site have a look round and familiarise yourself with the stone and how the walls look; is there a local style, how are the coping stones laid, do the through stones protrude, etc?

Once the test has commenced it is important to strip the wall out as quickly as possible, as it is a timed test you will need as much time as possible to spend re-building. Always make sure you are working safely; this does not apply only to yourself, you must also be aware of other candidates working in your vicinity. Always keep your work area free from stone and debris and remove tools and equipment from under your feet when not in use, marks are awarded  and deducted for general approach and safety. When you have completed any element of the wall do not wait for the examiners to come and mark it, keep working on the next element. Remember you are working against the clock, it is the examiners responsibility to keep up with the marking. Always aim to be at the through stone level at lunch break or halfway through the allotted time, this is a good indication that you are on track to finish on time. Try to pace your work so as to make best use of the time available to you, there is no benefit in finishing an hour early when you could have utilised that time to produce a better wall, but also bear in mind it is important to finish as an unfinished wall cannot be marked and therefore will fail. As with all DSWA timed tests if the marks for any one section of the wall fall below half marks the test is deemed as a fail. This is due to the fact that if any one component of the wall is of poor quality it would then compromise the structure as a whole, so try to be consistent. If at any time during the test you are unsure of something or require help or guidance speak to the test site co-ordinator or the examiner, at the initial level they will do what they can to help although do not expect this level of assistance in subsequent tests at higher levels.

So the key points to remember at Initial Level are: be prepared, concentrate on strength and durability rather than level of finish, be aware of the marking schedule and what the examiner is looking for, work safely and most importantly  make sure you finish in time. There is a strange anomaly surrounding DSWA timed tests that often goes unnoticed and that is, unlike most exams or tests, you are not trying to produce your best work. You are trying to produce work to a pre-determined standard in a set time period; you may well be able to produce work of a higher technical standard but you may not be able to achieve it in the time allowed. So maybe consider dropping the standard a little and gain some speed, as long as you attain the accepted standard for level of certification you are sitting you will pass that level.

Good Luck,

Next time I will deal with the dreaded Intermediate Test.