Career Certification

Training to develop professional dry stone masons is central to DSC goals. The training provides excellent career opportunities, even for craftsman without capital. Additionally, a sufficient supply of training masons is essential to help landowners with fence repairs. 


Luke Koch, DSC Journeyman Mason, completing his timed test at Shaker Village near Harrodsburg, Kentucky

Our Program

The Conservancy's Certification Program, federally registered in 2001, is designed to promote public confidence in dry-laid stone as a desirable building technique and in the skills of certified drystone craftsmen. As a part of this purpose, the DSC conducts training courses to teach generally accepted international drystone construction standards, and maintains a register of independent professional masons.

The DSC program is the only national certification program for dry stone craftsmen in the United States. The program was modeled after the highly successful professional registry of the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain (DSWA), and was tailored to the needs of preservationists and professional designers in the United States, including the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the National Park Service.

Basic training in drystone fence building is regularly offered in Kentucky for aspiring craftsmen and the general public. Special courses are taught on request in other states for aspiring drystone masons, and at various national and state parks for park maintenance personnel. Advanced training is offered periodically in partnership with sponsoring agencies at restoration sites throughout the country. It is not mandatory, however, to attend a DSC training course to become certified.

DSC-certified drystone masons may be included on the Conservancy’s Referral List of Certified Dry Stone Craftsmen, which is supplied upon request to government agencies and the general public.  This list is posted here. DSC-certified craftsmen may incorporate the federally copyrighted DSC Registration Mark on their promotional materials.

Advanced Drystone Masonry Training Experience

A major goal of the Dry Stone Conservancy is to provide immediate as well as long-term options for the conservation of Kentucky's historic rock fences and stewardship of America's drystone heritage. One of the means by which this is accomplished is through craft training to develop professional dry stone masons. In addition to providing introductory workshops, the Conservancy also manages advanced restoration and training projects as a means by which aspiring masons can gain work site experience before going out on their own. These advanced projects are paid training positions and focus on skills beyond the basic instruction workshops and the masons’ current abilities while providing constant supervision by certified instructors and advanced craftsmen.

Workshop participants interested in a drystone masonry career are invited to apply for training positions on Conservancy restoration projects in order to upgrade their skills toward professional certification. Through Conservancy partnerships with various preservation agencies, training projects are organized that provide aspiring drystone masons with paid working opportunities while also restoring historic dry stone structures. Trainees are teamed with certified drystone professionals in a mentor/apprentice capacity for on-the-job training, the most effective means by which aspiring masons advance their skills and increase production. When ready, trainees take the Conservancy's rigorous certification exams which are offered at three professional levels: Qualified; Journeyman; and Master Dry Stone Mason. Successful candidates are included on the Conservancy’s Referral List of Certified Professional Dry Stone Masons which is provided to agencies, contractors and the public.

From a project design and management point of view, the Conservancy undertakes these advanced training projects similarly to a design-build firm by providing the site plan, wall or fence design, detail drawings, scope-of-work, specifications and cost estimates, contract negotiation, contract administration including processing change orders and pay requests with the sponsoring agency. Additionally, the Conservancy provides construction management services including regulatory compliance, coordination of trainees, materials and deliveries, payment of training stipends, insurances, materials and other invoices, guarantees for the work and submittal of pay requests to the project owners.

The Conservancy's Training and Certification Program is the only program of its kind in the United States and is endorsed by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the Kentucky Heritage Council and the National Park Service. Conservancy-certified dry stone masons are pre-qualified by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to undertake drystone specialty work associated with its construction projects.

Professional Dry Stone Masonry Training

The certification process has multiple levels of professional craftsmen: drystone mason, journeyman, master craftsman, drystone authority, examiner, instructor, and landscape mason.  All levels in the certification program are for professionals in the craft.  Interested craftsmen are invited to participate in two-day introductory course to learn basic drystone techniques.  Following this introduction, participants are encouraged to work as apprentices with certified masons, and on DSC training projects to practice and develop their skills.

DSC training projects are offered periodically in partnerships with sponsoring agencies at restoration sites in Kentucky and throughout the country.  Historic rocks fences, retaining walls, culverts, bridge piers, and dams are repaired as part of advanced training courses.  Projects vary in complexity and are designed to increase the masons' proficiency in sound techniques, durable construction, and a good production rate.  These projects are funded by public and private organizations such as National Park Service, National Forest Service, Soil Conservation Agency, Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, other state and local government agencies, parks, historic sites, and private clients.

When apprentices are confident in their skills, they may apply for certification testing at the various professional levels.  Upon successfully completing the examinations, newly certified masons are included on the list of Certified Dry Stone Masons, which is supplied upon request to government agencies and the general public.  They are also authorized to use the federally-copyrighted DSC Registration Mark on their promotional materials.

Application Process

HOW TO APPLY FOR ANY CERTIFICATION LEVEL: Prior to beginning any work to be examined or submitting photos of completed work, please obtain the current certification requirements and a Test Application Form from the Dry Stone Conservancy. Complete the form and return it to the DSC with the application fee at least two weeks prior to the test date. DSC’s certification exam days are usually held in central Kentucky in the spring and fall.

Applicants may apply for certification at basic, journeyman, and master levels without having been certified at other levels, but they must fulfill all the requirements for all previous certification tests.

APPLICATION FEES: For all certification levels, a non-refundable fee is payable in advance of assessment, to cover examination costs and examiners’ fees. These fees may be periodically adjusted; check with the DSC office for the current fee rates. In 2019, the fees for examinations taking place in central Kentucky on DSC-sponsored Exam Days are: Level I Drystone Mason - $200.00; Level II Journeyman – Timed Test $250.00 + Special Features $250; Level III Master Craftsman – Timed Test $350.00 + Special Features $350.  Candidates may also make special arrangements for examinations outside the central Kentucky region or at times other than DSC-sponsored certification days, but will incur additional charges to cover all expenses.

For more information and our registration form click here.