Flagstone. Fieldstone. They may sound related but they’re not at all alike, says Mike Buechel, marketing manager for Buechel Stone in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. As building materials, they are used for two distinctly different purposes.
Flagstones are decorative flat stones, also called steppers because they are often used for steps, walkways, or patios.
Flagstones are stratified, sedimentary rocks that are quarried. Limestone, bluestone from New York and Pennsylvania, and Tennessee flagstone are examples of flagstone.
Flagstones can be split into flat pieces suitable for a natural-look walking path. They can also be cut to size for a more uniform appearance. Flagstone can have a straight, clean edge or a random border that is determined by the split. Most people recognize flagstone by its natural split-surface face, but flagstone can also be processed through sandblasting, honing, or polishing to achieve a finished face.
The varied colors of flagstone come from the natural binding material that is part of its formation. This is why flagstones and flagstone colors are specific to their region. If the dominant binding material is iron oxide, the flagstone will have a reddish hue. Flagstone colors can range from gray to white, buff to brown, orange and red to gold and pink or lavender. Homeowners may decide to have a uniform color throughout or a mix of tones for more visual variety.
Fieldstones are rocks that are found in fields. They are typically the byproducts of glacial deposits or outcroppings. They may be rounded after eons of tumbling and are always native to their region. In Minnesota, for example, typical indigenous fieldstones are basalt and granite. The textures and sizes of fieldstone vary. Colors range from reds and blues to pinks, grays, and speckled. Fieldstones can also have mossy or lichen-covered edges.
Fieldstones were once popular for rustic construction because they were widely available to settlers clearing their lands. Today fieldstones are used for foundations, fireplaces, siding, and chimneys. Flat or split fieldstones are often stacked and used in retaining walls, low garden walls, and around waterfalls and ponds.
Fieldstone can be used whole and uncut or sawn for use as a veneer. A thin or thick veneer can give the look of real stone without the weight. Fieldstone veneers are often cut to showcase the top, rounded face of the stone. Veneers are not suitable for load-bearing applications, but are popular for chimneys, fireplace facings, and siding.
The cost of a fieldstone or flagstone project depends not just on the stone but on how it is installed. A dry stack of fieldstone may vary in price from a mortared application.
For the material alone, costs can range from $200 to $500 a ton for flagstone. The price depends on the thickness of the stone, the color, and the finish. Uneven and randomly shaped pieces of stone with a natural-split face are often less expensive. Prices always vary depending on the distance to the quarries or dealers.
Flagstone, at 1-1/4 inches thick or less and 120 square feet per ton, costs an average of $360 a ton. Heavy flagstone, at 2-1/4 inches or more and 60 square feet per ton, averages about $245 a ton.
Fieldstone is random in shape and size and costs an average of $120 to $240 per ton depending on the type of stone. As a veneer, fieldstone is also sold by the box or square foot.
Drawbacks and Benefits
Natural fieldstone and flagstone are unique building products. Real stone varies in color, pattern, and veining—features that are not available in manufactured products.
That irregularity is great for achieving an unusual look, but it also requires a certain knowledge of stone to get the look and performance desired. Don’t just go by the name. Bluestone, for example, can be sandstone or siltstone. It can come in its characteristic blue or in gray, plum, or brown shades. Names and colors can also vary by quarry. Sometimes the name of the area or quarry is used to name a native stone.
If possible, visit the quarry or yard from which you plan to buy your fieldstone or flagstone. If it is not nearby, then obtain samples. Don’t rely on photos, the Internet, or a brochure. They can only give a general idea and won’t be true for color matching.
Selecting the right stone and the right setting are crucial for the success of your fieldstone or flagstone project. For an outdoor flagstone project, you might require flagstones with a particular weather resistance, such as low water absorption and little effect from freeze-thaw cycles. Ask a knowledgeable sales person or your contractor about the types of flagstone that are appropriate for your location.
Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac