Occasional pursuits – stonework

Stoneworking technique: diamond tools

Stoneworking technique: diamond tools

Contemporary availability and power of industrial diamonds are amazing. With a hand-held wet saw, I cut parallel kerfs into the background area of a carving. It took me about an hour. With the slurry from a lot of stone dust and the water, it was an outdoor project, though it could have been done in the basement at the price of an additional hour to clean up the mess.

Stoneworking technique: diamond tools

It tool less than ten minutes to split away the stone between the saw cuts. With that done, more than 80 percent of the material to be removed was gone. That is a very efficient start.

This relief carving is relatively flat, but the results are just as impressive – if not more so – in more fully three-dimensioal work.

Pneumatic tools

I have done some basic work with granite, which you see here, and some finer work with softer stone. Granite is very hard, 6 or 7 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, which ranges from 1 (talc, soapstone) to 10 (diamond). Soapstone is very easy to carve, and of a pleasing appearance, but correspondingly fragile. Marble is somewhere in between. It can have very striking streaks, which makes it interesting as a material for flat countertops but distracting as a material for sculpture. Sizeable blocks of a uniform color are highly prized and priced accordingly. Granite is readily available, but my attempts to work it with hand tools have resulted mainly in an amazing case of "tennis elbow."

After thinking about it for a couple of years, I have purchased a pneumatic tool set. It is amazing how pneumatics turn an impractical task into a facile one. It takes a sizeable air compressor, which is noisy and at the limits of portability. I think it will do. The stronger alternative would have been a stationary model suitable for industrial use. Somehow, I have been reluctant to acquire possessions that are much bigger than I can deal with unassisted, and the neighbors probably would not appreciate the noise that such a thing would bring.

My first planned project is a four-part bas-relief series of the ancient Greek elements of fire, air, earth and water, executed in bluestone.


I was lucky enough, in my house in Somerville, to come by a large number of cobblestones that were being torn up nearby. I set them in an art nouveau pattern, which I was very happy with. I am sorry I had to leave them behind.

I happened across this picture by accident recently, after having given up after an extended search for it when I was first creating this web site.

Raw material

Work in progress

Newly laid

The brick walkway is yet to be laid, and the existing steps will later be removed.

Retaining wall

Granite patio

The patio, which is outside the kitchen, overlooks the long yard.

Walkway edging

Splitting a stone for the rear patio left this curved shard as a neat piece. It made a perfect addition to the edging for the brick sidewalk.

In the cracks

No, it's not a moss. This is Sagina subulata. If you look closely, you can see that it has tiny white flowers. It thrives and spreads as long as it has some water. It's perennial.

House number

Granite that is freshly and smoothly worked has a lighter color than stone that is rough or not so newly cleaned. This makes for an effect exactly opposite that desired in lettering, which is to have the incised character be darker. For this reason, stone cutters have often painted their letters black initially. As time goes on, the paint wears off, but the incised stone acquires a darker patina.

This peculiarity is somewhat obviated with the modern use of sandblasting for lettering, which creates a deep and well-shadowed effect from the start.