Lapidary Fundamentals: Cutting Rough Stones & Learn the Best Techniques and Tools

Humans have used stone for nearly 800,000 years. It can be used to create wild symbols on cave walls or decoratively carve facades in museums. Particular artists have used stone to create sculptural works. The work of stonemasons can create whole cities, from the streets of granite grey in Scotland to the Brownstone apartments in Brooklyn, NY.

Stone isn’t without its challenges. Recent years have seen the closure of quarries in Tuscany that Michelangelo used. Meanwhile, tensions have flared in Badakhshan, an Afghan province, over the mining of its blue stone, lapis lazuli. Stone can be used in many ways if it is ethically and carefully sourced. Rock is heavy and durable. It can be shaped into various shapes and colors, including complex patterns and colors. Hand carving requires a lot of patience, strength, and skill. The machines in an industrial setting are just as impressive to look at stone cutting.

Before the invention of metal carving tools, hard stones were used for shaping soft rocks such as chalk and soapstone. Hand carving is still a traditional process. However, steel chisels, tools, and mason hammers can remove material from larger stone blocks.

Stone carving was traditionally used to create facades for churches, statues, and religious iconography. However, artists like Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth began making more abstract shapes in the 20th century. This practice has continued to this very day. Letter cutting is similar to hand carving, but the chisel is used at different angles to create letterforms. This tool is used to generate monument letters, plaques, and gravestones.

A solid knowledge of typography is essential for letter cutters, much like sign artists. Lettering must be adapted to the stone type. When choosing the shapes, spacings, colors, and styles of cuts, it is essential to consider the purpose and layout of the letter. Sandblasting is the process by which sand is forced through an air-compressed pressure nozzle to form another surface. For a lighter finish, sandblasting can also include other abrasives, such as glass, plastic, or baking soda.

Sandblasting is used in stone to create letters or images on gravestones. Many stone masons will create a rubber stencil to protect areas that they don’t want to be blasted. The stencil images are usually created digitally before being cut using a vinyl cutter. Any flat or digital image can be translated onto the stone.

Diamond permits tools like saws, drills, and grinders to cut through hard surfaces like stone. For instance, a circular industrial diamond saw has diamond tips embedded around its edge. This is used for cutting away unwanted rocks, such as large boulders. It can also create slabs of different sizes or other valuable pieces. High-speed, computer-operated diamond saws work better when wet because water prevents the blades from overheating. This water is often collected by stone masons who will reuse it continuously.

Stone can be flat, rough, matte, smooth, or polished to a high gloss finish, similar to glass. Many stone polishing techniques and machines can be used to achieve this. This is also known as grinding, which involves using large metal discs or diamonds to remove imperfections and roughness. Next comes buffing. This is where polishing powders or compounds like silicon carbide are applied to the surface.


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