Tank Book Shelves & Betting Pool

This evening we cut and split the granite that will become the book shelves above and desk shelf below the marine aquarium tank in the master bedroom of our tiny cottage. This was one of those big gulp moments as were were splitting the nicest piece of granite we’ve done and the biggest, flattest piece – A tricky combination.


Cutting the 44.5″ long beam that goes above the tank and below the upper shelf was simple and easy. We just had to take the end off of a long piece of gray granite to square it and remove a flaw. First Holly cut the stone with the diamond blade on the skillsaw and then I struck off the nub with the chisel and four pound mason’s hammer. It went smoothly – a good first cut of the day and a confidence builder.

Making the shelves was much more intimidating. For that we trimmed and then split a beautiful, sawn smooth 18.5″ wide by 2.5″ to 3.5″ thick by 49.5″ long slab of gray granite that matched the beam. The fact that the piece of stone was so beautiful made cutting it a much greater emotional challenge. The fear was that such a long thin piece would split off in some crazy way other than our neat plan. Yet once again we lucked out – or perhaps all the practice is paying off.


First we made the cross cut to reduce the length of the stone to 46.5″. That matches the beam plus gives a little more to project on either side into the partition wall between the bedroom and the bathroom. After cutting both sides of the stone there was only about 1/2″ of stone left yet it was still very strong. I couldn’t break it off by simply wacking the excess piece but instead had to use the chisel on the ends to split the stone off.

Cutting off the end meant our long cut would be shorter and thus easier. It also made the piece a bit lighter in weight and thus easier to manipulate. Originally it was about 260 lbs – challenging to move around and position. On the plus side, something that heavy doesn’t need to be clamped down because it stays put while you work on it.

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Once the stone was shortened to length we setup a guide using a 2×4 clamped to the surface of the stone. Small pieces of wood protected the stone from the pressure of the clamps below. Interestingly, the skillsaw’s base does not mar the surface of the stone, even on a polished face. I had thought it would and had planned to put a pad down but our test pieces showed this was unnecessary. I think that the saw frame is made of a soft alloy. Perhaps even steel is softer than the granite.

Holly made the long cut while I poured water to keep the diamond blade cool. The water also kept the dust down which makes the work much more pleasant. Since the other side is quite rough we only made one cut. Holly did the maximum depth the skill saw would allow – 2.5″. This is the deepest cut we’ve made and she found it was very hard to keep the saw fully plunged the whole depth over the length of the cut. This makes the evenness of the split that much more awe inspiring.


With a few taps of the hammer and chisel at each end the shelves split apart along the cut line. It is amazing to see a 2.5″ thick by 46.5″ long skin of granite cleave. One moment it is a single piece and the next it is two.

As can be seen above, I set the piece up so the smaller shelf was suspended by having the rock diagonal, resting on the ground and wooden pallet. Then when the small shelf dropped off it only fell a short distance onto the wood which buffered it. I could have done it hanging off the pallet if I spun it around but doing so was a lot of work given the weight of the piece – this worked.


After reviewing the edge of the split granite I think we could have gone with a shallow cut rather than the deep cut we did and it still would have cleaved perfectly. I’m still wrapping my mind around this. It looks like the fault caused by the saw in the skin is the primary guide of the fracture. When a piece cleaves it is sudden – there is no bending, no ripping like with splitting wood. The stone is whole one instant and then split the next. Excellent compression strength. Poor tensile strength – relatively speaking. I split from the ends rather than the middle – the same as discussed yesterday.

The partition wall that we are currently working on between the bedroom and the bathroom seems to be taking forever. Yesterday Holly pointed out that this is not just a wall. It is also:

  • Wood storage space
  • Cookstove
  • Masonry woodstove
  • Baking oven
  • Drying oven
  • Smoking oven
  • Warming shelf
  • Bench
  • Chimney
  • Ventilation shafts
  • Heat exchanger
  • Incoming fresh air exchanger
  • Air pump (no moving parts)
  • Thermal mass
  • Cloths drying rack
  • Mitten & Boot warmer
  • Bedroom cloths hook wall
  • Broom closet in the bathroom
  • Cloths closet in the bedroom
  • My desk
  • Bookshelves
  • West door jamb of bedroom door with arch
  • East door jamb of bathroom door with arch
  • Interface to floor heat transfer pipes
  • Marine aquarium tank
  • Bathroom sink support
  • Bathroom shelves (5)
  • Structural support for chimney, attic & utility loft
  • …oh, and it is also a wall.

She’s right, it isn’t surprising that it is taking a bit longer to build than a normal wall. I feel better!

We have a family betting pool going as to when we’ll sleep our first night in the new house. Hope, age three, says July 6th. Holly hazards July 27th. Ben guesses mid-August. I think September 21st. Will is estimating a more conservative October 15th. We’re all over the calendar. The tiny cottage was all closed in as of the end of December 2006. We could move in now but I don’t want to live in the mess of construction and taste dust for months. Since it is summer and easy to just keep living in the old farm house I would personally prefer to wait until the new house is completely ready. Some would say that’s an unrealistic goal with an owner designed and built home! We’ll see who’s closest – no prize, just fun.

Outdoors: 28°F/4°F Mostly Sunny
Farm House: 52°F/46°F
Tiny Cottage: 73°F/62°F

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor…

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6 Responses to Tank Book Shelves & Betting Pool

  1. pablo says:

    That cleaved stone is just about the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. (Okay, that’s hyperbole, but it is lovely!)

  2. Sounds like lots of work but will have a very rewarding end result!

    Your blog makes me want to come to Sugar Mountain Farm.

    But right now I just have to let others know that Willy thinks others should know that Hillbilly Willy thinks that he Rural Life is a Great Life

    yes, he Rural Life is a Great Life in Arkansas

    10-4 Willy

  3. PV says:

    Bet you will be in there before winter so you dont have to heat the old house. That is a big pushher!

  4. karl says:

    september 27th at 10:47 pm the first jefferies will fall asleep in your tiny cottage

  5. Amy McKeown says:

    I love your wife!!! Another woman who isn’t scared of skilsaws, rocks, lumber, etc. I’m always worried that I’m the only one, because people look at me like I’ve lost my mind when I grab the tools and head under the house to fix something. You go Holly!!

  6. HomemakerAng says:

    oh yes, shorts in the 50’s temps! You are just like us midwesterners!!!

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