Sticks & Stones

Panorama of stone dump around lower pig pond. Click it!

For the last several years we have been receiving deliveries of waste granite from the local quarries and stone cutting sheds where they make memorials (e.g., grave stones), curbing, counters and many other object of stone. The material is free, requiring only that we transport the tons of granite from there to here. The ostentatious reason for the deliveries is fill to help with creating terraces and such around the farm in order to make our steep hill land more useable. As the granite is delivered I’ve picked out the best pieces and made piles for future projects like steps, fence posts, shelves and other things in our new house. Well, the future is here!

Will delivering granite for cutting.

This past last week I’ve been measuring what I need for stone in the tiny cottage and then picking through my piles of granite, marble and other rock to find the right pieces for window sills, benches, around the marine fish tank in the bedroom, the stove surround, mantles, etc. Today we loaded slabs of granite into the tractor bucket and Will drove them up to the tiny cottage house site where we sorted the granite out onto pallets for cutting and shaping.

The biggest piece we picked so far is a 480 lb piece of dark red granite we’ll use for our kitchen table. That is the big flat piece occupying a whole pallet to itself in the middle pallet in the photo above. You can also see the table piece in the photo below. It is a gorgeous piece of stone. I plan to build a mushroom pedestal with built in benches, a booth, that will appear to grow up from the floor of the front room, spreading at the top to support the slab of granite which we’ll cut to fit the space. I have a second almost identical slab. I joked that we should make the second one into a big coffee table, a shin banger, for our tiny 252 sq-ft cottage. “Right…” she said.

There is a bigger piece of stone we’ll be setting in place. We call it the mountain. It is light black granite that will extend from the first floor up to the attic along the bedroom-library partition. The shape will make it be a ladder and it will also function as book shelve ends and a door jam edge. The winter sun will shine on this so it soaks up the warmth and it’s color will contrast with the offwhite walls. I estimate the ‘mountain’ at 836 lbs after cutting – the upper limit of what I think I can manipulate by hand in through the door and into place in the tiny cottage. The piece will come out of a large ‘skin‘ of granite that is in the middle of a pile in the middle of the panorama at the top of the page – the pile with three pigs lying next to it. I had it dumped in a location I can both get power to for working on it, get to it with the tractor for moving it and have it out of the way until I’m ready. It’s been sitting there for two years waiting for me.

Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend

Using the diamonds I gave her to cut granite. Most women probably prefer the type of diamond that goes in a ring but she wanted a diamond skillsaw blade instead. What a lady! I’m a very lucky man to have a wife who shops at Home Depot instead of Martha Steward Direct.

In addition to the diamond skillsaw blades we also have a hammer drill, diamond hole saw, angle grinder with diamond blade and pads, random orbital sander, four pound mason’s hammer, point chisel, brick chisel and rock hammer. It is amazing what we can do with these few tools even on big rocks. The kids joke that I am going to level the mountain. Of course not, well… maybe a small piece…

Today after the evening bonfire cookout we practiced cutting granite as well as some field stone. It went even better than I had hoped for. Every single one of our practice cuts went perfectly. On the one hand it gives me confidence we can do what I want to do – on the other hand it is a big leap to actually go and cut those beautiful pieces of stone I’ve set aside as being ‘the right ones’ for the projects. With the practice pieces I was purposefully picking stone that didn’t matter if we goofed. Fortunately I have a large supply so if we mess up the ‘real’ pieces we’ll have more, even if it isn’t exactly the piece I had originally picked out. In many cases I’ve picked out backup pieces incase we do mess up.

We experimented with both wet and dry cutting using the diamond blade. The wet cutting is far less dusty and probably better for the saw blade. The splatter wasn’t bad at all and both we stayed dry. To do wet cutting I simply slowly poured water from a bottle ahead of the saw as she cut. I think that the hand pump pressurized sprayer might work well for this too. That would allow me to stay a little back from the saw.

Splitting the rock the wrong way.

When I first tried splitting using a saw groove I thought that this would be the right way to do it. Wrong. It didn’t work – the rock would not split despite much effort on sand or on a board. I also tried breaking it like cutting glass or foam on and an edge but that didn’t work either.

Right way to split rock

So I hit the end of the piece a couple of times using the four pound hammer and brick chisel. Bingo! The stone split right down it’s length along the saw cuts. I was amazed. A perfect split. The first time we did this we thought it was a fluke. By the fourth time I realized that this was the right way to do it. Next we split a 24″ long piece using two shallow saw cuts. Perfect again. That was enough for the night. Best to stop while we’re ahead and can still count to ten on our fingers.

Crayon Marks Smooth Granite

For a while we had been using a graphite pencil to mark the cut lines on the granite. That did not work when we hit a glassy smooth polished face. The pencil wouldn’t leave any mark. Interesting to know for future counters and the like. I found that
one of Hope’s wax crayons worked perfectly and wipes of nicely.

For real work I think we’ll setup a jig with a guide board to help keep the saw straight rather than making a pencil line because when cutting the dust or water obscures the line. We found we didn’t have to clamp the stone down when cutting because it is so heavy it simply stays in place. One thing that would make this all a little easier would be a higher work bench but for now we’re doing it down on the ground and on the pallets. The less we have to move the bigger pieces the better.

One of my goals with our house is to have representations of all of the types of stones we have and all of the types of wood we have without ending up with a hodgepodge mess. There is old brick from the 200 year old farm house. There is field stone. There is local granite and marble. There are various stones we get from all over the world that end up coming in as waste from the sculptures at the stone sheds. There are beautiful local field stones and even some round rocks that dropped in from the mid-west. Then there are the various types of wood we harvest from our forest including spruce, pine, birch, sugar maple, popular, cedar and others. Incorporating these all is a fun challenge but they all must fit into a unified whole that looks right and works together.

Outdoors: 76°F/29°F Sunny
Farm House: 69°F/55°F
Tiny Cottage: 68°F/57°F

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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4 Responses to Sticks & Stones

  1. anna says:

    walter i love the panorama type shots you do they give an amazing view of what your part of the world is like it would be really interesting to see a series of the panoramas that were taken from the same place over and over through different parts of the year

  2. Mark V. says:

    Didn’t it use to be that prisonners were punished by having to go break rocks? And your doing this voluntarily? Just joking! I love what your doing on the house.

  3. Tony says:

    That’s just amazing what your doing and i love your goal with using all the woods and all the rocks in the new house………. You must have some massive sheds to store it all in.

  4. Anna, I keep wanting to do a pan from the same spot every week. It would make a cool record. But it hasn’t happened yet. I started doing that last summer but then lost track of the project.

    Tony, actually, we keep everything outdoors. One of the nice thing about rock and other rough materials is they handle the weather so well. Holly and I were joking about this the other day as I said, “careful with that slab” as we were flipping it over. The irony is it got dumped into a big 12 wheel dump truck and then dumped on our rock pile and then put in the tractor bucket, etc. It’s already been through a lot. Likely nothing we do with our hands will hurt it!

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