Posts Tagged historic stone

It could be that stonemasons never see the art of the original craft, “tool making”

Your hands were blistered, your head dripping with sweat. It had taken a day, or two, maybe three, to create something you now hold in your hand to secure your short-term job-site future. You likely thought about its design and function in your head as long as it took to cut and weld it together with the best steel or iron you could find. A chisel. Not just any chisel, a stonemasons chisel.

Your chisel – its size, and weight to fit your hand – an extension of yourself.  Made for the specific work you were paid to perform. Created for a specific type of stone. The chisel shape, length, and sharpness all part of its design and intended purpose to birth a dimension stone of specified measurements and texture worthy of setting into a historic masonry wall. To become an important part of another historic stone masonry building of load bearing capacity, carrying the weight of each consecutive floor upon itself as it raises from the ground on the stout foundation we never see or appreciate.

The creation of stone chisels at the construction site by the very stonemasons that use them is centuries old. And it probably is most definitely on the road to oblivion. The art of the stone masonry craft is now changed. Making tools at the construction site, or in the stonemasons workshop, was part of the trade. It was what you were trained to do 100 years ago. There were no other options. And for good reason, no one else would know what you needed for a specific project as each individual set of chisels were designed specifically for each job. If you have the privileged of knowing a retired stonemason – just look in his tool bag and confirm for yourself – there are many many chisels of various sorts.

A masonry chisel made by someone in China. This chisel purchased at a local “big box” store.

Stone chisels; however, now are made by others. People that are not in the stone masonry trade. They can not appreciate the purpose of the chisel design or its intended purpose because they are not stonemasons.

Blame it on changes in architectural design: Veneer walls and thin stucco stone are in, old-fashion load-bearing walls are out. Blame it on changes in the father-son connection: handing down the trade skills to the next generation. Blame it on the fact that nothing lasts forever, not even tool making skills of the simple chisel lodged in the brain of almost every American stonemason over 80.

True American-made stone masonry chisels can not be found at Home Depot, Lowes, Menards or your local hardware stores. But don’t blame these companies they serve a different customer base – the “Do-it-Yourselfer.”

As a professional in your trade, part of your job is to research and look for those American companies that still do exist that make the custom tools you need – especially the all important chisel.

I have known Norm Akley, President of Trow & Holden Company, Inc., for nearly 20 years. He operates a company located in Barre, Vermont that makes old fashioned hand-made stone chisels among other items for the trade. Norm understands my trade and the challenges I face in difficult projects. I draw a picture of a special chisel design I need to have fabricated for a particular project to match a historic profile finish and fax it over to him, yes I said fax!

He makes the chisel from my sketch in the correct size and weight and the rest is history! Speaking of history, Trow & Holden Company has been making stoneworking tools since 1890.

Call and Request a free Catalog 800-451-4349 or 802-476-7221

Call and Request a free Catalog 800-451-4349 or 802-476-7221

Every chance I get I try to support American companies like Trow & Holden. The experience in tool making, as well as the companies appreciation and knowledge of my stone masonry trade, make Norm and his company a very valuable partner in our ability to offer the best Historic Stone Masonry Training Programs in the United States. In the end, I believe better workmanship is a direct result of better tools in the hands of craftspeople who know how to use them correctly.

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Historic Gravestone Splits in Two During Restoration Work….Why?

Anguish for descendant of Victorian artist as stone splits in two during restoration work

Art lecturer Ian Wilson with the broken gravestone

Art lecturer Ian Wilson with the broken gravestone

Victorian Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown. Right: Great-great-grand­son O

Victorian Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown. Right: Great-great-grand­son Oliver Soskice

Published: 29 March, 2013
by PETER GRUNER

THE great-great-grand­son of Victorian Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown has voiced concern that the gravestone of his famous ancestor has been badly damaged during restoration work.

Oliver Soskice, 64, a professional artist, paid £750 to have the stone – which was leaning perilously – placed flat on the ground at Islington and St Pancras Cemetery, in East Finchley.

However, during lifting work last month the ornate stone broke into two pieces and that is how it has been left.

Mr Soskice said: “It’s not that I tipped Hamlet’s gravedigger £10 to do the job. The work cost a lot of money.

“I wanted them to clear the site, which they have done, and lay the stone flat on the ground so there was no danger it might topple over and injure someone. But I had no idea there was a danger it might break.”

Mr Soskice, who lives in Cambridge, is the son of Frank Soskice, the late Labour MP and former Home Secretary.

The “forgotten and neglected” Madox Brown burial spot was discovered by chance by Holloway art lecturer Ian Wilson while visiting his mother’s grave nearby in March last year.

As a result of Mr Soskice’s concerns, featured in the Tribune last year, Islington Council launched a Ford Madox Brown grave improvement appeal.

Mr Wilson, art co-ordinator at the Hoffman Foundation for Autism in Wood Green, hopes the appeal will pay for repairs to the stone and the eventual full restoration of the grave. He said: “At the moment the grave looks like a building yard. This is disrespectful to anyone let alone an important British artist and early socialist.”

He has asked the council’s environment chief, Councillor Paul Smith, to instigate work cementing the two broken parts of the stone together.

“Cllr Smith was reported last year in the Tribune as saying he was keen on launching an appeal,” he said. “How far has he got?”

Cllr Smith said this week he was sorry the stone had broken and hoped it could be repaired.

“I hope to meet the family as soon as possible and get the appeal going,” he added. “This important piece of art history needs to be supported.”

Speweik Comment: This story was first posted by Jonathan Appell on LinkedIn Group “Gravestone & Monument Preservation.” April 7, 2013.  It was refreshing (but sad) to see a published story in a newspaper about a historic stone repair gone wrong. Maybe it was because it was a gravestone, and maybe it was because it was a famous persons gravestone, or maybe because it was so old – at this point it doesn’t matter – I’m just glad it was published for all to read. We can learn from the mistakes of others when we have the opportunity to know about them. A true expert (if such a person exists) is one that has a strong character trait to admit a mistake and allow others to learn from his experience. This of course is not usually our natural response.

Coming from the trades as a stonemason, I have come to learn and respect stone by working with it for many years in many applications. From quarry, to block, to slab, to dimension unit, to seasoning of the stone, then protecting and preparation, and finally to the installation into the wall. I have also had the reverse experience in my later years in historic preservation work of carefully deconstructing, removing from the wall, redressing, restoring, rehabilitating, and conserving stone for reuse – placed back into the same location or position.

Possible Solution: This is a example of a historic stone conservation repair approach. No materials are placed on the front of the stone - repair is made from the back without pins.

Possible Solution: This is a example of a historic stone conservation repair approach. No materials are placed on the front of the stone – repair is made from the back without pins.

I have found that historic preservation work requires a higher-level of sensitivity to the task with the baseline understanding that you are handling history and not just a piece of stone.

I have come to appreciate that the preservation approach must be well thought out and planned by first identifying the stone. Then determine the cause of the problem and possible pattern(s) to similar surrounding stone. Then examine the historic stone for potential areas of weakness prior to establishing the proposed solution to the problem – and certainly before moving it. It is from this process and examination (Condition Assessment) is HOW I develop the respect for the stone, what it has been through in connection to its problematic condition and then to finalize my proposed options for solutions.

This approach helps to keep surprises to a minimum, not to say they still do not occur, but hopefully not to the degree we read in this story.

I see some key contractor/owner errors or “red flags” in this story that may have made the initial problem more complicated. Can you identify some of these flags? Both on the contractor side and the owner side? I would love to hear your experiences with similar projects. Remember sharing any mistakes is a good thing here 🙂  Who will be my first expert to comment??

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