Natural stone: The original building material
Far more than just another building material
Natural stone has been used for every function imaginable, from weapon crafting and shelter construction to monument erection and even as a bartering currency. Natural stone has an indelible imprint on the long history of mankind.
When natural stone is used as a building material, a synergy is developed between the mason and the stone. Natural stone is an imperfect medium that prompts the mason to listen to his intuition and act upon his experience to create an artful design. Natural stone also is timeless and the various ways it can be installed in a project are limited only by the creative imagination of the designer and technical understanding of the installer.
Each mason’s workmanship is unlike that of another, and each mason’s project is unlike his last. These abounding options give natural stone an opportunity to communicate any desired result. The project can be structural, aesthetic, or both. The effect can be powerful or subtle and, yet, ever changing with the mood of the day or season. Natural stone can cause an observer to pause and behold its beauty, while reflecting on the craftsmanship that went into it. Natural stone can evoke feelings such as awe, inspiration, tranquility and warmth.
Comparable types of stone worldwide differ in appearance, texture and feel. Sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic stone share a common origin by which they were formed, but their compositions can differ significantly. Many quarry operators can distinguish the stone from their quarries from that of another quarry operation a few miles away, when extracting from the same formation.
A rich historyThe ancient mastery of extracting stone from the ground and working it into a building material requires an understanding of how that specific stone will cut or cleave. Each different kind of stone has its own unique graining. Most all stones have a graining referred to as the “rift.” The rift will run perpendicularly to the bedding grain of a sedimentary stone. The stone cutter would need to identify the rift in order to successfully cut the stone. This is one example of the knowledge a stone cutter would need.
The master stone cutters who worked the quarries in the United States’ early years are a reflection of the different cultures that helped settle America. Master stone cutters have come from Sweden, Germany, Italy and Ireland, to name a few. The use of natural stone is as much about people and cultures as it is about the material.
Choices aboundThe many different availabilities of texture, color, hardness and a workable nature of natural stone lend to an ability to express any desired outcome. The abundant choices in appearance and uses of natural stone, coupled with the abounding skills of the mason and creative genius of an architect or designer, present possibilities that no other medium could. This is one of the remarkable aspects of natural stone.
Using a snapped, polished or natural clef surface, stone compliments its surroundings and makes an impression that lasts. The use of natural stone in cultures throughout history gives us insight to the members of those cultures. It tells us about the creativity and ingenuity of the people who built with stone.
Since the 1950s, the United States has been experiencing a renascence in the stone industry. The increased availability of natural stone is due mostly to the innovations of stone processing equipment and tooling. These advancements have increased production, lowered costs and made available new products. Improved methods for quarrying and new ways of processing all of the stone removed from the ground can result in greater profit for the quarries and a greener product than any imitations.
Stone is far more than just another building material. It has a history of use that is part of the human race. The stone industry has been able to take advantage of technological advances that improve yield and offer more options. Natural stone is a gracious compliment to any modern setting.
Originally published in Masonry magazine.
About the Author
Douglas J. Bachli is president of Colorado Flagstone. He can be reached at 800-350-9313.