Often times a during project, I have to use very old techniques to cut stone…well, I don’t really HAVE to . I own a number of different power tools to cut stone and in some cases its faster or unavoidable. But there is something about using hand tools that I enjoy and it makes me feel connected to the work…. more than revving up a saw. To be honest, I don’t really use power tools very often to cut stone and rely on the following methods.
One way I cut stone is with a hammer and carbide chisel and I’ll cover that in part two because I need content and I gotta stretch this out. hehehe.
That leaves method #2 which is..drum roll please……… Feathers and wedges. That’s right feathers. OK, not fluffy ones that are in pillows but two small pieces of metal. And wedges. Which would be like a, uh…wedge.
Here they are…
The first and third row are the wedges. The ones in this picture are 1/2″ and 5/8″. These little things can split down the hardest stone and it is a lot of fun doing it. You get this feeling when you hear the crackling stone as it is weakening along your line(if you did it right) the sound of the the metal changing as the wedge drives deeper into the stone until finally…CRACK! You stand there and admire, maybe even jump around and scream….like Tom Hanks when he made fire in the movie Cast Away.
Now that you have that visual, lets see the process.
First, you have stone or stones that need to be cut.
Suitable stone will have a nice grain (like wood) or uniform structure without fissures and cracks that will cruelly sabotage your best efforts and break wrong, reducing you to tears. I’ll get into reading stone in pt 2 because its even more important for that technique.
Next up is tracing your line with a chisel. This is a step that can be skipped on large boulders but is good habit for everything else. Again, the reason will be more clear once pt 2 is up(hows that for suspense?) Basically though it encourages the stone to break along your drill line.
You have your chisel line now so its time to drill. The old way was a one or two man operation(if the hole was large) with one man holding a star shaped drill bit and another man swinging the sledge. The hold man would rotate the bit after every strike…over and over until they had a hole. Thankfully, I have a hammer drill and I can safely make holes in stone without risking my hands and head to the aim of my helper…especially if he is angry at me!
The hole depth and size will vary depending on what you are cutting, how thick, stone type etc etc. The standard commonly used is to drill holes as deep as your wedges are long and 6″ apart. After removing the dust from the holes with an air compressor or dust blow out bulb( it looks like a turkey baster) place the feathers so that the bend ends(ears)oppose each other and face the direction that you want the stone to split with a wedge in the center.
After all the feathers and wedges are set, start tapping them in sequence, up and down. Listen as you go..the sound will change the deeper the wedge drives into the stone. Little bits will pop from the pressure around the hole…especially if the stone is hard like the granite in the picture. Then POP! If you drilled properly you shouldn’t need to make the wedge disappear. Stand back and admire you handy work…go ahead do it…Have a Tom Hanks moment. ” I… I HAVE SPLIT GRANITE!!
Then make something out of it!!