Stone Inlay Process

Stone Inlay Process – Great Blue Heron

I’ve had this piece of stone at the shop for over a year. It was cut from a bench we installed in the Memorial Garden of First Baptist Church Asheville. I really liked the color and surface texture and was waiting for a project to suggest itself – and along came this blue heron stone inlay. I envisioned it becoming a Garden Guardian like Coyote, a piece we recently designed and installed in Atlanta.

Stone Inlay Process

The drawn pattern of the stone inlay

Soapstone is used to create the lines of the general shape, while a Sharpie is used for the exact contour. (Soapstone blows off when the grinder hits the rock, but the Sharpie stays in place.)

The Cutaway

The heron is a challenging shape. The point of the beak as well as the curve of the neck were both difficult to get just right, so I used pretty much every tool at my disposal. In order to use a small radius blade, I even got a little Dremel tile saw, which was a bit helpful, but overall lacked the needed power. I used a hammer and a very sharp lettering chisel to get the points as crisp as possible.

Stone inlay process

The stone cutaway

The Rubbing

Once the design is cut into the stone, I do a rubbing of sorts to get the contours on paper. I can remember doing this with my mom as a kid in the historic cemeteries of Rhode Island where I’m from. While never as exact as I want it to be, it’s usually pretty close. I drop my shapes onto this and then cut them out.

Stone Inlay Process

The shape rubbed on paper

Design Pattern

As you can see from the countless scribbles, I go through a lot of ideas. (And that’s after having drawn to design before I even started.) What looks good on paper and a small scale might not work in large scale. Due to the complex design of this project, after I cut it I had to reassemble it so I could figure out how the pieces fit together.

Stone Inlay Process

The drawn pattern. Note: nails only there to keep it from blowing away

Starting the Inlay

I knew I wanted the body and wings to be blue Bahia. This is a super expensive tile, but the color is astounding!

Stone Inlay Process

Starting the inlay with blue Bahia tile

The Heron’s Gray Neck

I think the scientist in me got a little too interested in biological accuracy. A great blue heron’s is more gray than blue, and I wanted to reflect that in the inlay. (And yes, I understand that even their wings aren’t that blue!) I switched from the blue Bahia tile to a gray stone for the neck. While I like the gray stone, I didn’t really like the effect.

Stone Inlay Process

The heron’s gray neck

The Finished Product

This is a little more like it. The body, neck, and head are all blue, while the beak is a particularly yellow type of travertine. The crest is black, and the legs are a marble from Tennessee.

Stone inlay process

The finished product

I had to cut the legs twice as the first ones were so snugly fit that a few grains of sand made a wedge between the legs and the stone, making it impossible to get them out without breaking them. I ended up cutting several of the stone of this finished stone inlay more than once.

GreenMan Mosaic: Brewery is open!

At long last the GreenMan Brewery has officially opened, meaning I can legitimately post images of the natural stone mosaic we built for them. I already had, but really wasn’t supposed to! It is one of our most ambitious projects to date. The 320 square foot mosaic is comprised exclusively of natural stone, all cut and fitted by the Hammerhead crew. Much of the stone is regional, including a lot of stuff from North Carolina. The yes are malachite found in local gem and mineral shops, though it most likely originated in Africa.

Exploring stone choices for the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

Exploring stone choices for the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

This is actually the second full scale face I printed and assembled. The first one showed some clear design concerns, particularly in terms of the size of facial features. It’s one thing to draw at screen size. Blown up to eleven feet across and hung up over my head, it was clear the lips were too big compared to the eyes. This printed version fixed those issues and was used to host a meeting with the designer, Krista Lablue and Wendy from GreenMan. The stone samples on the ground helped us choose the palette for the final mosaic. The whole Hammerhead team took part in this meeting, which I think helped us move forward smoothly with the process; everyone had input in the stone choices and had a good understanding of the customer’s vision.

Creating the malachite eyes for the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

Creating the malachite eyes for the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

I ended up making the eyes twice. The first time became a test of the concept, which worked! But because the malachite was so costly I only bought enough to make one. I bought more and made the second eye, but there were clear differences in the color and look. I took them apart and rebuilt them mixing the stone randomly and got the look I wanted. The eyes are the only place where we used a more traditional mosaic style, making tiny tesserae. I like the effect though, it is evocative of ancient mosaics, populated with characters like Dionysus and Bacchus.


Here’s a close up of the eye installed.

We built the GreenMan Brewery mosaic at the shop first, right on top of the Labyrinth!

We built the GreenMan Brewery mosaic at the shop first, right on top of the Labyrinth!

We cut and laid out the mosaic at the workshop, detailing the fits as best we could, prior to installation. Space was limited, so we had to build the GreenMan right over the top of the Labyrinth. The green insulation foam guided the fitting of the pieces, all of which had been cut from templates. It proved useful on the installation too…

We used foam insulation as a template and setting guide at the start of the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

We used foam insulation as a template and setting guide at the start of the GreenMan Brewery mosaic.

Installation began with the eyes, as they needed to be level and centered on the wall. The green foam was perfect for supporting the mosaic pieces on the wall while they cured.

The GreenMan mosaic stares out through the scaffolding as we near the finish line.

The GreenMan mosaic stares out through the scaffolding as we near the finish line.

Even through all the clutter, it was amazing to watch the GreenMan’s towering visage appear on the wall.

The GreenMan mosaic is 20' tall and 16' wide. The face really fills the space.

The GreenMan mosaic is 20′ tall and 16′ wide. The face really fills the space.

The finished mosaic is twenty feet tall and sixteen feet wide. It is opposite the main entrance of the brewery’s new downtown location. It’s the first thing you see coming in the front door. It’s kind of imposing!

A detail of the leaves in the GreenMan mosaic showing several of the native stones we used.

A detail of the leaves in the GreenMan mosaic showing several of the native stones we used.

The face is made of marble from Tennessee. The leaves that surround the GreenMan’s face is mostly native North Carolina stone, though we used a fair amount of slate reclaimed from an old house in Asheville. I’m not sure it’s source. The eyebrows are serpentine. Again, I’m not sure where it comes from, but there’s some of the same stone on older buildings in downtown Asheville, making me think it’s at least regional. The background surround is sandstone from Tennessee.

A close up of the GreenMan mosaic face.

A close up of the GreenMan mosaic face.

Sunflower Mosaic for Frankie

Frankie on her sunflower mosaic patio

Frankie on her sunflower mosaic patio

This mosaic patio was created for my friend Carmen. She needed something to cover the muddy space just outside the doggy door that leads off her porch. Frankie, the puppy in the picture, is an enthusiastic digger and was tracking in altogether too much mud. I had wanted to try a sunflower design in stone and this seemed like a good opportunity.
Sunflower mosaic made of natural stone

Sunflower mosaic made of natural stone

The seeds are Mexican beach pebbles anchored in concrete. I cast that piece in an retired plastic flower pot. The rest of the stone is laid dry on a bed of crushed stone and sand. The background is Pennsylvania stone and the flower petals are sandstone from Tennessee. I might simplify the design if I were to revisit it. There’s a slight “S” curve on the petals that required more time for cutting and shaping than a straighter line might have, though if it were bigger, that curve would be easier to cut.

Moon Gate Entry Sign

A moon gate by Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks.

A moon gate by Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks.

The Town of Weaverville brought Hammerhead Stoneworks on to design and install an striking entry sign to welcome visitors as they enter town along Merrimon Avenue. The design features a moon-gate- a full circle arch. Originally meant to evoke the fresh growth and unlimited potential of a newly sprouted fiddlehead fern, it also looks an awful lot like the water wheel that’s just below the lake in the background. That’s a happy accident of the design process.

This project is still in progress. Tomorrow we will pick a beautiful slab of sandstone that will be engraved with the town greeting message and then installed to the left of the moon gate.

A moon gate by Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks.

A moon gate by Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks.

Invisible Fire Pit

An invisible fire pit with its cover in place.

A thick stone lid covers an invisible fire pit installed in a drystone patio.

We’re creating an outdoor space for a family in Montford. Part of the design is an invisible fire pit, a technique we developed as a way to save patio space. We use fire brick to create the place to burn below grade. We don’t go too deep, so the fire is able to draw air from above. If it was too deep the fire would starve for oxygen. The lid is quite thick and heavy enough that we decided to cut it into three pieces, making it much more manageable. 99% of the time, it’s just a patio, but when you want to have a fire, you open the lid (handles provided) and enjoy the ambiance.

Invisible fire pit installed in a patio.

Invisible fire pit installed in patio, with the cover off.

Stone River Step

Stone step with large landing

A river of bluestone runs through a step and landing.

This is the top step and landing that leads into a home in Fairview. The river is cut from Pennsylvania bluestone and runs through a field of Tennessee sandstone. We cut steps slabs in half lengthwise to create the edges to support the flagstone landings.
Steps and landings that lead into a Fariview home.

A bluestone river runs through a set of steps and landings.

Stone Steps with River Design

steps design sketch

Soapstone rendering on sandstone of stepstones. Words to that effect.

We’re working in Fairview right now, building a small flagstone patio adjacent to the house and replacing some tired timber steps that lead to the front entrance. The front steps will have a design that flows through them, meant to resemble water. The first pieces are in place. The sketch is on one of the sandstone slabs that will make the landings. We use soapstone to make our mark.
stone steps with flagstone landings

Starting a set of steps with flagstone landings. A river will run through it.

The Grindstone Transition

stone transition from driveway to path

Cobblestones, a grindstone and a large sun ray design cut from a single slab of flagstone combine to create a transition at our latest project in Asheville, North Carolina.

We have been installing a cobblestone driveway that ends at a path that leads to the front door and formal entrance of this magnificent stone house. I cut a large sun ray design from a single slab of flagstone. The homeowner found the grindstone at an antique shop years ago. The cobbles are from Tennessee and have been tumbled, to soften the edges and give them a time worn look. This project in the Haw Creek neighborhood in Asheville, where we worked last fall, using mill stones and cobbles as design elements to complete a drainage system on the back patio.

antique mill stone set in patio

Drystone patio with millstone inset

Cobblestone Patio

The defining feature of my current project is a circular cobblestone patio in Asheville’s historic Montford neighborhood made of materials gathered by the homeowner over the last 30 years.

circular cobblestone patio

The homeowner spent fifteen years salvaging old cobblestones from around Asheville so we could make this circular patio space,

Colorful Cobblestones

The cobblestones are very diverse; I’ve found at least three distinct types of granite. They have all weathered differently and some are quite smooth from years of use as roads. Since there was a limited supply, I split most of them in half lengthwise. This effectively doubled my stone supply and added colors to the palette. While the top might be a granite grey, or green with algae, the bottom may be brown or orange, depending on the type of soil it has been sitting in for the last few decades. Once split, the inside of the stone also became a usable surface, always much brighter and sparkly than the weathered outside. A couple of the stones actually have old paint on them, from their days as roadways. As a result the cobblestone patio is quite colorful.

Cutting Cobblestones

I have tried every different way I know to cut stone and have found the most efficient and neatest way to split the cobbles is using a type of chisel called a hand tracer. I scribe a line all the way around and around the cobble until it splits in two. The grain of granite is ideal for this type of technique; it’s very hard, dense stone, but it responds predictably to the chisel’s persuasion. The local metamorphic stones are less cooperative. I start out lightly, making sure the line is fairly straight and well established before I really lay into the stone. Once I get going, I can hear the stone starting to split, and I ease up, paying more attention to the places where it still sounds solid. A sharp chisel is a huge asset and I have been bringing the hand tracer home every night for a run over the bench grinder.

Cutting A Stone Circle

I used the hand tracer to remove large chunks of the center stone, a circle cut from a another salvaged piece of granite. I didn’t have a compass large enough to draw a circle on the stone, so I made one with roofing felt, a nail and some soapstone. I traced the circle on a piece of roofing felt and then laid that template over the stone.

Once I had the basic shape of the circle cut, I switched to my smaller, sharper chisels, which give me more control, to hone a more accurate shape. Though the patio needs one more ring to be completed, I dropped the circle stone in the center on Friday afternoon, to check the fit. The whole cobblestone patio makes me think of a flower.


Stone Memorial Mosaic

The Hiker: Done!

The Hiker Memorial

The Stone Memorial Story

This artistic stone memorial mosaic is created of natural stone. It rests over the grave of John Ledbetter in Asheville’s historic Riverside Cemetery.

John Winslow LedBetter was a beloved husband, father, doctor and Scoutmaster. He passed away in March 2011 and is dearly missed by family and friends. Last summer his widow Gwenda approached me about creating a memorial to him. The original idea was for a cairn, as a symbol of John’s endless love for the mountains. The idea resonated but presented challenges at the cemetery, where a single boulder looms over a neighboring gravesite. With the vertical space already claimed, we opted to paint on a horizontal canvas.

Designing the Stone Memorial

The Hiker: Source design

The Hiker: Source design

During the first conversation I had with Gwenda about the project, she gave me a simple card that was shared with everyone at John’s funeral. She noted with some pride that the sketch was a logo that John had drawn for his Scout troop. The iconic hiker image became the starting point of my stone memorial mosaic design.

Stone Memorial Mosaic

The Hiker: detail

The gravesite, in the historic Riverside Cemetery in the Montford section of Asheville, is long and lean, at 4′ by 10′. This had a significant impact on how I drew the stone memorial design. The hiker rests briefly, taking in the sun setting over the Blue Ridge Mountains. The original artwork has an everyman silhouette, which I have replaced with John’s profile, drawn from pictures his family provided.

Creating the Stone Memorial

I use full sized templates to accurately cut pieces for the stone memorial. In this image I am preparing to cut Absolute Black granite for hiker’s feet.

I use a variety of different abrasive tools to clean up the edges of my stones and hone the shapes of the mosaic stones.

I pre-assembled the memorial mosaic as I cut each stone. This allowed me to get the ideal fits between stones.

Installing the Stone Memorial

Setting the memorial edging

Setting the memorial edging

The first step of installing the stone memorial was to set the edging. Here, my helper Gary digs trenches. We bedded the stones in cement and held them in place with wooden jigs while they cured. In the background you can see the stone bench we built.

Stone Memorial Mosaic

Memorial halfway installed at gravesite

Piece by piece I laid the stone into the edging. I used gravel as my base to promote drainage and ensure a long, long life for the memorial mosaic.

The Stone Memorial Mosaic

Stone Memorial Mosaic

Memorial bench at gravesite



The mosaic laid out and ready for transport.

stone memorial mosaic

I would be honored to work with you to create a stone memorial mosaic to tell the story and celebrate the life of your beloved. Please call me at (828) 337-7582 or e-mail me.