Making the Benches with the Marble Inlay

In a recent post I mentioned a couple of benches we installed at King Daddy’s Chicken and Waffle that had marbles inlaid into the bluestone bases. Here’s a few pictures from the process.

onyx spheres

Banded onyx spheres for a stone bench


These spheres are made of banded onyx and are slightly larger than the regular glass marbles that made up the majority of the bench inlay. I used them in the corners to help secure all of the other marbles- so they wouldn’t roll away as the epoxy was setting.

glass marbles

Glass marbles


I went to the toy store and bought so many marbles. It was awesome. I decided to avoid grouping them or trying to control the color pattern. During the inlay process, my rule of thumb was generally to not put the same color/style of marble next to each other.

helpers at the shop

My boys helped me lay marbles into the bench bases


My boys came to the shop with me one day and helped me put marbles in. The marbles are set in a groove that was cut into the base stone- a large chunk of bluestone. I used a very heavy duty epoxy as the setting agent. Each marble has a couple of small cut on their backsides to ensure that the epoxy has something to bond to. The boys also helped me figure out how many marbles I needed to buy. It was a practical math problem we solved over dinner one night.

Lifting a big stone

Lifting a bench base with a cherrypicker engine hoist


My friend Wally loaned me his cherrypicker engine hoist. We used it to get the big pieces off the truck. From here we dropped them onto our cart and brought them to the installation site. We used the cherrypicker again to set them onto the mortar bed. Because the bluestone bases were precision cut and had fine corners- and because they were full of marbles- we didn’t want to risk our typical approach of flipping things around and muscling them into place. Sometimes we are capable of finesse! We used Lewis pins to lift the stones. Holes are drilled into the top of the stone and the pins slide in. When you lift it up, the pins ‘grab’ the stone and lock in place. The holes are under the slab and out of sight in the finished installation. The three small pieces on the top are spacers that give the seating slab a lift and help imply a floating feeling. They are epoxied and pinned in place. The holes you can see on the top of those pieces were for pins that slotted into the bottom of the seating slab. These will not be easily undone.

Marbles laid into stone

Marbles inlaid into stone for bench base


A look down one side of one bench during fabrication. I could only do one side at a time and I ended up redoing a lot of parts because my starting point with the epoxy was nervous hopefulness. It was a messy process and it took me a while to figure out how to make it work and look good. And since I was practicing on the finished pieces- not the smartest thing to do I admit- I had to undo a bunch of things. I expect that for the next few years I’ll be finding marbles at the shop that have been flattened top and bottom as I cut them out of these benches. But now I got epoxy swagger!

Elk Mountain Wall & Frog


I didn’t have a jar of marbles with me, so I made one from some red clay and cured it in the sun.


A Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor) is an uncommon sight at any time, as they are well camouflaged, hide way up in trees and are entirely nocturnal. Odd then to find this little guy way out on a branch on a cold November morning. He was chilly and not inclined to move much. Once the sun hit him around lunch time he got more motivated and went into hiding.

Column Theory: Done and done


After waiting all summer, the columns finally got their hats. Last Thursday, after a full summer of research, phone calls and waiting, I ventured back down to Rock Hill, South Carolina and put the big cap stones on the columns and walls. We eventually ended up ordering stone directly from the quarry in Hackett, Arkansas. The column caps are single pieces, approximately 33 inches square and four inches thick. We strapped them by the corners and lifted them onto their mortar beds with a skid steer loader. It all went very smoothly, though we did discover that the flatter the stone lay in the rigging, the easier it went into place. Seems obvious as I write it, but in application, it didn’t seem like a couple of degrees would make such an impact on how they skooshed the mortar underneath them. Based on volume, I guess that the stones weighed between 400 and 450 pounds each.

The columns are structural, meaning the stone supports itself; there’s no block, besides the footing. There is a steel armature inside each column. The armature pokes out of each column over the wall. It’s job is to support timbers that complete the design. You can see the ‘fins’ on the left side of this column, with bolt holes already drilled. The armature has no role in the stone structure, but it was incredibly helpful because it gave me a way to suspend strings to keep my corners on target.

The mailbox is my favorite part of the project, mostly because of the challenges it embodies. When we agreed to terms on the project there was an aside about a mailbox. I imagined something small, mounted on the face in some easy way. I certainly didn’t imagine this affront to the internet age. I built a vault around it using quoins or cornerstones, an old school structural approach. I love the immensity, the real stone, real structure feeling it has. There’s no steel or block hiding in there- just stone on stone.

The image below shows the back of the columns on the opposite side of the driveway. Note the other vault, a massive control panel for the automatic gate mechanism. The stone door is held in place by friction. In the spirit of full disclosure, there is a piece of plate steel behind the lintel, supporting the column above.

Radial Steps: A Gneiss Wall

Radial Steps Gneiss Wall

Radial Steps Gneiss Wall

This drystone wall connects two columns in a Montford backyard. The redial steps are visible in the distance. Another wall segment will continue from the furthest column and turn at the bank. Most of the stone is a granitic gneiss: heavy, sharp and cantankerous. And it makes a lovely wall. Quarried a few miles outside of Asheville, it looks like it belongs here because it does.

In the photo below, find the green marble tucked in the joinery. In the bottom photo, there’s a pool ball.

Radial Steps Gneiss Wall

Assorted pics


I lost a wedge and set of feathers in the lintel stone. The stone broke cleanly, but this wedge, at the front edge of the stone, didn’t split quite right. The wedge remains, well stuck in the stone. In this picture, the wedge is set about two inches back from the front of the fireplace. I am leaving a ‘truth window’ in the stonework, so that you can look inside this little pocket and see the stranded tool.


This is my work space in the cabin, morning light filtering in. The recessed floor is where the hearthstones will be set.


There are marbles throughout this project, including this playful little dragon, well hidden in the face of the fireplace.


This tiger beetle has been a shiny emerald skittering around my stone piles.


This spring has been the wettest in years and the salamanders are in seventh salamander heaven. Everyday I see a few, under stones, in the creek or sometimes just walking around in the damp leaf litter. I believe this to be a Mountain Dusky Salamander, but I am not certain of my ID.