Bluestone Fabrication: Making the 9-Story Patio

Bluestone Fabrication

The first designs were pencil lines on paper, as I tried to create shapes and fill the space in a balanced way. The pencil sketches were on an approximate scale. Once I had a design I liked and the clients had approved, I created the drawing above in Adobe Illustrator. I made it full scale, which means the document itself, if I could print it on a single sheet, would be exactly the size of the patio, five feet deep and almost twenty feet long. The biggest challenge was keeping the arced lines smooth. I freehanded each line, but found several shortcuts to eliminating the bumps and bounces of my hand drawn lines. I use a Wacom drawing tablet, which helps a whole lot.

You might notice that the numbering scheme is also a lettering scheme- I substantially changed the design halfway through and couldn’t start my sequencing all over again.

Since I don’t have access to a large enough printer, I had to cut the document into pieces. I outputted a couple dozen PDF files that had a shape or two on them. I twisted and turned the original document to reduce how many prints I needed. It was still a huge roll of prints. I had them done at Henco Reprographics, far and away the best printers in town. I cut each shape out, a few at a time because it proved to be so tedious. As it turned out, making the templates was just as time consuming and considerably less fun than making the stones. Though it was less dusty.

I transferred the paper shapes onto fifteen pound roofing felt. It’s considerably more durable than paper and waterproof. I fastened the paper to the felt with masking tape, to make sure my shapes didn’t morph during the cutting. Using felt for the templates was an idea I borrowed from fellow Stone Foundation member Karl Opanowicz. It worked perfectly and withstood all the abuse I could mete out.

Most of the stones had at least one straight side, which is where I started my cuts. I had to place the templates quite precisely as they barely fit on the stones. As it was, I purchased over three tons of material to find these 27 stones. There are only a couple of stones left over big enough to be cut for this design, most of which were rejected for being boring. This stone, the thickest of all of them, is sitting on the table of my Achilli bridge saw.

The Achilli bridge saw is a job site granite fabrication tool. It can support a 14 inch diamond blade and has a recirculating pump in the table reservoir that sprays water onto the blade, keeping it cool and knocking down the dust. The bluestone was so soft that I could plunge cut it, meaning I didn’t have to make multiple passes. It zipped right through.

Bluestone Fabrication
After the straight lines were cut I moved onto the arcs. I traced these lines with a piece of soapstone. It’s more durable than pencil lines, but can be washed off as desired. The wax crayons carpenters use leave permanent markings on stone. From this picture you can see how close I am to the edge of the slab.

I used a five inch Makita variable speed grinder for the curved cuts. In this image it’s outfitted with a 4 1/2 inch blade and the grip is on the wrong side; this was an early stone in my learning curve. Matt of Rockstar Marble and Granite set me on the right course by switching me to a five inch blade and swapping the grip around. I faced the blade away from me and dragged it from left to right, sending the spray of dust away from me. By holding the grinder straight up and down I was able to get very clean and deep cuts, though I had to flip several stones to finish the job. What a delightful mess.

Bluestone Fabrication

I used a cup wheel to grind off any excess along the edges of stones. While the sides aren’t visible, the tolerances between the stones are so tight, there’s no room for any extra material. During installation on site, I also used a zero tolerance wheel, another granite fabrication tool, to fix shapes and tighten the joints. These are both fairly aggressive tools and I was able to rip my way through the excess without too much trouble.

Bluestone Fabrication

Rough draft at the shop

Towards the end of the bluestone fabrication I laid it all out at my workshop. I didn’t fuss too much with the joints while I was fabricating it, figuring that there would be a lot to do on site to get it exactly right. It would have been hard to get them exactly right at the shop because the stones were varying thicknesses placed on a level surface. A slight discrepancy in level can change the way two stones interact. Most of the stones needed at least some attention to snug in the way that I wanted. The stone fabricated above- number 9- is visible at the bottom left of this image. On the patio, it partly spans the doorway, one of the reasons I chose such a thick slab.

Bluestone Fabrication

Ready to go

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.