New Panoramas & A Marketing Class

This is a photo montage/panorama of the steps I built this past winter in the Montford district of Asheville. The step treads are made of the full-color variant of Pennsylvania bluestone. The wall, columns and step risers are made of granitic gneiss, mostly from the Hooper’s Creek quarry in Fletcher. The steps and columns are mortared; the wall is completely dry.

Sandstone steps and wall buried in snow. Looks positively comfortable right now.

Last Friday I led an hour long workshop for craftspeople and artisans on how to market their work. It was part of Handmade in America’s Art, Craft and Design Expo at the North Carolina Arboretum. The main push of my talk was that marketing is education and that craft artists should focus their marketing efforts on the 3 P’s: product, process and person. I also talked a bit about setting goals, making a cohesive plan and punk rock.

Bench Class

A couple of weekends ago, I led a workshop at the NC Arboretum on building stone benches. First thing in the morning we studied images of various benches, stone-cutting techniques and ways to move heavy objects safely and with relative ease. Safety was a recurring theme throughout the day. After the classroom presentation, we went outside and built a free-standing bench, a style I call castle-block for the big chunks of stone that make up the supports. The bench we built is now a permanent fixture at the Arboretum, a rest station along one of the trails.

To facilitate ease of movement, we cut the big stone down in the back of my truck. In this image, Ronnie is using a star bit chisel to notch shallow guide holes in the top of the stone. This gives the drill bit a place to sit, reducing the likelihood of the bit bouncing around and scarring the stone.

Everyone got a chance to use the drill and work at cutting stone. Here Judy leans into the drill to get the proper placement.

Since our cut edges were going to be exposed, we took some time to clean up the drill holes. Here Carol is using a handset chisel to knock off the cut edge of the bench stone. We put the cut edge to the back of the bench, less visible to passers-by.

We spent some time doing bench math, designing everything so that it would be the proper height and balanced as a structure and as an aesthetic object. Here Carol measures the thickness of the slab, the starting point for figuring out the math. I handed out the following worksheet to guide the design and layout process.

By cutting it in the back of truck, we made the stone more manageable, but it was still a heavy chunk. Jason uses a rock bar to move the stone from the pallet onto the ramps we have set up. Using 2″ by 12″ pressured treated lumber as ramps, we slid the stone down to waiting blocks and from there into place.

We used mortar to set the bench. This design can be done dry, but the mortar reduces the risk of movement, particularly since the bench is in a public place.

We all felt good as we finished up. The bench looked great and we had built it efficiently and safely. It felt good to be leaving something cool and useful for everyone to enjoy. Tre and Ronnie test drive the bench and pronounce it good.

Monolith Wall Photo Op!

Monolith Wall Photo Op

Yesterday, I spent the day with photographer Steve Whitsitt taking pictures of stone projects I have worked on around Asheville. He is putting together a coffee table book of stone work, hopefully to be published in 2011. It was fun and educational to spend a day with a pro photographer. We visited several projects and I got to take some shots too. It’s always good to revisit the work as it ages and weathers in.

Monolith Wall Photo
I have been tying for a while now to get a good panorama of this project. It’s in a very tight space and I can only get a small bit of it in each image. Yesterday, while wandering around taking pictures with Steve, I got the best panoramic view of it I’ve done so far.

Monolith Wall Photo

Spring 2010 Classes at the Arboretum

The new class schedule for the North Carolina Arboretum was recently announced. I am leading three stonework classes this spring. DIY Flagstone Paths & Patios will be offered twice, on Saturday April 10th and on Friday April 16th. In the morning session, we discuss the basics of drystone flagging: necessary site prep, the principles of good structure and varying joinery styles. In the afternoon we go outside to the stone classroom and practice the essential skills: moving stone safely, shaping individual pieces and leveling the patio.

I am offering a brand new class this spring, called Stonework Special Projects: Making a Bench on Saturday May 15th. In the morning we will discuss the design and structural issues of building a stone bench. In the afternoon we will build a freestanding bench ourselves. Topics of note including cutting stone with feathers and wedges and how to move large stones safely.


A Bench for Grandpa Tony

from the Chapel Hill News (Now The News & Observer)
16 December 2009

BY DAVE HART, Staff Writer
CHAPEL HILL – When Grandpa Tony went out for his walks, which he did nearly every day until he was into his mid-90s, he always made sure he was well provisioned.
He kept cookies in his right pocket for the neighborhood’s children and dog treats dogs in his left pocket for its dogs. For everyone he had a smile, a wave and a warm conversation.
“He lived here for 18 years and he walked miles every day,” said Virginia Saam, one of Antonio Marimpietri’s neighbors in the Ironwoods subdivison off Seawell School Road. “He talked to everybody. He knew all the kids. He knew all the dogs. Everybody knew Grandpa Tony.”
And when Marimpietri died last July, a month after his 98th birthday, everybody felt the loss. As word of his passing spread, in person and through the Ironwoods blog, the sentiment quickly grew that the neighborhood should commemorate his life and vibrant presence in some way.
“There’s a corner in the neighborhood where the road splits, and Tony would always sit on his walker at that corner and wave and talk to everyone who passed by,” Saam said. “It sort of became Tony’s corner. It occurred to me that maybe we could do something special for him there. That got such a response! Everybody wanted to contribute.”
Another neighbor, Deb Vacca, suggested that it would be a fitting tribute to remember Grandpa Tony with a bench at his corner, a resting place where neighbors could stop and visit with one another just as he always had.
“We settled on the idea of a stone bench, and then we did a Google search,” said neighbor Matthew Feldt. “We found a stonemason based in Asheville. He turned out to be exactly what we were looking for — somebody who is eco-centric, detail oriented, somebody who would really care about the project. And he did; he came to care about Tony.”
Marc Archambault makes exquisite natural stone walls, patios, walkways and other projects, using “dry,” or mortar-free techniques. He does most of his work in and around Asheville, but “for the right project,” he says, he’ll go just about anywhere. Grandpa Tony’s bench was a right project.
Archambault cut the 600-pound bench slab from a 3,000-pound block of Tennessee sandstone. He chiseled the support pedestals from smaller — though still substantial — blocks of stone, and on Oct. 30 he brought the whole thing down from the mountains in a pickup truck. With Feldt’s help, he unloaded the slab, prepared and leveled the site and constructed the bench. On a separate block he affixed a plaque reading, “For our friend, Grandpa Tony Marimpietri.” He covered the bench and block with a tarp so the epoxy holding the plaque in place could dry for 24 hours.
The next day was Halloween, when the neighborhood every year holds a potluck part. On an impulse, Ironwoods resident Ginny Thompson sent an e-mail out proposing to unveil the bench before the potluck.
“I sent out this note and went and bought a couple bottles of wine,” Thompson said. “I only gave everybody about two hours’ notice, so I didn’t expect much turnout. I figured, worst case scenario, I’d have a glass of wine with a neighbor.”
She should have bought more wine. Despite the short notice, more than 20 residents showed up, along, of course, with lots of kids and dogs.
Vince Norako, a good friend of Grandpa Tony’s, offered an eloquent toast, and Marimpietri’s son Tony, who lives with his family in Ironwoods, pulled the tarp off the bench.
“It meant a lot,” Tony Marimpietri said. “The neighborhood has been amazing.”
His father, he said, grew up in New York and worked in the restaurant business — “He said that during the Depression if you worked in a restaurant, at least you could eat,” he said.
Marimpietri the elder opened two restaurants of his own in New Jersey and eventually moved into the wine business, becoming a sommelier. He moved to Ironwoods in 1991 and immediately began to make friends.
“Dad was very gregarious, and people responded to him because he was authentic, because he was legitimately interested in them and their lives,” Tony Marimpietri said. “He always stopped to talk, and people were always visiting him at his home. They would take him to the store or to his favorite restaurant, Italian Pizzeria III. As he was going through the dying process, so many people went to Hospice to visit with him and say goodbye. The people at Hospice told me they’d never seen anything like it.
“Everyone was very, very supportive. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a village to care for the elderly, too.”


Memorial stone bench by Hammerhead Stoneworks

Memorial stone bench

Cutting Lintels

Cutting Lintels

Here is the step-by-step process I followed for cutting lintels for the pig roaster.

Here’s the stone I’ve selected and an assortment of the tools needed. The blue lines on the stone represent the cuts I’ll be making, one way or another. I decide to cut the right end off first, using feathers and wedges.

Before I use the hammer drill, I make small starter holes with the star-bit chisel. This prevents the drill bit from chattering on the stone, missing the mark and leaving unsightly scars. Before hammer drills, star bits were a traditional way to cut stone- swing the hammer, spin the chisel, swing the hammer, spin the chisel and on and on.

When cutting granite, I usually put feathers and wedges on three sides. To help guide the cut through the edges of the stone, I use my hand tracer, a recent purchase from Trow and Holden, to score a line where I want the cut to go.
Cutting Lintels

An argument could be made for making this cut with the hand tracer alone; granite is hard and heavy, but it behaves very well under tools. I decided to use the feathers to save time. You should trace all four sides and that’s no small feat with a stone this large, at least working by yourself.

Cutting Lintels
I followed the same process to make the longer cut along the width of the stone. Note how much straighter the ends are, where I traced the edges before splitting. It might have been a good idea to trace the whole line, though the rough line is in keeping with the overall aesthetic. I placed one wedge at the bottom of each side to guide the line.

The pencil line indicates the last cut to be made, to trim the top of the lintel. This is the face of the stone, freshly split showing a lovely line of quartz that will center over the opening of the roaster. Because of the clean line I want and the proximity to the edge of the stone I elect to use the hand tracer rather than the drill and wedges.

Cutting Lintels
Here’s the risk of this operation- I am cutting very close to the edge of the stone, particularly as it tapers towards the bottom. It is very likely that the cut I’m making will choose the path of least resistance out of the stone, which would be to the back, rather than the bottom. The top of the stone will spall, leaving me with stone to remove by other means.

The hand tracer is surprisingly effective; it cuts a very, very clean line.

Unfortunately the top of stone spalls, leaving excess material on the top where my cut was trying to remove the thinnest flake of stone. The blue line indicates what remains to be removed. The grinder is my weapon of choice.

I score the top of the stone with my seven inch grinder using a diamond blade. I put the score lines about an inch apart. I then use my chisels to remove the excess material. Notice the dimple on the face closest to the camera; a matching dimple on the opposite side made it possible to lift the stone.

Cutting Lintels
All that’s left is cleaning up the drill holes a bit.

Cutting Lintels


Cutting an S shaped Line in Stone

Cutting an S shaped Line in Stone

Up to this point, every time I’ve cut a stone using feathers and wedges, I have done so in a straight line. I decided to try cutting a S shape out of this particular slab of sandstone paving because it was just too large for the walkway under construction; it would unbalance the whole composition. I wanted a sinuous line to accent the rolling shape of the path and to avoid creating a uniform, tiled feeling with long straight lines and square stones.

Cutting an S shaped Line in Stone
I drew the line over a few times, trying to get the right shape. I wanted a subtle curve, figuring it would be easier to accomplish. The X’s indicate where the drill holes be, evenly spaced. This is the back of the stone, so my scribbles and drill marks will be unseen.

Cutting an S shaped Line in Stone
I drilled six holes. Why six? Because that’s how many complete sets of feathers and wedges I had at the time. More would have been better. The holes are fairly shallow, about two inches. The stone itself is only three inches thick. I was careful to not punch the drill bit through the stone, as it would have created ugly knockouts.

Cutting an S shaped Line in Stone

I placed the wedges so that they turned along the line. This ensures that the force applied pushed the stone apart along the desired line. They look like soldiers marching.

Cutting an S shaped Line in Stone

Ah, so close. The actual split wandered from the desired line at the very bottom of the stone. Looking at it now, it’s clear that the split followed the path of least resistance. Another wedge even closer to the edge might have helped this, as would have reorienting the line so that the desired line followed the path of least resistance. Tracing the desired line with a chisel might also have been helpful.
There’s a lot of surface flaking where the feathers are set. I believe the wedges are a fraction to big for the drill holes so that they bind at the top and cause the stone to pop like this. This was a secondhand set of wedges that I have since replaced. Another reason to do this on the bottom of the stone.

Cutting an S shaped Line in Stone
Here are the cut stones in the pathway. The two big, rust-colored stones to the left side of the image are the cut stones flipped and set. Note the ‘dog paw’ pebbling just above the gray stone, to honor Dixie, a regular visitor to my lunches during the project.