Birds of Every Feather

Natural Stone Mosaic Birds of Every Feather: Fabrication Process

natural stone mosaic birds

Natural stone mosaic completed for Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia.

This collection of images is from the fabrication process of natural stone mosaic Birds of Every Feather, which was designed for Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk, VA. It is the first in a series of six mosaics I will make for schools in this area as part of a public art commission.

natural stone mosaic birds

American goldfinch, white-breasted nuthatch, American robin

natural stone mosaic birds

American robin, red-bellied woodpecker, mourning dove

As with all of my mosaic work, I fabricated this at my shop before bringing it to the installation site. Making the birds was so much fun! The background, not so much. The eyes of the birds are either glass marbles or small pebbles. In order to save epoxy, I would do several eyes all at once, leading to this weird-looking photograph.

natural stone mosaic birds

The little brown bird is the Carolina wren. While building this at the shop, a Carolina wren built a nest on one of the shop’s storage shelves.

Read more about Birds of Every Feather here and here.

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.

Frog Mosaic at North Carolina Arboretum

Frog Mosaic at NC Arboretum Hammerhead Stoneworks
Frog Mosaic at NC Arboretum

The North Carolina Arboretum commissioned Hammerhead to design and build a stone mosaic in their stream garden. The stream garden is located immediately adjacent to the Arboretum’s signature quilt garden.

Frog Mosaic at North Carolina Arboretum Hammerhead Stoneworks

The frog mosaic lines the bottom of a long, man-made water feature and references to two large bullfrogs living in the water feature. Often times they hang out in the storage tank which houses the water pump. The arboretum staff as well as the many school groups led through the garden know the frogs well. Known as ‘Hamburger’ and ‘French Fry,’ the beloved bullfrogs often made their kerlunking sounds as we worked nearby.

While most of the stone is regional, the tympanic membrane is a scrap of countertop material. The eye is a Mexican beach pebble.

Frog Mosaic North Carolina Arboretum Hammerhead Stoneworks

Sandstone Path with Landings

Sandstone Path with Landings

path with landings hammerhead stoneworks

This path was designed and installed for the entryway of a house of modern design in Alexander, North Carolina. It is 4 feet wide and is comprised of boulders found and selected around the site as well as Tennessee sandstone (also used here and here).

In addition to helping to maintain a comfortable walking rhythm, the steps and landings are spaced to run with the slope. This was essential in order to avoid excessive excavation and/or build up.

sandstone path with landings hammerhead stoneworks

Unique Drain Design

drain Hammerhead Stoneworks

(Above) The drain with the lid in place (Below) A closeup of the drain design and detail.

We incorporated this drain design in a patio we installed to cover and protect a sewer cleanout. The lid is the same type of stone used to build the patio. We used spray foam to create a seal to prevent gravel under the patio from making its way into the drain.

Lakeshore Bench

Lakeshore Bench

lakeshore bench hammerhead stoneworks
This backyard bench was designed and installed in North Asheville’s Lakeshore neighborhood. It is featured in the yard of a very avid gardener. It is a mortared bench that curves to round off the corners of the yard.

All the stone used for this bench is local with the end caps and wall portion made of mountain field stone and the seat made of Hooper’s Creek, which is quarried in Fletcher, NC. (We often use Hooper’s Creek as featured here.)

lakeshore bench hammerhead stoneworks

Kenilworth Stone Steps

Kenilworth Stone Steps

Kenilworth Stone Steps Hammerhead Stoneworks

The Finished Product

We completed this set of stone steps for a modern home of brand new construction. They are 9 1/2 feet across and made of sandstone slabs from Tennessee. They have a clean, modern look to match the style of the home.

Kenilworth Stone Steps Hammerhead Stoneworks

The wooden decking seen in the images above leads to the entrance of the home. We were contacted by the homeowners when they noticed that every time it rained, there was a serious runoff problem, leaving leaves, mud, and debris to stain the deck. The existing steps in this location were dangerously uneven and ugly and created a waterfall-like effect during rainstorms. Additionally, there were only three of them in space where four are needed in order to walk comfortably.

kenilworth stone steps hammerhead stoneworks

Existing Steps (Before)

In addition to creating a more aesthetically pleasing set of steps and making this a safer space, we also wanted to solve the runoff issue. The flagstone landing at the top of the steps pitches toward the road to divert most of the water away from the entrance and into a drain that we installed.

We enjoyed this project because it was a project of functional beauty, providing both aesthetics as well as problem-solving.

 

Garden Stonework in Mardi’s Yard

Over the last several years Hammerhead Stoneworks has worked closely with garden designer Mardi Letson, owner of Gardens by Mardi. The images below are from garden stonework projects we’ve done in her own yard. Mardi has a wonderful sense of design and can integrate plants into stonework wonderfully. She’s very talented and very easy to work with. She is especially good at working with small spaces as is demonstrated in her own yard. Her yard is not huge by any means, but it has so many little rooms and small special places to hang out.

The Finished Garden Stonework Products

garden stonework

Dry Stone Wall in Mardi’s yard

 

Stone slab steps at Mardi's

Stone slab steps at Mardi’s

 

Dry-laid flagstone path

Dry-laid flagstone path featuring the heart-shaped rock Mardi requested

A Stone Fire Pit That Saves Patio Space

Invisible fire pit in use

Invisible fire pit in use


Hammerhead Stoneworks offers a stone fire pit design solution for small patio spaces. This past spring I built what I call an Invisible Fire Pit. This is a design solution for a small patio area. A typical stone fire pit can take up a great deal of space. In a small area, this can be problematic, as it limits the amount of outdoor furniture one can use, or make it hard to entertain in the space at times when a fire isn’t desired. The Invisible Fire Pit is built down into the ground, but has a stone cover, so that when not in use, it really isn’t noticed. You can walk right over it with no indication that the space beneath your feet is hollow. Of course, this raises the issue of how to access the fire pit. I had my blacksmith friend Lynda Metcalfe make wrought iron handles. These are drilled through the stone and rest in a small groove I cut into the top of the stone. With the handles recessed in this way, there’s no trip hazard. The stone is still heavy, so it’s best to lift it with a friend! Last weekend the client had us over and my boys roasted marshmallows over the fire with his daughter. It was a great fun and the fire pit will get plenty of use in the coming months, as the nights cool off so perfectly.

Lid for the invisible fire pit

Lid for the invisible fire pit

Invisible fire pit cover

Invisible fire pit cover

Recessed handles for the invisible fire pit

Recessed handles for the invisible fire pit

Lid of the invisible fire pit

Lid of the invisible fire pit

Contact Hammerhead Stoneworks for all you patio and fire pit design and construction needs.