The following has been written by Guest Author Adam Binstock of Sydney, Australia. Adam contacted CemeteryScribes to give some feedback on stonemasons and we were delighted when he agreed to tell us more about the craft. Adam’s family of stonemasons go back many generations, his great grandfather was making tombstones in Poland.
Being a monumental mason working in the stone age (Bad pun) would have taken a particular type of person. Picture summer 1965, it’s about 35 degrees outside which means it’s more like 42 in the cemetery where you are working today. You are ready start a new headstone today, what needs to be done?
Draw inscription on headstone by hand: This process would involve creating an outline of the writing that was going to be chiselled. Obviously the writing needs to be error-free, straight, and aesthetically correct. Time needed: Half to full day depending on amount of writing.
How it’s done today: A computer-created stencil is printed off and then placed on the headstone. The parts surrounding the stencil are then taped up to avoid exposure to the sandblaster. Time needed: 30-40 minutes.
Chiselling the writing: Engraving the writing on the stone with a chisel. This would have been done sitting on the burning hot gravestone with the posture of a contortionist! Time needed: Roughly two days!
How it’s done today: A sandblaster, which is a high-powered machine that shoots abrasive sand onto the exposed headstone. Time needed: 30 minutes.
Clean headstone: Cleaning off pencil marks and other blemishes.
Undoubtedly, these ‘old school’ masons had difficult jobs. They required precision, skill, patience, and physical strength. However, probably most of all they would have needed passion- a love for their job and what they created.
[Comment by CemeteryScribes: we wonder if the new techniques will result in longer lasting legibility or whether, 100 years from now, the same problems of erosion will confront the questing Family Historian trying to decipher the inscription on their ancestor’s stone. Here’s hoping that the modern methods do!]