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Design and Manufacture of Monuments
Pre-mechanization and Pre-Computerization
- The designer would handdraw the chosen image and words on
- The selection was limited to what the designer could easily
draw or trace and to what the stone-worker (often one and the same person)
- The stencil would be cut-out by hand and laid on the stone
and the image would be traced.
- Following the markings traced on the stone, the stone-worker
would use chisels and hammers to shape, cut, and carve by hand.
- These were time-intensive tasks and the more complicated
the design the higher the price by a substantial amount.
In the 1800's mass-produced metal stencils and letter die-casts
made it easier for designers to trace images and letters. However, customers'
selections would often be limited to the stencils the monument company had available
unless the company employed a designer who could draw or would hire an artist,
one who was knowledgeable of what images could successfully be handcut into
- The development of air hammers and chisels at the start of
the 20th-century speeded up the cutting process, but images and letters still
had to be handdrawn on the stone.
- With the advent of electric enlargers (machines that used
light and mirrors to redirect images),designers had the option of tracing
more images, but the image still had to be converted into dimensions that
would work with stone and traced onto the stone--processes that were all done
- Then in the 1930's (or thereabout) sandblasting machines
were invented. By literally blasting a special sand mixture at the rock, these
machines eliminated some of the handcutting techniques, but special carvings
or ones with especially fine detail still needed to be done by hand. Also,
until the 1960's or so, the sandblasting machines had to be held by hand,
which meant that a person (usually a man) had "to hold a sandblast nozzle
in front of a stone for 20-40 minutes, steady and on the level," a feat
that took a great deal of "skill and endurance" (L.A. Herstead 11/16/2000).
- The automation of the sandblasting machines helped to speed
up the process because, as Lou Ann Herstead explained, they "freed a
man up to continue working on something else and improved the quality of the
sandblasting [by enabling a greater] uniformity of pressure because the same
speed, direction, and distance from the stone is maintained" (11/26/2000).
- Because the sandblasting machines would wear away any unexposed
rock surface, a means to protect uncut areas had to be devised, so rubber
stencils were poured onto the stone. According to Lew Herstead, the process
initially went like this: "The stone had to be perfectly level and a
border put around the area to be covered. The stencil was melted in a pot
with sufficient water to make it pourable, and this would be poured onto the
stone to a proper thickness of 3/16 and allowed to cool overnight. . . The
next morning the cutter would draw the carving and lettering directly on the
poured stencil and then proceed to cut out the work with a type of knife we
call a stencil knife" (11/16/2000).
- Later the stencil came in rubberized sheets that were glued
onto the stone, but the process of having to cut the stencil by hand before
the sandblasting could begin was the same well into the 1960's.
- Cutting stencil by hand was an incredibly time-consuming
task. In one of its promotional packets entitled "The quarrying and manufacturing
process" (1978), Elberton Granite, one of the largest quarries and monument
producers in the United States, explained stencil cutting as a "tedious
task" that required a person to spend hours running a "razor sharp
knife along the tiny lines made by the carbon reproduction" pressed against
the rubberized stencil (p. 6).
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Computerization (mid-1980's to present)
- Computers have not changed the basic process of designing
monuments (images and fonts still need to be chosen, the layout planned and
applied to stone, the stone surface cut and finished for the cemetery), but
they have transformed the ease and speed by which that process is done.
- With available clip art, the speed of scanning technology,
and the monument design programs that enable drawing (and redrawing) of micro-precise
images right on the computer, almost any image a person would like put on
a monument can be done.
- Because changes can easily be made, designers can redesign
sites without the tedious process of erasing and redrawing. With a click of
a button images can be deleted, enlarged, manipulated in ways not easily possible
with paper-based designing.
- Besides making designing (at least the layout, not the conceptual
knowledge) easier. Computerization led to computer stencil cutters, machines
that look like giant computer printers, except instead of laying ink on paper,
they use blades to cut rubber sheets as they scroll through. The process while
not as fast as a paper printer, is certainly a lot faster than the old way
of cutting stencil. To cut a rubber stencil that would have taken a person
four hours to cut (assuming that he or she was a good and experienced cutter
who makes no mistakes) the computerized stencil cutter can do in one hour.
This substantially reduces the cost of the monument because after spending
about fifteen minutes setting up the computerized stencil cutter, the designer
can just hit a computer key and go onto another task.
- Because the cost of design is less and because the cost of
manufacturing is less, monuments today--allowing for inflation--cost substantially
less than they used to (unless, as L.A. Herstead explains, "there is a monopoly
of the service because the cemetery, funeral home, monument company, and vault
company are all owned by the same large funeral corporation," in which case
the cost can still be quite high). On average though, the costs are lower
which means that people can afford to put more images on stones. L.A. Herstead
estimates that when she joined her family's business full-time in the that
maybe 2% of the monuments that produced had pictures on them. Now she says
it's over 40% and increasing every year.
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