I can’t tell you how many customers I have worked or walked with here at Plymouth Quarries that have confessed to me that they are addicts who are completely hooked. They just can’t shake it. There is no treatment, no cure, because they are addicted to stone. My first response is usually an uncomfortable laugh. Then I continue to feed their addiction with a tour of our showroom followed by a long walk out in the yard. If I’m in a really good mood we take a ride out back to see our quarry pit. Those that have known me for a while will all agree that I have a slight touch of Attention Deficit Disorder. Slight is probably disingenuous but let’s just use that for now. One of the most prevalent symptoms is I tend to talk without taking a breath. This happens a great deal especially when the conversation turns to my pizza oven, Italian wines, and stone. So what the heck? I guess this is a good time as any to confess to the fact that I’m also an addict when it comes to stone.
When you make your living as a mason there is never really much time to stop and smell the roses. We are constantly trying to meet deadlines, deal with employees, wait for stock and permits, chase money, and most importantly, checking the forecast. If we ever take a moment to stop and step back, I hope we all realize just how lucky we are. There is something very cool and mystical about our profession and what we do. Masonry is not something one can learn overnight. It takes many years of hard work. We are continuously working at our trade trying to learn as much as we can from past generations, and hopefully improving our craft. Stone is such a major portion – some might say the life blood – of what we do. It’s who we are.
Natural stone has been with us since the beginning of time and will be with us ‘til the end. In any kind of construction or design, the one element that stands alone to which nothing can compare is stone. It’s timeless, and can last forever. The only issue I see on the horizon won’t be with the stone, it will be with the lack of qualified masons that can actually work with it. But I digress; this is a topic for another day. Here in my backyard, and traveling across the country, it still amazes me when I look at the spectacular sights of old stone churches and buildings that were built hundreds of years ago by masons that didn’t have the tools, machines, and saws we have today. Even after all these years of being pounded by storms, cold, heat, and everything in between, the work still stands alone. Why? – Because the masons were incredibly talented and the stone was spectacular. Consistent joints, perfectly plumb corners, and how the heck did they get those two and three tone granite blocks that high without a crane?
Over the years stone has gone through some pretty dramatic changes. One of the first changes came with the consistency of full bed veneer. Working with pieces that are four to six inches in thickness and palletized has saved a great deal of time. Before, masons had to split stone on the job sites. Fabrication was a big advancement with the development of diamond blade saws that were capable of cutting pattern size stone for patios, landings and walkways. This allowed masons to work with consistent square and rectangular pieces. Some pieces have perfectly gauged bottoms so they are a consistent thickness making it much easier to set in a bed of mortar or in dry applications.
The biggest change for me and my business has been thin veneer. Thin veneer is a real stone cut to a three quarters to inch and a half thickness. Most lines have corners, and you can set them in any application inside or outside without having to build masonry support structure because its average weight is fifteen pounds per square foot. With this veneer we can take the front of an existing shingled home and change it into a stone veneered home. An existing fireplace or a new gas insert can be transformed into a rustic or contemporary center piece with little prep and much less work and time than with full-sized stone. When a thin veneer job is done correctly, it should be close to impossible to tell that it is a thin veneer. Another interesting product I’ve come across is large sheets of fossilized stone cut to an inch and under that have lengths and widths three feet and over for vertical applications. You can literally have an entire wall of fossilized stone. Imagine a bar or restaurant overlooking the ocean with an entire back wall of fossilized ocean floor stone! I must say at this stage of my career, I have really lost interest in working with full bed veneer. Don’t get me wrong, full bed veneer is incredible when finished. The problem is it takes so much time, especially when working on large jobs which beat you up physically. I won’t mention the loss of blood with scraped knuckles, especially on your pinky finger. You have probably figured out that I’m a huge fan of thin veneer stone
Recycled products have been a fast-growing change to our business. Stone masons have always recycled even before it was cool. For years we took our demo jobs of broken up concrete and stone to local suppliers or quarries where we pay to dump it, then we buy it back as crushed stone or base material. There have been other products like countertop material that have been thrown in landfills, but not anymore. Some of this waste is being turned into some amazing tile, veneer, and paving. One of my favorites is Recycled Granite – polished stone remnants from countertops that are split into quarter inch tiles that take on a new life on their own. They can be used for designs such as: outdoor kitchen units, indoor backsplashes, between the counter tops and cabinets with LED strip lighting, reception area walls in office spaces, bathrooms, and even fireplaces. They have a great texture and when applied in larger areas they look like a wall of stone. They are also being fabricated as one of a kind fire pits as well as paving for driveways and patios. With a multitude of colors and characteristics these products are something you have to check out for any interior or exterior design.
Large stone sheets are another one of the new hot things. For example fabricators have cut sheets of stone to a quarter of an inch for vertical applications, then it is back lit with LED lighting which makes them illuminate. Onyx has been used in this application for awhile, but now granite is being used in the same way. Can you imagine an entire wall made of sheets of stone, lit from behind in a high-end city apartment, contemporary style home, or a luxurious office conference room? As we say here in Beantown “wicked awesome.” These are just a few examples of how stone is being used in different and new ways.
Another change in the stone world has been the growth and expansion of worldwide trade. We are able to bring in all types of stone from around the world that were never available before. Countertop material has been imported for years, but now there are imported products for every phase of design. New types of granite are being used for step treads, solid steps, and pattern stock for patios. India supplies a massive amount of Belgium block or what we call cobble stone. They also ship it in large blocks that are fabricated here in the states for curbing, light posts, and marking posts. Another example is travertine from Turkey. Travertine was previously used for tile but now you can get it for pool coping and patios as well. It is very soft and smooth to walk on barefoot and has some spectacular color tones. Large pool areas with a travertine patio and matching coping are as high end as you can get. I’ve even used imported marble outside in warmer climates for outdoor living areas. The color has swirls of white and blue. If you want to see some of the new products that are being introduced to the USA, check them out at trade and home shows. A little word of caution. Before you fall in love with a product, make sure you communicate with your suppliers to find out how some of these imported products handle under specific climate conditions. Softer stones definitely don’t like harsh winters that have major/freeze thaw cycles.
Over the years we have learned a great deal about new techniques and new ways to install stone. For dry lays like patios and walkways we have learned a great deal about water management. Base material that we used “back in the day” is not what we use today. A simple rule is this – the better the base material drains, the less likely you will get heaving with the frost/thaw cycle, and the less likely you will get phone calls about things moving or sinking. The introduction of high tech mortar mixes and moisture barriers have been cutting edge. The growth of these products over the years has been exponential. When I first started out, we would never dream of using a premixed mortar or cement. Now for most of us in the business, it has become commonplace. Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of these mortars, thin sets, and outdoor grouts. I can tell you from first-hand experience that the consistency, strength, and hands on support from the manufacturers are top notch. If you ever have to demo a thin veneer job that has been set with some of these thin set products, I wish you the best of luck!
Outdoor living has been one of the driving forces in our business. Everywhere you look whether it is the big box stores or your local suppliers, everything is marketed to outdoor living. Outdoor kitchens, living rooms, fire pit areas, or something in between. I find it kind of amusing that outdoor rooms have been the “new” thing for a while now. Truth be told, masons have been building and designing outdoor rooms forever, we just never called them outdoor rooms until now. Another great thing that I‘ve seen over the years with outdoor design is that anyone can attain it. It doesn’t matter what size home you have or what zip code you live in. The continued growth of outdoor living has been a wonderful thing for masons, designers, quarries, fabricators, and homeowners. On a personal note, it has grown my business and given me great opportunities over the years. Another benefit of this growing market is not just more options but it has brought down the cost on certain types of stone. There is a good array of choices in thin veneer and paving stone that are attainable within all phases of the market place. Not too long ago there was a time when only a select few could incorporate stone in their dream designs. It was very costly, labor intensive, and there were limited choices. Fast forward to today and options for products, moderate pricing, and instillation have changed quite dramatically. Now you can still stay on budget using stone.
Nothing can compare to natural stone – nothing. I’ve seen some very cool new products that mimic stone that will definitely find a place in our business. I’m always open to seeing what’s new and exciting out there, but no matter what, I will always believe that nothing, absolutely nothing can compete or replace natural stone. The texture, the range of color, the character, and the longevity of stone will never be matched by manufactured products. If you have an old, tired looking fireplace and want to bring it back to life? Then make it the centerpiece of your room with real thin veneer stone. If you want to add curb appeal to the front of your home then fix your steps with stone veneer risers and stone treads, add a stone walkway and you have dramatically changed the front of your home along with bringing up its value. Do you want a patio that will get better with age and add character to your outdoor room? Then stone is the only choice. Are you building your dream house by the ocean, in the mountains, or on a lake? You should add stone to some part of the design both inside and out. Are you building or renovating your office space? Then guess what? Stone will make it dressed for success and at the same time add warmth to the entire space. I can go on and on, but I think you get the picture. The demand for stone in all its forms for any application inside or out and in any kind of construction will always be in demand. I have been in this business both in the design and instillation side of masonry for many years. Now I’m on the supply side. From my view the stone market keeps growing year to year, month to month, and at times, week to week. I don’t think I have ever met an acquaintance or customer that has ever had a bad word to say about stone. I know I should probably get out more, but in the meantime, if you are designing, or building for residential, commercial, or anyplace in between you should without question keep one thing in mind – STONE.