Working the Stone
THE GRANITE SHEDS
Preparing the quarried stone for shipping to construction sites involved four primary operations at the shed at the bottom of the incline: sawing, edging, surfacing, and carving. Other operations included boring, grinding, sand blasting, and polishing.
Prior to World War I, the finishing operations were primitive, relying on steam-powered machinery and much hand work. After Grenci & Ellis purchased the quarry, they modernized the sheds which enabled the company to twice double its output of finished stone from both the Mohegan and other quarries. The new shed, over 400 feet long, included electric power and air compressors to run machinery and drills. In 1928, seventy men were employed in the shed, working ten hours a day, six days a week.
During the quarry’s early years, each granite block had to be quarried as near to the desired size as possible and then hand chipped to the correct size, an operation that resulted in an enormous amount of waste That changed in the 1920s with the introduction of two electrically driven rotary saws with large circular blades and two gang saws that used multiple blades. Both types of saws worked by abrasion, using steel “shot” pellets to grind through the stone. The pellets were directed at the blade using water pumped from an abandoned quarry on the hill. The new saws limited the amount of waste to the amount actually cut out by the saw.
After they were sawn, blocks were further cut using three electrically driven edgers. These carborundum-bladed, water-cooled radial saws were used to make finish cuts including faces, bevels, and slots.
Stone was finished with hammers, either by hand or with pneumatic surfacers. These machines had a sliding vertical air hammer suspended from a pivoting arm that could be swept across a stone, using interchangeable bits to impart different surfaces. Polishing machines were added in 1929.
The polishing machines used a variety of abrasives and disks mounted so that they could reach any smooth surface of the block. The disks revolved at high speed to achieve the desired luster. The final task of the polishing operation was usually done by hand to smooth out any kinks, reach areas that the machines couldn’t reach, and to add the refinement that comes only from hand work.
Skilled carvers used hand and compressed-air tools to create architectural ornaments and monuments. Carvers were the granite worker elite, with the most training and highest pay.