A Cornish granite-quarrying and masonry glossary
David has compiled a selection of quarrying and masonry terms gathered during his time working and researching at Tim Marsh’s Trenoweth Quarry near Penryn in Cornwall:
Arris – a general stone masonry term for a sharp or defined edge at the intersection of two surfaces.
Banker – a stable structure on which to place the granite block ready for working. At Trenoweth they use huge timbers recovered from Falmouth docks.
Bug – a small black blob (enclave) that is particularly despised in the memorial trade, as it ruins the fine pattern of the finished and primed surface made ready for lettering.
Bullied – a particular finish on ashlar or quoins (structural building blocks on corners and fenestration) whereby the middle of the worked surface is higher and rougher than the outside edge, sometimes featuring a neat chiselled frame to each worked surface. This finish is often seen on Georgian and Victorian buildings, gateposts and walling.
Bull set – worked with two people, this waste-removal method comprises a large wedge-shaped hammer on a long handle. Using the long handle, one stone-cutter would set the wedge of the hammer tight onto the granite surface, while a second stone-cutter would strike the head of the wedged hammer with a 14lb hammer. Large blocks could be roughly shaped using this method.
Chip line – a fine (white-powdered) line along the arris that marks the transition from one facet to another on masoned granite. This simple-looking finish actually requires a strictly ordered set of tooling methods and is remarkably difficult to master.
Choc chisel – essentially a chasing tool, this flat 25mm chisel is used for finishing and drafting.
Cocky High – the optimum height for granite banker-masoning. Most dressing of granite requires heavy punching; setting the worked surface of the granite at groin level provides optimum opportunity for downward hammer forces and efficient energy expenditure in the upper body. The rhythm or ‘beat’ of the mason’s hammer action, which takes several years to attain, is also critical to efficient banker masonry, and ultimately to the economic success of the quarry.
Dolly – a pneumatic version of the traditional ‘Bouchard hammer’, this multi-pointed tool, which slots into a pneumatic chisel-gun, removes surface waste and provides a stippled texture to the granite.
Fine axe – featured on finely worked masonry and headstones, this finish displays regular vertical lines etched across the surface, created with either a ‘patent (multi-bladed) axe’ or a pneumatic flat chisel. Very fine examples of this finish can be seen on the interior Merrivale granite masonry of Castle Drogo in Devon.
Lamb’s leg – a greyish, mottled streak of elvan running through the granite matrix. This feature is not desirable as the change in hardness — elvan is usually much harder and brittle — makes working more difficult, and the visual aspect is also frowned upon.
Out-of-wynde – ‘wynde’ refers to the uneven surface of a rough block, and getting it ‘out-of-wynde’ involves a set of (usually) four wynding blocks set on each corner. A straight edge is laid on a pair of wynding blocks at each of two ends, and eyed up for level. This way, each corner is set at the same level, which then provides the reference points for the draft line to be cut-in – all the way around the granite block. The middle is then dressed using a hammer and punch to remove the waste, with the aim of finishing the surface to the specification required.
Pitch tool – a large and wide flat chisel predominantly used for removing large chunks, or in situations in which a sufficiently flat surface, with a free end, can be worked.
Plugs and feathers – made from forged–iron comprising a plug (long tapered wedge) with two feathers (oppositely tapered to the plug and with curved heads) that are placed in the holes of a ‘stitch split’. Each of the plugs is then struck with a hammer – from first to last, and then from first to last again. The gradual build-up of pressure, as the plug tightens between the feathers, is registered through the rising pitch of the struck metal. A crack will slowly grow between the holes and travel down through the granite, and sometimes it can be best to let the split rest or ‘arc’ — time for a cup of tea — before continuing. When the split becomes very noticeable, the pitch of the hammer strike will suddenly dull as the pressure eases.
Punch or point tool – a pointed chisel used for waste removal and finishing. Chisels used for everyday work at Trenoweth have a tungsten insert, but for very hard granites – such as Trenoweth’s own Buckle and Twist – the traditional forge-tempered chisels remain the most effective. The forged chisels would be tuned to the mason and his particular granite – the harder the mason hits, the softer the tempering on the chisel.
Ridder – a term that has only recently come to light, a ridder would be a quarry-worker who would take away the chippings and waste from the banker masons’ working-area.
Rough/medium/fine grain – all the granites of the South West vary in grain size, sometimes changing even within the same quarry. The grain is partly determined by how quickly or slowly the magmatic granite cools — as a generalisation, the slower the cooling the larger the crystals. The feldspars are often the most visible crystal formation in the granite, some being palm-sized like the Blackenstone granite from Dartmoor. And as with the granites exposed on Sennen beach in the far south west of Cornwall, the flow of the molten granite is evidenced by the direction of the finger-shaped feldspars.
Rough/medium/fine punch – this process refers to the way in which a punched finish would be applied, and is determined by how deep, hard and how many impact marks there are per square foot. Finer finishes, such as ‘fine axe’ (fine chisel marks) can be applied over the punch marks.
Shoddie – off-cut or waste granite that is reused as a building stone. The waste granite is cropped, using a pneumatic press, to provide a rough outer face. Then the masons have to square-up each shoddie using a pitch tool.
Stitch-split – in this method, used in the granite industry of the South West after the 1800s, a line of holes is drilled into the granite, which are then stopped with plugs and feathers, allowing the banksmen/stone-cutters to split the granite into slabs and shapes.
Swell jumper – a one to two metre forged-iron tapered pole, with a large flange in the middle and fish-tailed ends used for drilling holes. This tool formed part of the technological advancements during the 1800s that replaced the ‘wedge and groove’ method for splitting granite. Quarries now use very powerful and violent pneumatic drills for large and small-scale splitting.
Tough way/second way/grain way – granite has a three axial orientation, and as one looks at a quarried face, one often sees the vertical tough way jointing. Grain (or cleeving) way lies on the horizontal bed, with second way on the face. Grain way is the most forgiving plane to both dress and split. The banksmen splitting granite down in the quarry would, as much as possible, split along grain way for the final part of the reduction process, as there was a greater guarantee of a clean and straight split. A cleaner and more precise split will mean less work for the mason or carver.