The Stone Carving Studio with Kate Semple

Which Stones are used for Stone Carving?

Can I Carve any stone?

 I often get asked “can I carve the stone I find in my garden?” The answer to this is usually “no” I am sorry to say.

The stone used for carving is quarried from very special seams of stone that has a clean consistency and will be reliable. Stone carving is a time consuming and skillful business, and the last thing a sculptor or carver needs is their stone letting them down. Generally the stone found in gardens is the local rubble, often good for building, but not carving.

Is the Stone Near Me Good for Carving?

Often the best way to find this out is to look around at the local buildings, especially churches. If there is a lot of clean stone, ashlar and stone with carved mouldings etc. that generally implies there is a local source of clean stone. If most of the local older buildings are made of brick or rough stone rubble, with only occasional bits of clean stonework, then probably not. Carving stone has probably been brought in for the occasional details in small amounts. With stone being so heavy, traditionally it wasn’t moved too far. If it was possible to transport the stone on boats, that was the easier option.

Which Stone is the Best for Carving?

This all depend on what you are doing:

  • If you are carving stone as part of restoring a building, then the stone the building was made from originally has to be used. If the quarry is no longer running then great care must be taken to find an alternative that is as close as possible.
  • If you are a beginner at carving stone or making sculpture, then you need to look for a limestone that isn’t too hard. A softer one such as Bath stone is a good starting point if you are in the South West.
  • In the UK we have a wide range of different stones available as a natural resource. They vary from granite to slate to sandstone to limestone. Within these categories, the stone from every quarry has different properties. Sometimes stones laying in different beds vary within the same quarry. They may be harder or softer or with more shell or coarser grains. The make-up of the stone determines which job it will be best for. You wouldn’t use the same stone for a plinth on a building as you would for a fine piece of carving. For making public sculpture, you need a good strong stone, as it can be eroded by the weather from every direction, being free standing. Stone is at its strongest in volume, on a building each stone protects the one next to it. I usually use Portland stone for sculpture.

Are the Same Tools used for Carving all Stone?

The techniques and tools for carving stone do vary depending on the type of stone.

For softer stones you would use broader, blunter punches and chisels. You don’t want a sharp point drilling its way into a soft stone. For a hard stone you need a finer, sharper tool, to pluck the stone away efficiently. Very hard stones can also be brittle, often you have tools to crush the surface, rather than hitting the stone too hard.

Once you begin to look into  stone and how to carve it, you realize what a vast subject it is, with so much to learn. This is the first of my posts looking at some questions about stone. There will be more, when hopefully I can go into some more detail on the different stones and how to carve them.





Carving a large piece of Bath stone
Carving a fine piece of Portland stone