Monday, December 28, 2020

Making granite columns

By August 1899, the first block of granite 64 x 6 x7  feet and weighing about 300 tons had been cut from the granite ridge. Standing on the block are Superintendent Edward Russell and the quarrymen.This photograph appeared in many national publications and drew the country's attention to the enormity of the jobs being done for the Cathedral.

Some years ago I was visiting the museum of the Historical Society of Vinalhaven Me. and happened upon the entries of the dealings of Bodwell Granite Company with an order from the St John the Divine Cathedral in New York City. The story as I remember it was that in about the year 1900, the Cathedral ordered a number of columns 125 feet long and 6 feet in diameter. The granite was duly cut out of the quarry and set up on the lathe but unfortunately the column cracked while being turned, so another piece of stone was brought up and they tried again. This also broke. A theory was proposed that perhaps vibration was causing the breakage and that possibly turning the stone under water might be the solution. That also apparently didn't work and the company proposed doing the column in two pieces. This solution was accepted, the work was done and the columns were shipped to New York. 

 Unfortunately the visit was a family one,"C'mon, dad, lets go! and I have not been able to visit Vinalhaven again to make sure I got the details exactly right. But think for a minute what it takes to work with chunks of stone that size- largely by hand- without modern technology and machinery...  let alone imagining, designing and building a lathe to work with material that large and heavy. For reference, granite weighs about 175 lbs per cu. ft. An incredible achievement. 

More of the story and details of the lathe at

I'd like to thank Vector Warbirds for his contributions to this post. 



VectorWarbirds said...

I still cannot get over that column in that lathe! Great Rabbit Hole Mr. G!


they don't make em like they use to.

Don in Oregon said...

Based on the dimensions and density, the finished columns would weigh 255,000 lbs.

And the rough shape would have been around 450,000 lbs.

That is one heckuva lathe!

Mister G said...

the whole process is mindboggling. When they were finished, they were loaded on a scow and towed to New York, carried to the cathedral and set up. Just another day...
Y'wonder if they could do that today.

Graham Clayton said...

How long would the rotary cutters last before they needed to be re-sharpened or replaced?