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Headstone Materials

What are Headstones made from - Granite and Bronze - Explained

The materials used to create headstones ensure longevity of the memorial

Headstones are probably one of the oldest of all burial traditions. For centuries, people in nearly every culture of the world have used headstones to mark the graves of loved ones. Today’s headstones are typically small rectangles placed at the head of a grave, but historically headstones have come in all shapes and sizes. In some cultures, for example, the headstones were flat or flush, and covered the entire length of the grave (also known as full ledger memorials), whereas in others, the headstone was a large monolith that took up more room vertically. Headstones typically are engraved with the name, the birth date and the death date of the person whose grave they mark, as well as a short verse or prayer, and they are made of long-lasting materials such as bronze or granite, or a combination of materials. The aim of all headstones, no matter what the size, shape or material, is to memorialize those whose graves they mark for many generations to come.

Headstones are always manufactured with the intent to withstand the elements for many years (even centuries). The two most common materials for headstones today are granite and bronze. While most headstones are made of granite, bronze has become quite a popular option for memorial use in recent years.  Granite only memorials are a staple in most traditional burials, as the stone is not only long lasting but offers a large variety of color and pattern options, and takes very well to personalization.  Bronze is quickly becoming a good runner up in the market as it is a very beautiful yet durable material as well, that also offers a broad variety of options for personalization.

Granite Headstones:

Bronze and granite combined can create an elegant and long lasting memorial marker tributeGranite Headstones have been made for centuries, and granite continues to be the most popular material used today to make headstones. People began using granite for memorializing their loved ones around the mid-19th century, as they found other stones being used, such as marble and sandstone, were too soft and would weather very quickly. Granite not only withstands the elements and hold’s its form, but also (and more importantly) retains information inscribed for a lot longer than its softer-stone counterparts. Granite has long been known as one of Earth’s most elegant natural stones because of the variety of colors and patterns it is available in, and accordingly, has been used to build - aside from countless numbers of headstones and tombstones - many of the world’s most elegant structures. Artists and architects from most of the world’s most famous cultures (the Ancient Greeks and Romans, to name just two) have used granite in their timeless and well-known creations. Besides being elegant and beautiful, granite is one of the hardest natural materials in the world. Granite is an igneous rock that forms deep in the Earth’s crust, as magma cools into the crystalline structure that makes up the granite stone.  The granite is then pulled from quarries, which are locations where the granite is naturally found. Workers pull large blocks of granite out of those quarries using a variety of techniques, from drilling to blasting to sawing. The blocks are then sent to factories where they are cleaned, polished and shaped for any number of purposes, including, of course, headstones.

The word granite comes from the Latin granum, a grain, in reference to the large crystal-grains visible in this rock. Granite is an igneous rock that is composed of four basic minerals. These minerals are quartz, feldspar, mica, and usually hornblende. Granite forms as magma slowly cools far below the surface of the urn. The slow cooling of the stone allows the crystals-grains of the four minerals to grow large enough to be easily seen by the naked eye. Granite is an excellent material because it can withstand thousands of pounds of pressure, and it is, for the most part, easily accessible compared to other types of stone. It is also an ideal material for headstones and monuments because it weathers slowly, again, compared to other stones such as marble or limestone, both of which were popular for memorial use prior to the use of granite. Also, engravings of name and date information and/or heastone epitaphs made in granite can be read for hundreds of years after they are engraved, adding to the value of this type of stone. Granite headstones are also popular because the granite can be obtained in a wide variety of colors and crystalline textures to suit individual tastes. While granite is available in a multitude of colors, some colors are more common than others, and are generally a great deal less inexpensive compared to colors that are more rare.

The process of manufacturing a granite headstone can be broken down into three main steps:

The first step to quarry the granite, in which the granite is collected from the earth in batches, and prepared to be used. A granite quarry is a pit or open excavation site from which granite is obtained, as again, granite is an igneous stone that forms underground. Either digging, cutting, blasting, or wire-sawing is used to obtain granite from a quarry, and this process is generally referred to as “quarrying”.

Once the granite is quarried and cut to the specified dimensions for a certain memorial, say a flush headstone, it is ready to be sanded down and polished. The polished surface of the memorial not only creates a visually pleasing affect, but also makes Granite headstones and Grave Markerspersonalization easier to see and offers a tribute that is easier to maintain. Dalbeattie, Scotland has the distinction of being the first place in the world where granite was commercially polished. The first polished memorial was completed in 1841, and the Great Exhibition of 1851 had a piece of polished and incised granite on display, starting a fashion that lead to a boom in granite polishing. Today, almost any granite headstone can be supplied in four finishes:

- Rustic Cut - A balanced, rough-edged finish with a polished or sanded face
- Sanded - A smooth, matte finish, in which the color of the stone is generally lighter.
- Part Polished - A glossy polished face of headstone and top of base, with the remainder of memorial sanded
- All Polished - All visible surfaces are gloss-polished.

The most common finish is the all-polished finish. An all polished memorial offers a touch of elegance to a highly natural tribute. Next, a stencil of the desired lettering is created either by hand or by computer stencil-cutting machines. It is then adhered to the granite headstone for the desired placement.

The final step in creating a granite headstone is the carving process. The carving of the granite headstone is achieved by sandblasting for most engrave methods. Sandblasting can occur naturally, usually as a result of the particle blown by the wind causing eolian erosion, or artificially, using compressed air in a controlled environment.” In creating granite headstones from, the solid particle used is sand. Historically, gold leaf was used on granite lettering. Today, lettering on granite headstones is generally painted in with black litho on lighter stones and white on darker stones. For more information on the manufacturing process invoved with creating these elegant tributes, our Headstone Manufacturing Process article can be very helpful.

Granite Quality:

Whether used as a base to a bronze plaque, or as a grave marker or monument, granite stone is the most popular material used for headstones, tombstones, or grave markers to date. Granite is an igneous rock that forms deep within the mantle of the earth, due to heat and pressure, and is usually made up of a number different minerals such a quartz, mica, and feldspar. Granite is recognized by experts one of the most versatile and durable natural materials on the Earth. Not only is granite one of the most veratile materials, but it is also one of the most beautiful becuase of its wide range of patterns and colors. But, with that said, there are a large number of different types of granite, and the variety can be enough to confuse most consumers. Below is a list of the qualities that can vary from granite piece to granite piece, and some general information on selecting the granite for your grave marker.

Granite Color:

Consumers often wonder why some colors of granite may be more expensive than others. Well, pricing is usually based on rarity of the color of the stone, rather than the quality of the material. More expensive granite colors are usually available in very limited quantity from a very limited number of quarries. For example, India Black granite is usually only available from quarries around (as the name suggest) India, although there are rare quarries that are located no where near the region, that also produce the same colored stone. Before selecting or settling on a certain color for the granite of your grave marker, it is important to first make sure the cemetery where the marker is to be set does not have any regulations regarding the color. Some cemeteries, for example, require the granite for a grave marker (even if it is a granite base for a bronze plaque) to be moonlight gray, or Texas Pearl.  Also, the regulations of a cemetery can vary from section to section, so while one section of the cemetery allows the marker to be any color the family desires, another section could have color or even size restrictions. The best way to make sure your marker will abide by your cemetery's regulations is to request a copy of the regulations for your certain plot, the cemetery should provide you with this information upon request. Knowing your cemeteries regulations before selecting the details of your marker can save a lot of time and confusion down the road. The reasons for the differences of colors among various types of granite is something that even scientists have difficulty explaining, especially briefly, so for present purposes we will say, when selecting granite, find a color that suits your taste and budget.

Granite Strength:

Knowing the strength of any memorial material is often greatly comforting to families, both during the selection of the grave marker or gravestone, as well as after the placement of the memorial. All granite is exceedingly strong and will last for thousands of years (at least) in most cases. In fact, many cemeteries now in days require that the markers going on their grounds be flush grass grave markers, becuase the maintence crew generally mows completely over the marker, rather than going around each monument. The reason some cemeteries request these types of markers is becuase they are aware of the strength and durability of the granite material. But, with that said, there are several scientific measures of strength that consumers may find helpful. Different types of granite will vary on these measures, and understanding the differences may be helpful as you review literature about the granite you are considering. Relating to the following information, it is important to understand density is a measure of the mass of a substance, per unit of volume.

Bulk Density: This measurement is of how tightly packed together the molecules are in any certain piece of granite. All granite is extremely dense, of course, but some types are a little more dense than others. This can sometimes be used as the main key to knowing how strong a piece is. Generally speaking, a piece of granite that has a high bulk density will also be strong in all of the other aspects of measurements.

Absorption: This measures how much liquid will absorb into a piece of granite. (And thus tests it’s susceptibility to stains and overall durability over time.) This measure is related to density in that, the denser a piece of granite is, the lower the absorption rate of the granite will be. Pieces with very low absorption will allow very little liquid to seep between the densely packed molecules. Liquid will simply rest on the surface of the piece more or less indefinitely. It should be noted that even pieces with high absorption will not by any means absorb liquids easily. But some pieces will absorb small amounts of liquid if it stays on the surface for a considerable length of time.

Compressive Strength: This measures, simply, how much force must be placed on a piece of granite before the granite will crush (not break). The compressive strength of a granite piece is usually measured in pounds per square inch.

Modulus of Rupture: This measures how much force must be placed on a piece of granite before it will break apart (or rupture). The modulus of rupture, like the compressive strength of a granite piece, is also usually measured in pounds per square inch.

In general, even granite with weak scores on each of the above measures is incredibly strong and useful for most common purposes: such as artistic memorial sculptures, building construction, and memorial products. But occasionally, a project will require certain levels of granite strength that only certain types of granite can provide. That is when it’s important to look at the measurement scores when choosing granite. For granite headstone, or most memorial uses however, most granite types are usually acceptable (depending on your specific cemetery's rules and regulations). In fact, if a cemetery does not allow any certain type of granite, it is usually, simply due to the color of the granite, rather than any of the measurement scores mentioned above.


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