The services that I most frequently provide are cleaning, re-setting, and repairing broken stones. I also duplicate socket-type bases made of limestone when the original is too damaged or fragile to hold the stone, and I will repair broken finials/urns. Whether you own land on which there is an old cemetery in disrepair, or a deceased family member’s gravestone has shifted and is askew, I can provide my skills and services to conserve the stones in question. I also photograph jobs for my own reference, and will email them to customers if they wish; this is especially good for clients who are not close to the cemetery.
Cleaning gravestones is probably the most frequent work done by untrained individuals. Many people have asked me while I worked “What brand of bleach do you use?” When I reply that household bleach, while known for whitening surfaces, is one of the more detrimental solutions that can be put on a gravestone, they are shocked. Likewise, untested products such as "Wet & Forget" may show immediate results; however, the long-term effect on gravestones is not known. The product that I use 95% of the time is called D/2 Biological Solution™ (see "Links" page). It is relatively expensive at $40 or so per gallon, but its thorough testing, environmentally-safe composition, long history and use at some of the country’s most sacred sites has ensured its success. Another cleaner that I have used in the remaining cases is Prosoco’s Enviro Klean Revive. I will not pressure wash any stone.
Cleanings may involve scraping lichens from the stone’s surface using soft plastic scrapers or scraps of soft wood. Various non-metallic brushes are used, and in the end, lots of fresh, clean water is used to rinse the biologicals and cleaning solution from the stone. Most cleaning solution manufacturers do not recommend cleaning at temperatures below 50° F; I usually recommend cleaning to be done from March to November as the temperatures will be warm enough for the solutions to work effectively.
The photos below show a small stone before cleaning with D/2™, after cleaning (and drying), and 8 months after cleaning. While there is a change in the appearance of the stone just after cleaning, many biologicals take some time to be flushed from the stone and its surfaces.
Resetting involves removing a stone from its current position to re-make its base level and the stone plumb. In most cases, the base and the inscribed portion of the stone are separated. An appropriate amount of soil or failed concrete under the base is removed and replaced with a more stable aggregate which is firmly tamped down. The base is replaced and the aggregate is added to low areas or removed from proud areas until the base is level in both directions. The top portion of the stone is then replaced, either being mortared in with Ecologic™ naturally hydraulic lime (NHL) mortar, affixed with small dabs of epoxy, or set upon wedge lead and/or monument setting compound. For bases and stones too heavy to move by hand, a tripod is used along with a chain hoist and nylon slings or a Monumentall™ clamp. I do not use any power machinery to reset stones. I am frequently emailed about a stone that was broken by someone's attempt to straighten it or put it back on a base. Besides the chance of damaging the stone, you might be injured. Don't try it just to save money.
The following photos show a large marble obelisk, a marble tablet, and a modern granite monument being reset.
While granite has been widely sold since the 1920's and termed the "Rock of Ages"™, many older stones are found tilted, shifted, and even fallen. Primarily, this occurs from either a poorly done concrete base under the stone, or compaction of the soil on one side of the stone. Click on the photo to read the caption.
Older stones (and especially those of marble) that are thin or that have intricate parts, are frequently found broken or damaged. If the pieces can be found, they can be cleaned and dry fitted together. At that time, missing pieces are noted and the judgement can be made on infilling the missing areas with mortar made of NHL and marble dust. The broken pieces are epoxied together using Akemi Akepox 2030. While not designed for super-strength bonds, this adhesive was designed for stone bonding and has not failed in any case that I have used it.
Drilling and pinning the stone together is also a method I may use.
The following photos show a medium-sized tablet stone that was reassembled and conserved. Click on a photo to read the caption.
Infill Used When Pieces of the Stone are Missing
Conservation of Two Marble Urns
The following photos show the "start to finish" process of repairing two marble urns that had either been damaged from the iron pin used to anchor one when it was made or to repair an old break. Prosoco HCT and H100 consolidant was used before any epoxying was done. Click on the photo to read the caption.
Due to the extreme heat, I am not working every day, and on days that I do work, I may not stay on site beyond 1 p.m. or so.
Thoughts for Summer
I was recently visiting a cemetery to inspect a stone for conservation work and I spoke with several workers who were taking a break.
The majority of cemeteries provide mowing and trimming, but do not do any work in regards to gravestones. When I asked about this, the worker said his crew will straighten some stones and several years ago had taken bleach and cleaned a number of headstones in the cemetery. While some may ask if this is important, household bleach is known to cause damage to marble and should never be used. (See U S gov't report on cleaning solutions in the "Links" section, and check under the section "Recommendations" of the report).
As well, in every cemetery that I know of, the stones are property of the family, even if the plots are not; would you allow someone to paint your house or automobile without your permission? Sadly, the bleach damage to the stone is not something that can be repaired, as it affects the material (marble) itself, not just the surface.
Check on policies and procedures at the cemeteries wherein your family is interred to see what they do and don't do. In many cases, they may not even be aware of such harmful things, and would be happy to follow the "best practices" in the field.
If you'd like more information, contact me at
(979) 836-7715, firstname.lastname@example.org
or browse my website.