How to Cut Hard Stone with Plain Steel Tools
Stone can be cut, or precisely broken, using plain steel tools. If the stone is much harder than the steel, precise fracturing is the only alternative, but if the steel scrapes powdered stone when run repeatedly across a surface, the steel can eventually cut the stone. "Eventually" is the key term!
Wear proper protection when cutting stone using any type of tool.Cover exposed skin, wear gloves, eye protection, and a respirator with 2 to 4 micron mesh if liquid is not used to control particulate dust. Many ores and certain crystals can cause acute and severe poisoning if not handled correctly in cutting! Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury are toxic, and come in many natural forms. Be aware of the type and nature of the stone, especially if you will be exposed to it over long periods of time.
Determine which is harder by attempting to produce stone dust with repeated passes of the steel across the same precise line on the stone's surface.Synthetic diamond cutting tools have become relatively cheap, but begin with a hacksaw with a hardened steel blade.
- The teeth of a hacksaw blade are designed to cut on the push, so remember that if you drag them against the surface on the pull backwards, you are dulling the blade MUCH faster!
- Begin slowly and keep precise control, attempting to produce a straight groove that will guide further cutting.
- If the hacksaw blade is reducing stone to dust slowly with each pass, continue cutting as long as the blade has an effective edge, periodically sweeping or blowing out stone dust.
- With power tools, a mineral oil bath on the blade is required, but in this case it's unnecessary.
If the stone is thin, and the stone soft, use a change of blades and simply saw through it.If that is too slow, cut a good deep groove, hoping for 1/3 of the stone thickness in depth, but you may succeed with a groove as deep as 1/4 of the stone's thickness. You have some choices in how to go about fracturing it along that groove.
- Ancient cultures would hammer dry pine wedges into the crevice, keep them soaked while allowing them to warm in the sun and slowly expand, which was often enough to split very impressive stone blocks, of considerable size and precision.
- You could continue sawing around the stone and attempt to make the groove line up, but that is very hard to do.
- Continue with steel and bring in stone's natural enemy, the destroyer of mountains, the shaper of valleys, quite possibly the most destructive substance on the planet, WATER.
Find a slim, hard steel edge and seat it inside the groove.Use many repeated blows from a hammer, spread back and forth evenly along your steel edge, to produce a planar, linear, complex of impact fractures travelling through the stone, parallel to the direction of your blows. Eventually the network of microscopic fractures intersect in great numbers and produce a plane of weakness that can be exploited. Strike the stone a controlled and solid blow, to an outside edge, away from one side of the groove, it may simply fall in half. Continue with the scenario where it does not.
Place a single layer of absorbent material, cotton cloth, heavy paper towel, etc, over the groove.
Wet it and hammer the steel edge in again.It should be snug, solid. If not, double the absorbent material over, and repeat with a double thickness. Soak well with clean water. Place in a bowl or on a deep tray, groove side up. Place in a freezer.
Periodically open the freezer and pour a small amount of cold water on the groove, insuring it is filled.
Once it is well filled with ice, leave it in the freezer overnight to insure the stone is deeply chilled throughout.It may split on its own at any point, from the relentless expansion of ice in the groove. If it does not:
Remove from the freezer and repeat the hammering along the steel edge inserted in the groove.Make solid, controlled direct hits that send the impact along the plane of microfractures. It is now penetrated by a network of ice crystals which have expanded and further fractured the plane of weakness you first impacts created. Strike it again at the outside edge, firmly and with controlled force in the direction that parallels the plane of weakness you have worked to create.
The stone will break.
- Stone can be a thing of true and lasting beauty. If your project is artistic, network with a community of stone working artisans and serious rock collectors.
- Diamond abrasive tipped attachments for power tools will cut stone, but reasonable caution is advised in the use of any power tool. Be alert for unexpected behavior when using any new category of attachment. For example: bits shattering, blades skipping or kicking back, or wheels catching and launching items. Always observe standard tool safety guidelines; wear eye protection, keep long hair and loose clothing away from the tool, and be alert for bystanders who may be at risk while observing. The use of any type of chemical or explosive mixture to break stone is strongly discouraged. Professional training and qualified supervision are necessary.
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