Identity - July/Aug, 1994
By Sean O'Leary
sprang up in the early '80s for vinyl cutting only became viable for sandblast stencils four or five years ago.
Inlaying stone in stone or metal in stone was a labor-intensive specialty prior to waterjet cutting technology, a fabrication innovation that has only become commercially widespread in the past three or four years, Harri Aalto at Creative Edge Corp" Fairfield, IA, was instrumental in helping to create a market for complex stone graphics in the signage and design community.
"We're cutting perhaps ten times as much stone signage products as we did four years ago," estimates Aalto, "With metal, you can use a bandsaw or laser, but with stone you have few other options if you want to cut intricate shapes to close tolerance, And if you're cutting a 2-in, Times Roman letter to inlay into a 3/4-in. slab of stone, it almost can't be done economically any other way, it's within .00001 in. and it's totally repeatable."Continued
In the course of the sourcing process, a broker is obviously prepared to provide technical specs such as size of slabs or blacks and also ASTM data for exterior applications. However, he may also be a valuable source of advice to the sign designer. For example, Dan Berry (Georgia Marble) notes that color is critical to the readability of a stone sign at night.
The sourcing process may also involve such macro-considerations as political climate: Yugoslavian stone, for example, is tough to come by at the moment. Furthermore, the cost of large-scale, long-term projects can be affected by shifts in currency exchange rates.
New technology: the cutting edge
Better ways to cut, fabricate, and shape stone continue to improve its potential for architectural and signage applications. At factory level, new CAM-driven equipment with improved cutting tolerances and finishing capabilities has increased the viability of granite veneer for architectural cladding.
While the stone carver's craft has largely been eliminated, individual letters are still shaped with routers, But the computer has also arrived in the world of stone, Of particular interest to the sign industry are two relatively new computer-driven developments: sandblast stencils generated on the same types of plotters that cut vinyl letters, and more dramatically, waterjet cutting systems.
Sandblasting is the prevailing method for decorating stone sign faces, "Computer-aided design has brought sandblasting stone into the mainstream commercial arena," says Brad Bartholomew, design director for Cold Spring Granite Co., a Cold Spring, MN-based supplier of granite specialties, "The same basic systems that originally helped us layout the graphics and set up lettering now allow us to create a thick sandblast resist." According to Bartholomew, the computer plotters that