Headstone Manufacturing Process

The headstone manufacturing process is an intriguing topic for many who face the difficult task of arranging for a loved one’s memorial to be placed on a cemetery grave site. Undoubtedly, we all want the best materials and workmanship available for the headstone that will be manufactured for our loved one’s grave, but, for a person who has no experience in the memorial industry, knowing what questions to ask of a headstone retailer can mean that a crash course in headstone manufacturing is needed. Below in this article, we hope that you will find a sufficient amount of information on the headstone manufacturing process to help you make your best decision when buying a headstone for your loved one’s grave.

A bronze on granite grave marker features a bronze plaque mounted on a granite base

There are two main types of headstones that most consumers have available to them when they order: granite headstones and bronze headstones. Each of these types has a unique manufacturing process, and we will begin our inquiry by looking briefly at the manufacturing process of granite headstones. (It should be noted that bronze headstones typically are comprised of bronze plates that are attached to granite plates. In the manufacturing process these plates are cut in precisely the same way of plates that are to be used for granite headstones.) Granite headstones are manufactured in the same way no matter what type of granite is selected by the customer. So, when deciding upon a type of granite that you will use for your headstone, you can rest assured that your choice will have no impact on the headstone manufacturing process used to produce your headstone. The type of granite you choose simply affects the overall look and feel of the piece. Some types of granite are brighter than others, and some have a smoother texture than others, but, all-in-all, the manufacturing process will not differ from one type to the other.

The manufacturing process for granite headstones begins when workers at a factory use special machinery to cut a large block of granite down to the size requested by the customer for the headstone. Most flat headstones are 4 inches thick, and 24 or 28 inches are probably the most common lengths. They can vary in width from 12 inches to about 24 inches.

Once the granite is cut down to the grave marker’s intended size, artisan workers polish it using age-old processes and materials. (It should be noted that, while we said the manufacturing process does not vary much between the various types of granite, the polishing is one exception to that. Different types of granite require slightly varied methods and procedures during the polishing stage, of course.) Once the granite is polished to it’s finished texture, engraving artists will apply a stencil to the stone. The artist will then use his or her engraving device to follow the stencil, carving the design into the stone. In the vast majority of cases, the headstone’s design is first drawn in great detail onto a stencil rather than to be drawn on the stone by hand. In most cases, the manufacturing process involves computerized equipment to help the engraver follow the stencil precisely, but, by in large, the engraving procedure still relies largely upon the skill of an artist manipulating the automated equipment to achieve the best possible cut and design that the stencil allows. In years gone by, the artist simply followed the stencil by hand, and that left room for plenty of blemishes which were not always easy to correct before shipment to the customer.

A granite grave marker features the information directly in the granite stone

Once the stencil has been satisfactorily engraved into the stone, the entire piece is then treated to a special sandblasting procedure using a high-pressure air hose to resolve any blemishes in the engraving before the stencil is removed. After the workers have removed the uncut portions of the stencil from the stone, the piece is then packaged and loaded onto a delivery truck for delivery to your loved one’s cemetery – usually 4 to 6 weeks after your order has been placed. The manufacturing process of bronze headstones has much in common with that of granite headstone because, quite simply, most bronze headstones sold today are, in fact, comprised of bronze plates that are attached (through varying methods) to granite pieces. While bronze headstones are manufactured in a number of different sizes, a typical one will feature a two inch granite border around the featured bronze plate. So, the first step of the manufacturing process of a bronze headstone is, in fact, identical to that of granite headstones: artisans use their specialized machinery to cut a piece of granite down to the required size. The next step in the making of a bronze headstone is melting the bronze into a form that can be molded into the plate that will be attached to the granite. (An interesting note about bronze: many people assume that bronze is a naturally occurring metal in it’s own right, but that is a mistaken assumption. Bronze is actually mixture of several other naturally occurring elements, copper, tin, lead and zinc, that have been liquified, mixed together, and then hardened to form the much more hearty molecules of bronze.) To melt the bronze, a large pot is heated (using a variety of methods) to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and after a relatively short amount of time in such heat, the bronze becomes a brown liquid that can then be placed into a special mold, usually made from wax that can be easily removed after the desired shape has been achieved.

Once the bronze has been removed from the mold and then allowed to harden completely and cool, the artistic phase known as chasing begins. Chasing is a meticulous skill that is practiced by very highly trained artists who use very special tools for their trade. In this phase, the workers pour over the details of the bronze with painstaking detail, making sure to smoother over all blemishes that arose during the molding process. We noted above that, to begin the chasing phase, the bronze has been completely hardened, but that is not entirely the case. At this stage, the mold still has a clay like texture so that imperfections that arise from its time in the mold can be smoothed over with a potter’s careful touch (and, in many cases, using the same tools that a ceramic pottery artist would use).

There are various steps involved with creating the memorial of a lifetime

After the chasing phase is completed, the focus of the bronze headstone manufacturing process turns to the task of attaching the bronze plate to the granite headstone. Unlike the granite headstone manufacturing process, of course, this involves the drilling of holes into the granite so that the bronze plate can be properly bolted into place. This phase requires workers to careful measure where the holes will be cut, and, while more and more of this process is being automated in today’s mechanical world, even machines are known to be off on their measurements on occasion. A mistake (whether it be by machine or man) in this part of the process can be very hard to repair meaning that the headstone manufacturing company will have to simply abandon the badly measured granite.

Once the bronze piece has been attached to the granite background, the piece can then be said to be a completed bronze headstone, and the stone is ready to be shipped. (It is important to note that a bronze grave marker and headstone plaque by itself can also suffice for a headstone, and some customers do choose to go with that, but many cemeteries do not allow bronze-only headstones on their grounds. They generally site aesthetic and grounds keeping reasons for this policy. Having the 4 inch think granite piece underneath the bronze plaque does help protect the headstone from being quickly covered by weeds. A typical bronze plaque is usually less than half an inch thick, and making it any thicker would likely be cost prohibitive in most cases. Bronze can be a rather expensive metal to work with, of course.) The shipping of a headstone is important to mention in an article about the headstone manufacturing process simply because the typical headstone’s weight makes shipping an important consideration. Most headstones weigh much more than is financially feasible to ship via the standard commercial air freight services that serve the United States (aka United States Postal Service, Federal Express or United Parcel Service). This means that headstone manufacturers must usually ship their products via a company that specializes in larger goods that are shipped via truck,train, or ship (or a combination of the three). Those who buy a headstone, therefore, should not expect overnight or second-day delivery to be available from a manufacture and, in fact, many deliveries take up to two weeks to arrive at the cemetery after they leave the manufacturer’s plant.

Generally speaking, the headstone manufacturer will ship a finished headstone directly to the cemetery where it will be installed. Cemetery personnel will then usually accept delivery of the headstone and then see that it is installed. Though this is how it usually works, customers are strongly advised to make sure they carefully understand (and get in writing) their cemetery’s policies and procedures involving headstones before placing an order with a manufacturer. Few, if any, manufacturers will offer refunds or free remakes of headstones that are not installed properly or not installed at all.