New York State  Bluestone Association

New York State Bluestone Association

199 Old Route 10, Deposit, NY 13754  –  (607) 467-1313

Historical Information of the Bluestone Industry


Quarryman’s Dictionary

Lacking a dictionary of the quarry…or not knowing of one, this is a collection of terms and phrases used by quarrymen today, and those that have been passed down over several generations. Please contribute your own terms and phrases. Feel free to send notes and corrections, as well.

Bar - any kind of long steel tool for gaining leverage; a standard pry bar, or one that is for working with rocks in particular. Lengths and weights vary from as small as roughly two feet and five pounds, to roughly six feet long and 70 pounds for the most robust ones. The larger bars designed for stonework are straight along their entire length and round for holding along most of their length, while the working end of the tool is larger, thicker, and squared; it tapers into a blunt but effective chisel-point for separating layers of stone, or wedging in narrow cracks to move apart either vertical or adjacent layers. Quarrymen working by hand still admire these bars and insist they can be more effective at times than power tools or machines. Used properly, a quarryman can move/lift a 4,000 pound piece of stone with a large bar. Anyone working with such a large bar is advised to keep his hands flat on the top surface of the bar while pushing down; in the event the bar slips from its place, it will ensure a man does not have his hands crushed by the falling bar. (Also pry bar, 70-lb bar, small bar, big bar etc.) Some quarrymen make custom bars for helping them with particular tasks.

Blackjack Specks – a scattering of black specks on the face of a piece of bluestone; from decomposed/fossilized organic matter

Black Diamond – an abrasive used with a wire saw

Block – a large section of stone, either existing within a quarry bed with natural splits delineating it; or a very large and cube-like piece of stone that has been removed from a quarry

Cat Face – a narrow and irregular vertical face of a thick layer of bluestone block; as compared to a tall, wide, and evenly squared flat face that is usually associated with bluestone blocks

Derrick – a wooden crane-like apparatus; size, material, and design varies.

(Small quarry derrick, this image was prepared for but not used in a 1903 text) a vertical wooden pole in combination with a boom that extends upwards from the base at an angle; used to lift stone, it is anchored into the rock by a round length of steel roughly 12 -18″ long (usually a piece of old drill bit or other hard steel that is also driven into the center of the pole); the steel that extends from the bottom of the pole is usually no more than about 6″, so the quarryman does not have to drill a very deep hole to anchor it. The bottom of the pole is wrapped in steel bands or wires to keep it from splitting from the pressure against it. Steel cables/guy-wires anchor the opposite sides to counter the stone’s weight, and they are often deployed in multiples and anchored at different angles. A gear and hand-crank are used to hoist the stone. Once a piece of stone is picked up, the derrick can be slowly swung in an arc/ circle to put the stone on a wagon, truck, or other place. Usually, the suspended stone itself is pushed to move it, since the derrick is not powered to move side to side. When the derrick itself needed to be moved to another location in the quarry, the cables securing it were loosened slightly, and it was “hopped” in a vertical position to a new location. If it fell onto its side, it was much harder to move and then erect again. Few derricks still exist or are being used since the advent of powered machines such as forklifts, cranes, etc.

For larger operations, derricks were much bigger. See the one here, and notice the men at the bottom of the image to provide a sense of scale. The entire photo, published in 1903, can be seen on the photo page of this wiki.

Cost of a Quarry Derrick – Saunders gives the following cost data in the magazine, Stone (New York), 1890, p.95: A large quarry derrick capable of lifting 20 tons with a single line, having a 24 x 24-in. mast, 75 ft high, and a 65-ft. boom actually costs as follows:

Timber for mast………………………..$45.00
Timber for boom……………………..28.00
Expense for delivering timber…………16.50
Carpenter work on mast and boom at $2.50 a day .25.00
Complete set of derrick irons, sheaves, etc. …….$219.00
2,400 ft. best galv. 1-inch iron rope for 8 guys…….237.00
Thimbles, clamps, etc…………………25.00
500 ft. steel hoisting rope 1 5/8 in. …………240.00
Labor on dead men, 4 men, 2 days at $1.40……….11.20
Labor raising derrick, 8 men, 2 days, at $1.40……..22.40
Labor fixing guys, 8 men, 2 days, at $1.40…………22.40
(from Rock Excavation – Methods and Cost, by Halbert.P. Gillette, copyright 1904, published 1907)

Derrick design varied to some degree, as can be seen by the use of cables along the boom to reinforce it, as seen in this image from 42783_Bluestone_Jockey Hill, dated 1913, from photo page. (Thanks to Chet Hartwell for pointing this out.)

Dozer – a bulldozer; often small and maneuverable for small quarries and narrow roads. Used to clear snow from the road or surfaces in the winter, and for towing trucks or other equipment up a hill in winter or any other time of year. It is especially useful because of its ability to climb exceedingly steep grades, and for its power.

Dress (verb) – to work a stone with hand-tools to improve its quality along its faces or edges; to split away the square edges of a stone. The face of a stone are dressed to remove ridges or to eliminate inferior stone. A stone can also be dressed for texture, pattern of tool marks, etc. For bluestone, which is now used predominantly for sidewalks, etc, the quarryman or mason will usually eliminate the square edge left by a saw or by being split or cracked. By placing a wedge or stone chisel against the narrow edge, and striking at an angle to flake or chip off the corner, the task is accomplished. Because the mortar which is used to lay stone needs a surface to adhere to, it increases the surface area, and allows more room for the mortar. In the case of a sawed piece of stone, its edges are “burned” and/or dusty and makes for poor adhesion and limited surface for mortar, and this task is more necessary. dress, dresses, dressed, dressing (verbs); dressed – (adjective)

Face- the large, flat area of a stone; bluestone with a relatively flat and even face is preferred over one with many ridges or uneven places. Quarrymen will inspect the two faces of a large piece of bluestone to determine which is better; if the bottom part of a stone is better, it is flipped over so that the best side is facing upwards. Any stone that is too uneven and cannot be split into flat layers is discarded since it is not easily used in wall stone or for walkways.

Flatbed – a truck with a flat bed to haul stone, pallets, lumber, tools, equipment, etc.

Forklift – a standard machine; in the case of quarrying, the thin front edge of the forks can be used as a wedge to separate layers of stone. It can also be used to easily turn over stone through a methodical method of setting it down against an existing ledge, and slowly tilting it, pushing, and pulling, until its orientation is reversed. It can also carry sizeable loads of several tons of large irregular, pallets, or anything else that needs to be moved

Freestone Quarry – a quarry in which the stone separates relatively easily into layers; New York bluestone is most often of this type; distinct from a reed quarry

Grain – the direction inherent in a stone that allows for easy splitting; best understood by knowledgeable and experienced men rather than by novices

Inch, or one-inch; inch-and-a-half, two-inch, three-inch, four-inch ) etc. – measurement of the thickness of a piece of stone; stone is often sorted by thickness by quarrymen so that it is easier for stone docks to sell it and for masons to have a standard size to lay.

Irregular – a piece of stone that is not a standard dimension across its faces, or flat surface.

(large) Irregular – These pieces are usually pulled straight from the quarry. Quarrymen determine which face of a large irregular is best, and then they flip it over if necessary; in either case, it is often tilted by a forklift to get the debris off it, or it is hand cleaned. If the stone has layers that need to be split off a face, this work is done by hand, and once the stone is free of additional layers and is relatively flat, it is ready for market with little or no trimming. These pieces vary in size and weight from about two inches thick and four feet by six feet, up to four or more inches, and up to eight feet by ten feet. The limitations of the size of the truck to haul it, the weight of the stone, and the power of the forklift will determine the choices that can be made by men who quarry mostly by hand. Larger equipment and more men can handle much larger stones.

(small) Irregular – Most of these smaller pieces weigh between 15 – 300lbs, approximately, though most will not exceed about 140 lbs. Men working by hand have to either carry by hand or “walk” a piece of stone on its corners to a pallet, where it is separated and stacked by width onto separate pallets containing “inch’, or “two-inch”, etc . Such sorting increases prices for the quarrymen and makes it easier to sell for the wholesaler.

Lift – a single layer of stone that is separated by a quarryman from the layers below. It is lifted from the quarry bed in one piece. Usually, this term is for a large piece that is one ton or larger.

Mud Runner or Mud Seam – a narrow layer of mud or clay-like soil that separates layers or lifts of stone; it allows for the stone to be very easily separated from the layers above or below it; easily removed by brushing it off the stone

Reed Quarry – a quarry in which layers do not easily separate and must be forced apart with a pneumatic tools, etc; usually, when a large block of stone is cut from the bed, the quarryman chooses the darkest layer (with the most fossilized organic, and thereby be the weakest part of the stone), and this is the place chosen to force apart the layers; these quarries can be found mostly in Pennsylvania

Reedy – (adjective) a piece of stone that has numerous layers or stratification; this suggests that
the stone will not endure, and it is often discarded

Ridge – any area of stone that rise above the rest; from as small as 1/8 -1/4 “; a piece of bluestone is cut or broken so that it minimizes or eliminates unwanted and uneven surfaces of the stone

Silver Seam – an invisible seam in a stone that will make it crack into pieces at some point after quarrying, or when the stone dries. Even large blocks of stone can crack in all directions, with no regard for the layers; this breaking results in all pieces being useless, too.

Sledge – a large hammer, varying in weight, but often up to as much as 17 lbs. For quarrymen, a sledge may have one face that has a flat surface, and another that is wedge-shaped. After years of work with such tools, a seasoned quarryman who worked with such tools by hand could lift a 17lb sledge with a straight wrist and straight arm, and then bend his arm at the elbow; touch the hammer to his nose, and then straighten his arm back out and set the hammer to the ground. Such feats of strength were not uncommon on a Friday night in a place that men gathered.

Splat, splatted, splatting – (verb) to hit a thumb or finger, usually with a hammer. A bursting of the thumb or finger so that the thumbnail is split or pulled back, and the skin of the finger is also split like a grape, revealing the flesh under the skin. Blood splattered against the stone is usually evidence of the unfortunate event. See “tincture of turpentine” for a cure.

Stone Dock – a place where quarrymen sell their stone; a wholesale stone dealer, usually close in proximity to quarries. It may be near water, or a river, but does not have to be.

Stone Hook – a large and rounded hook of very heavy iron attached to a chain, to place across the thickness of a layer of stone lying flat for the purpose of moving it; sizes vary from approximately 18 – 24″ ? in length. See a massive stone hook attached to the stone itself in the bottom right corner of this image. From Item 797 (published 1903) on photo page.

Thank you ma’am – a water diversion that runs diagonal to a steep mountain road, aiding run-off in a different direction, and thus preserving the road during heavy rainfall and flooding; may be 12 – 24″ in height

Tincture of turpentine – a medicinal cure to ward off infection in a wound. Often used in combination with gauze and lard. A flesh wound to the finger was doused in the tincture of turpentine, wrapped in gauze, and then dipped in hot lard. At least one quarryman insists that this home remedy that he used in about 1950 was effective in healing his thumb.

Tire – a standard tire laid on its side, and used to set stone upon; it makes the stone easier to lift either by hand of by forklift; it also acts as a cushion, and prevents the cracking or breaking of large stones when they are either flipped or set down.

Wedge – a steel wedge used to split apart layers of stone; varying lengths, widths, and thicknesses; usually between 4 -10″ in length and 2″ – 4″ wide. Unlike wedges for splitting wood, for example, a wedge used for stone is often not as thick, and has a less acute angle from point to end. Because bluestone has very narrow gaps in its layers and because bluestone breaks apart into large flat pieces of stone, the wedges are designed differently, and used differently. A quarryman working by hand might try to use from three to six wedges at the same time and in different areas to split an entire layer all at once off a larger piece

Wire Saw – a machine with a length of twisted wire caked with abrasive such as black diamond that is run across the surface of stone to cut its top surface; the wire is attached to pulleys and a motor for power

Wheel Barrow – a barrow with a wheel, and two handles to lift it. For an indication about working with discarded stone from a quarry, and the attempt to move it by hand with a wheelbarrow, consider the following passage by H.P. Gillette in his 1907 book: “Cost of Wheelbarrows. –A wheelbarrow load averages about 1/25 cu. yd. of solid rock. A man will load such a wheelbarrow in 2 mins., and will walk with it at a speed of 180 ft. per min. if he is lazy and to 250ft. per minute if he is active; and he will lose ¾ minutes each trip in dumping the barrow, fixing run planks, etc. Assuming a speed of 200 ft. per min. and wages 15 cts. per hour, the cost of loading, hauling and dumping is: Rule I. To a fixed cost of 18 cts. per cu yd. of solid rock add 6 ¼ cts. per cu. yd. per 100 ft of one-way haul from pit to dump.” (from Rock Excavation – Methods and Cost, by Halbert.P. Gillette, copyright 1904, published 1907.)