I'm a Master Stonesmith and I design and build stone works using the ancient Dry Stone method. In 2016, a client asked me to look at a new mountain home in Truckee, California. In the course of meeting together, we crafted the notion of a massive outdoor stone, landscape, and art project that reflected some specific aesthetics -- "mountainous, minimalist, contemporary, yet warm".
I formed a Collaboration of Craftsmen for this project under the standards and timeline laid out by the client. He wanted everyone involved to deliver a "world-class" experience and complete the project by end of the Fall season of 2017. So, I faced the biggest challenge in my 12-year career: How to design and build at the scale required while using only the Dry Stone method and all this within a very, very short period of time.
So, with the help of my stone importer Jared, owner of Arris Stoneworks, I designed all of the stone works in a way that would both achieve the aesthetic and functional criteria and be "modular", allowing a great deal of flexibility in the field. Essentially, this was a giant "Lego-style" stone project. In fact, all of the hardscape components of this project, from the bronze planter boxes to the stone sculptures, were pre-built off-site by all of the craftsmen and then transported to the site and installed by them. For my part, all of the stone walls, patios, risers, landings, driveway planks and sculptures were quarried, cut, shaped and textured in Southern China. All of the 31 different fabrications of stone were rectilinear in shape and cut about an average of 15% longer or thicker than our designs showed. This allowed us to make cuts in the field and have a great degree of flexibility to make it all fit together.
Now, I had a plan and a complete solution or so I thought until my stone importer started giving me the weights of my finished stone pieces. The wall stone planks would weigh an average of 810 pounds, the driveway and walkway planks around 270 pounds and some of the landing stones would weigh over 2,400 pounds. I also set a standard with my crew to butt-fit the 1 ton plus landing stones together with a 1/32" tolerance, the wall planks at a 1/16" tolerance and the entryway planks with a 1/16" heavy tolerance.
We would have plenty of heavy equipment on site, but we needed a way to lift every single piece of stone on this project from the top and we had to be able to set it down in very tight places over and over again. We had ordered somewhere near a million pounds (500 tons) of stone. Furthermore, I'd never designed nor built a project this big before nor in this way. I found Anver through a Google search and after a few discussions with their sales rep I ordered two different powered vacuum lifts that would fit the minimum top profiles of our stone. Plus, the lifters had to work with rough surfaces since all my stone was made with three different textures.
While, we are still working on this project I'm truly blown-away by how these Anver vacuum lifts work and incredible stone work we've installed thus far. Only photos and videos can really describe the outcome, but here's what I will say: My team has achieved something one-of-a-kind and spectacular with this project that would be absolutely impossible without both heavy equipment and Anver vacuum lifters. Every piece has been lifted and set in a downward manner.
My stone importer called me the other day after looking at our photos and videos on my business Instagram (jonaguilar_designworks) and Facebook (Heritage Earth & Stone) accounts. Here's what he wrote:
"By the way dude, you have the most automated process now of anything I’ve seen. Good on you. That’s a huge advantage, and you should continue to think this way. Guys are literally breaking their backs humping stone every day, and unfortunately they are not thinking of it the way you are. And that’s slow compared to how you are doing installation, so there is a considerable advantage and cost savings there. This is the future of masonry if masonry is going to continue to exist in this country."
From my experience using Anver's vacuum lifters, I am now starting to envision a new future, a new way, a new opportunity for us to design and build extraordinarily high-end stone projects using the dry stone method while dramatically reducing labor costs and also shortening the timelines.
It's a new way of doing stonework in the 21st century.