Monday, January 11, 2010

Stone Cold Carrara (Pietre di Carrara)

When in Italy back in October I took a train from Firenza (Florence to you English-city name-in-foreign-country insistent types) to Carrara (also called Carrara in English). This little coastal town is basically one of the best sources of marble and stone processing in the entire world. Michealangelo (Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti, no one ever knows his full name) walked these very mountains and quarries looking for likely pieces to carve famous sculptures in. Isn't it weird how the name Buonarroti kind of means 'good breaking' in Italian, and he was a sculptor? Whoa...

Here is one of the largest processors in town, Marmi di Carrara. Check out the comically large cranes for hoisting the blocks. They have gigantic saws too. I wonder if they ever sawed a car apart? You could make a stretch limo pretty easily there I think.

As a digression, here is an American sculptor I admire who picked out a *huge* piece of marble himself from a quarry in Colorado, then proceeded to carve a grand piano and a lady on it!!!

Back to Italy, Carrara has some of the best state of the art marble processing facilities and is one of the largest processors of marble blocks. Blocks are the form that they get the marble down from the cliffside in. They drill holes in the mountain, blast, and run like hell to avoid hundreds of tons of falling stone.
Here are some blocks that evidently landed perfectly on the back of a transport truck.

The city itself is small, but nice and friendly. Everywhere, the patios use expensive scraps of white marble tile. I felt like Augustus Gloop when he saw the chocolate river since beautiful stone was everywhere. I walked *all* over that town and I was able to make several industry contacts there, so it was a good trip.
Here is an enormous pot carved out of a single block (I hope I don't get any bad searchers because of using the words 'enormous' and 'pot'). You know how your shadow gets larger when the sun is behind you and casting forward? Well, think about how big this pot is now...

From the rough block form, marble goes through a few steps before it gets to the tile that you might walk across in your garage or coat closet. First, they saw these blocks down into smaller block pieces that they then further saw down into slabs (used commonly for countertops, etc). They then take some of the slabs and saw those down into tiles of various thicknesses and sizes. Typically, they'll put these tiles in a polishing maching to get that 'glossy' finish.

Since I like old looking stuff, I always use the back side of the tile and sand that down to where it's smooth, but not glossy. This state of marble is called 'honed'.

Some chunks of the big blocks are left in larger pieces which they carve fireplaces and things like that from. In the industry, these pieces are called 'cut-to-size'. I need to get some of these pieces for some statuary that I want to do, but it's a bit costly since even a piece big enough to carve a lifesized head would weigh around 300 lbs.


  1. Very interesting. I wonder how many accidents they have a year at that place? How morbid of me.

    Frankly I'm surprised at you for using such blatantly bad search words. This coming from a guy that only uses the letter "v" when referring to you-know-what!

  2. I've dreamed of white carrara marble countertops for a long time. Due to my love red wine and lemons (not together) I know I'll never have them. But I like the look of the honed ones too, like the French bakeries use. What an experience!

  3. Guys don't be fooled. That's just a normal-sized pot and he's dangling it in front of the camera. The bastard.

  4. This is so interesting. I'm reading right now about the ancient Greeks and how they sculpted things from marble, but seeing it actually being mined gives you a different perspective. It's funny that people are still doing the same things, in art and in other areas, that were done 2,500 years ago.

    I'd like to see some of your finished work.

  5. That was very interesting. I really do like the way you pull me into these posts, by putting a little bit of history in them.

    Love how those blocks just magically loaded themselves on the flatbed. LOL!

  6. You know, it never even made sense to me why there would be different words for the same city. Shouldn't they all just be called whatever they are in their native language? Who came up with that bright idea, anyway?

  7. Oh, I like the enormous pot :)
    And no, I didn't know Michelangelo's full name.

  8. Otherworldlyone,
    Yes, now why would that be the first thing you thought of?
    Frankly, I use a capital V for your information.

    If you just keep a large block of marble on hand to replace them with periodically, everything will be great.

    Drat! You figured out my secret of making a small cardboard cutout of myself holding a camera, and then taking a picture of it all without letting my real shadow interfere.

    Yes, marble and stonework is pretty much the same. Just as Jack Handey mentions that probably the earliest flyswatters were nothing more than a stick attached to some sort of striking surface.

    I thought the "comedy" was what pulled people in, but you know, if the historical bits do it for you, well who am I to not include those. :)

    Yeah, there should be some sort of Geneva Convention for that, or Genève(French), Ginevra(Italian)?

    Dutch Donut Girl,
    : ) Wait, you mean the large stone vessel that I photographed, right?
    No one ever does...

  9. I wonder if the other Michelangelos get a little hopeful every time they see their name in print, and then get promptly disappointed when they realize that its that damn Buonarroti guy. Again.

    Anyway, very cool place. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Not the most transportable of hobbies, is it?

  11. Valerie,
    I think you're right, for the same reason there is a 'Michael Jackson' out there that has been doing a forehead plant to palm for the past twenty years every time there was a news story on 'the king of pop'.
    Glad you enjoyed it, that is a good place for all things stone related.

    The Jules,
    Not unless you are really really into hydraulics and tracked suspensions.

  12. I go to school with a girl named Randy Jackson!

  13. Was she a large musician with a proclivity for judging singers? :)

  14. I actually had someone come out a couple weeks ago to give a bid for a checkerboard kitchen classic!

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