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View Full Version : How do they engrave new names on existing headstones?


NFlanders
03-30-2004, 04:24 PM
My grandfather-in-law has already been buried and has a rather large headstone cemented in place. When my grandmother-in-law dies, how will they engrave her name on it? Will they dig out the whole stone or engrave her rather long name on the spot? Are engraving tools large or are they easily portable?

Mangetout
03-30-2004, 04:38 PM
AFAIK, monumental engraving is mostly done with a CNC masonry router (not sure if that's the exact term, but you get the idea) - these aren't hand-held devices, so it would necessitate the removal of the stone, which they would re-set afterwards. I imagine it's pretty routine though and if the extra exngraving was anticipated when the stone was originally set, then provision will have been made for its easy removal.

FatBaldGuy
03-30-2004, 04:48 PM
They're going to have to remove the stone anyway in order to open up the grave for Grandma, so it's not a big deal to haul it back to the shop to re-engrave it.

Booker57
03-30-2004, 08:27 PM
Some places bring in a truck mounted sand blasting unit. Lots of head stones had to be redone four years ago. People living longer than they thought.

Wikkit
03-30-2004, 09:20 PM
They're going to have to remove the stone anyway in order to open up the grave for Grandma, so it's not a big deal to haul it back to the shop to re-engrave it.Why is that? The stone isn't over the plot, especially if it's a two-plot stone.

Exgineer
03-30-2004, 09:44 PM
That stone is probably the single most expensive thing about the plot, Wikkit.

They don't want to take any chance of its getting damaged, especially since they'll be driving a backhoe in there.

dukemeiser
05-21-2014, 08:31 AM
Believe it or not this thread is actually a top hit when you Google "how to engrave headstones"

I had to comment because even though it's a ten year old thread, almost everything said here was incorrect. I'm a sexton for a local cemetery and when the monument company sets a stone they glue it to the pad so it can't be moved again. They do NOT take the stone back to their shop to engrave death dates. They have portable equipment that allows them to engrave the stone on site. It's not as easy as doing it in the shop but sufficient for one line of text, even if all they have is a hammer and chisel.

Also they do NOT remove the stone to dig the grave. The undertaker is skilled enough with a backhoe to dig the grave without hitting the stone or the pad or disturbing the soil underneath which would cause the stone to settle toward the grave. Anyone that's been to a graveside funeral knows that the headstone doesn't get moved.

BubbaDog
05-21-2014, 09:10 AM
There it is. Ignorance fought!

Welcome to the Straight Dope, dukemeiser.

Stick around. It's a fun place.

Chefguy
05-21-2014, 10:05 AM
A zombie thread about graveyards. This is a first!

SciFiSam
05-21-2014, 10:11 AM
They don't, really, IME. Either there's space left on the headstone for those to come, or an extra headstone is put on the same grave.

slash2k
05-21-2014, 10:18 AM
It being close to Memorial Day, I visited a local cemetery last weekend, and saw several recent graves with a concrete pad sitting where the headstone had been, and no headstone present. In each case, it was obviously a double grave, and by the marks a headstone had once stood there, but it wasn't there anymore.

Maybe in dukemeiser's cemetery they don't remove the stone, but for at least one monument company in my locale (Kansas) that doesn't seem to be true.

ElvisL1ves
05-21-2014, 10:23 AM
The inscriptions with black letters in stone are burned in with a plasma torch through a stencil, aren't they? That equipment is portable.

usedtobe
11-10-2016, 10:49 PM
Two things, while this zombie is back:

1. How are those deep "V" cuts made? They are made to look like the ancient engravings of Rome - at least 1/4-1/2" deep cuts? I can't see sandblasting that cleanly.

2. I have seen the concrete foundations for stones to have rebar protruding upward, as if the stone is to have matching holes drilled in the bottom - if nothing else, make for tipping the marker difficult.

Mangetout
11-11-2016, 02:12 AM
Two things, while this zombie is back:

1. How are those deep "V" cuts made? They are made to look like the ancient engravings of Rome - at least 1/4-1/2" deep cuts? I can't see sandblasting that cleanly.
They use a CNC masonry router with a V shaped cutter - it can create square corners at the ends of lines by lifting itself as it cuts out into those sharp corners.

2. I have seen the concrete foundations for stones to have rebar protruding upward, as if the stone is to have matching holes drilled in the bottom - if nothing else, make for tipping the marker difficult.

I think that's correct.

Mangetout
11-11-2016, 02:13 AM
The inscriptions with black letters in stone are burned in with a plasma torch through a stencil, aren't they? That equipment is portable.

I think they are more likely engraved, then flooded or otherwise infilled with paint.

Francis Vaughan
11-11-2016, 02:38 AM
I always worry when the only solutions suggested are modern technological ones. Prior to the existence of plasma torches or sandblasting or cnc machinery, how do you expect things were done?

The answer is, with a hammer and a chisel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40VsGoMkvIw). And it doesn't take long, so long as the mason is skilled. The reason there is a V groove, is that this is the easiest form for the a chiselled groove to take. It is akin to old school engraving. Remember that? In the days before mechanical rotary engravers or cnc engravers, an artisan used a set of very fine cutters and carved the letters into something by hand. The script of old school engraving was adapted to fit with the technique.

If your mason never learned to write with anything other than a keyboard you might have problems. But not everything in life requires an expensive high tech solution. (As much fun as they are.)

Mangetout
11-11-2016, 03:30 AM
I always worry when the only solutions suggested are modern technological ones. Prior to the existence of plasma torches or sandblasting or cnc machinery, how do you expect things were done?

I don't think anyone answering here is ignorant of traditional manual methods - and it's probably true that those methods are still in use - in the same way that there are businesses that still make wooden furniture with no powered tools, but in general terms, engraving of monuments is mostly done by machine, because it's quick, cheap and neat.

If your mason never learned to write with anything other than a keyboard you might have problems. But not everything in life requires an expensive high tech solution. (As much fun as they are.)

High tech solutions for this sort of thing aren't expensive - that's why they are common. A machine to engrave monumental masonry probably costs less than the equivalent of a year's salary for a stonemason - and can (within the scope of its capabilities) produce work at a greater rate.

ftg
11-11-2016, 06:47 AM
I had an uncle that would make gravestones for his kids dogs. Polished face with engraved names and dates. He was a farmer with a lot of tools to begin with so probably not much in the way of specialized stuff to add to the set.

Make your own gravestones at home! Impress your friends and family! Great conversation starter!

jackas
01-09-2017, 10:29 PM
It's been 13 years since my last post. Finally, a topic I can provide some clear answers to! (I work at a cemetery and crematorium) However dukemeiser beat me to most answers.

Headstones which have been installed at our cemeteries are generally always left in place to add new engravings. This is true for headstone graves (a headstone in the grass) and monumental graves (those with a headstone and ledger). The method used involves applying a stencil and sandblasting the headstone to create the new text. The masons then hand-paint the letters, if required.

In some cases, for complex engravings, headstones will be removed and taken away. The masons utilise a small crane on the back of a truck to remove/return the headstone. This may be the case for deep "V" engravings which are typical on older headstones or for engraved pictures.

In some instances however, customers will purchase a double headstone and engrave both sections at the factory, prior to installation. One side will be for the newly departed and the other side for their partner at a future date. They simply leave the date of death for the living partner blank and cover their side of the headstone. As dukemeiser said, it's easy enough for them to sandblast a single date later.

To clarify a few other points in the thread:
- Masons rarely hand engrave headstones anymore. They are sandblasted using stencils or routed at the factory.

- A single grave-side burial/service rarely has a new headstone in place during the service. It's simply not possible for a family to have their headstone order fulfilled and installed in time. In these cases there is either no headstone or a temporary wooden memorial is installed.

- Headstones don't fall into open graves. Newer lawn graves will always have a concrete foundation with rebar dowels which hold it in position. (Older ones didn't have any minimum specifications so you'll often see them toppling over). When digging a double grave (be it side by side or one/two/three on top of the other) the grave diggers will ensure they leave an appropriate gap between the hole and the foundation of the headstone.

Cremations, burials, evictions, exhumations, dealing with partial remains, babies/children, overweight deceased, casket specifications/restrictions etc. Death is a fascinating industry once you're removed from the emotional side of things.

Shagnasty
01-09-2017, 11:20 PM
This isn't completely related but still somewhat applicable. My grandfather died suddenly when he was 55 and was buried in a very nice section of a cemetery that my family owns. For some reason that I will never understand, they had my grandmother's headstone erected right next to his with partial engraving (leaving only the date of death off) even though they never really liked one another. The problem was that the engravers were overly ambitious and decided to go ahead and drill the beginning digits of the year into her headstone even though she wasn't very old.

That's right, we ran into a Y2K problem with an expensive piece of granite because the year already said 19 something and she didn't die until 2009 when she was 86. It didn't matter much much in the end. My grandmother decided to be cremated and wasn't buried at all. However, as far as I know, her headstone is still erected in a cemetery in East Texas partially filled just like it has always been since I was 7 years old. It always made cemetery visitations to see my grandfather's grave with her present more than a little awkward.

Mangetout
01-10-2017, 02:03 AM
Cremations, burials, evictions, exhumations, dealing with partial remains, babies/children, overweight deceased, casket specifications/restrictions etc. Death is a fascinating industry once you're removed from the emotional side of things.

Sure is. Would you consider starting an 'Ask the...' thread in the IMHO forum? I'd be interested to read and participate.

Princhester
01-10-2017, 02:38 AM
Interesting thing I noticed a week or two back. I was in the UK and was looking for the graves of Princhester ancestors. Working my way through the relevant graveyards I noticed that the very old headstones were often illegible because the engraving had flaked and pitted away, but usually only if it was on the northern side. Presumably because that was the damp side, where moss and lichen grew, eating away the stone. Engraving on the southern side that got the sun would often be totally legible, even if equally old and on the same type of stone.

Moral of the story: if you want your loved one's headstone to be legible in 300 years, make sure the engraving faces the equator.

Mangetout
01-10-2017, 03:08 AM
Presumably because that was the damp side, where moss and lichen grew, eating away the stone.

Possibly also frost spalling. West-facing surfaces are supposedly the most protected against that though (because they warm up in the evening and don't get a shock change of temperature the following sunrise)

naita
01-10-2017, 03:47 AM
Moral of the story: if you want your loved one's headstone to be legible in 300 years, make sure the engraving faces the equator.

And make sure you're not buried in Norway where 300 year old graves are rare, since cemetery space is expensive and reused for anyone not famous or having descendants paying the upkeep fee.

BobLibDem
01-10-2017, 11:33 AM
This isn't completely related but still somewhat applicable. My grandfather died suddenly when he was 55 and was buried in a very nice section of a cemetery that my family owns. For some reason that I will never understand, they had my grandmother's headstone erected right next to his with partial engraving (leaving only the date of death off) even though they never really liked one another. The problem was that the engravers were overly ambitious and decided to go ahead and drill the beginning digits of the year into her headstone even though she wasn't very old.

That's right, we ran into a Y2K problem with an expensive piece of granite because the year already said 19 something and she didn't die until 2009 when she was 86. It didn't matter much much in the end. My grandmother decided to be cremated and wasn't buried at all. However, as far as I know, her headstone is still erected in a cemetery in East Texas partially filled just like it has always been since I was 7 years old. It always made cemetery visitations to see my grandfather's grave with her present more than a little awkward.

I remember my grandfather being quite irritated that when he purchased his headstone, he had his name and my grandmother's engraved along with their date of birth, but the mason refused to put the "19" in the date of death. "I'll never live to 2000, those damn fools" he'd say. Being born in 1903 and his wife in 1900, that was a pretty safe bet but they still wouldn't carve the "19" in there. As it turned out, neither made it to 1990, but we never had to worry about Y2K headstone issues.