Did you know that here at Family Memorials about 95% of all the headstones we sell are made of granite? That means we go through A LOT of granite every year!
Why is granite the material of choice for nearly every monument we sell? Is granite used for anything other than gravestones? Why are there so many colors of granite? What is granite in the first place?
Well, these are the questions we’re going to look at in this post. We’ll start with a look at what granite actually is and how it’s formed. Then we’ll survey the various uses we have come up with for it (it’s surprisingly useful) and finally look at why it’s the material of choice for the memorial industry. Let’s go!
What Exactly is Granite?
To begin, the word “granite” has its origins in the Latin “granum” which means grain. The Latin word is a clear reference and/or description of the granular crystalline structure that is clearly visible in any piece of granite.
We won’t go into all the technical definitions regarding what percentage of the rock has to be quartz or feldspar in order for it to qualify as granite, but most granite consists mainly of quartz and feldspar and has various quantities of mica and a variety of other amphibole minerals. (If you’d like to see all the technical descriptions, check out this Wikipedia article.)
Typically, the quartz and feldspar will form a tight, interlocking structure with the other minerals scattered throughout, sometimes evenly and others not so evenly. This creates a very uniform and tight composition which causes the granite to be a hard, dense, and tough natural material.
This tight crystalline structure also means water has a very difficult time penetrating into the stone making it quite durable and able to stand up to inclement weather for very long periods of time (we’re talking centuries and even millennia) without losing its structural integrity.
These characteristics and qualities have caused granite to be a reliable construction material for thousands of years. Nowadays it’s also the primary choice of material for monuments and headstones around the world. What better way to ensure your memory is captured in stone for centuries to come?
If you can remember back to your schooling days, you may recognize the general category of rock called Igneous. Granite is an igneous rock which means it was formed from cooling magma (basically underground hot lava).
In order for the crystalline structures that exist in granite to have been created, this cooling process must have happened slowly over thousands of years and at pressures only possible far beneath the earth’s surface.
As a result, any granite that is visible to the naked eye at or above the surface of the earth has either been pushed upward by the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates or all the other stuff (sand, dirt, etc.) has eroded away leaving the granite exposed.
Believe it or not, granite is found all around the world and, in fact, most of the Earth’s surface has granite underneath the visible layers of sedimentary materials such as dirt, sand, and other organic materials.
Did you know that most of our world’s tallest buildings are firmly anchored to the granite located directly underneath them? In reality, how solid the granite underneath a building site is determines how tall a building can safely be.
If you look at the island of Manhattan, you’ll notice there are really only to areas on either end of the island where the tallest buildings exist. This isn’t due to economics or land value, but rather the accessibility and quality of the granite under the island.
In the center of the island, the granite is too far underground to be used for construction, so the building heights are limited, whereas, on the ends where the granite is closer to the surface, engineers can ensure their skyscrapers will be anchored to a solid foundation and, therefore, the building heights continue to break records. For more regarding this interesting granite-related topic, check out this article.
Most mountain ranges and large rock outcroppings are actually made of granite that is being forced upward by the earth’s plates being pushed around. The Rocky Mountains are a great example of this. Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse are two giant sculptures located in the Black Hills of South Dakota that are literally carved or being carved into granite mountains.
Qualities and Colors of Granite
- Granite is a very hard natural material, which means it is fairly resistant to chipping and scratching, especially when compared to other natural stones such as marble or sandstone.
- Granite is also quite strong which means it can bear a lot of weight. This makes it a great material for building construction.
- Granite is also a very dense, tight material which means it is resistant to weather over long periods of time.
- Granite can be polished to a beautiful, glossy sheen which pulls out the beautiful colors and intricacies hidden within its grains.
Granite can come in a variety of colors from very light and dark grays to midnight black, to blue, green, red, pink, orange, and just about anything in-between. You can check out all the colors of granite we typically use on this page.
Ultimately, the wide color varieties within granite from different locations are determined by the mineral make-up of the granite in that particular geographic area.
There are some colors, such as gray and black, that can be quarried in various parts of the world and have just about the exact same colors and patterns. However, there are other colors, such as some blues and greens, that are completely unique to particular parts of the world or geologic features. For example, Norway is known around the world for the beautiful blue granite that can only be found in Norwegian granite formations.
The Most Common Uses for Granite Today
Today granite has a plethora of uses such as construction, engineering, and cemetery headstones.
For construction, granite has been and continues to be used for buildings, bridges, paving, monuments, countertops, flooring, and more. That being said, the usage of granite for construction is not as widespread as it once was due to its high costs, especially when compared to much cheaper, man-made construction materials.
The other major use of granite around the world is for cemetery headstones and monuments.
Despite its higher costs, granite is still regularly used for projects or monuments that are seeking to convey a sense of lasting elegance, power, and prestige.
Quarrying and Shipping Granite
Where Granite is Quarried
In the United States, there are five major granite producing states: South Dakota, Idaho, Massachusetts, Georgia, and New Hampshire.
Other major granite producing countries and regions around the world are India, China, Norway, Brazil, and Southern Africa. Many of these countries have specific colors they are known for.
How Granite is Quarried & Manufactured
The crystalline structure of granite means it has to be quarried with more care than some other materials. Granite cannot simply be blasted out with powerful explosions as it would simply shatter into a bunch of unusable pieces.
Granite, much like wood, has a directional grain to it. This allows the granite to be relatively easily split along the grains. This also means that if you want to make a cut against the grains, it’s going to take a lot of work!
Quarries use this grainy characteristic to their advantage by using various methods to “break off” large blocks of granite at a time. One method they use is to drill a series of holes along the grain of the granite and then use wedges or small explosive charges to for the granite to crack along the grain. Some quarries will also use water jets or giant band saws to do this job as well.
Once the large blocks are separated from the earth they’re transported to a shop where they’ll be cut down into smaller, more manageable and ship-able sizes. The saws used to do this are typically huge circular saws with diamond tipped blades. Even with these specialized blades, making a single cut through a large block of granite can take hours and hours.
After the granite is cut down to the proper size and shape it will usually be sent to a polisher to be polished into a beautiful, glass-like surface.
How Granite is Shipped
As you can imagine, granite is quite heavy and, therefore, expensive to ship. Typically, granite will be cut down as small as possible before it is shipped around the world.
The cheapest and easiest way to ship granite is to load it into shipping containers and onto huge cargo ships. These ships will transport it to the receiving ports of countries around the world where it will be inspected and processed through customs. At this point, the granite will be loaded onto trains or trucks and taken to its final destinations.
There are many links in the chain of getting a piece of granite from the other side of the world to our shop in the middle of South Dakota. If we’re ordering a custom shape in a color that only comes from overseas, it could take as long as six months to get that piece in (and that’s without any shipping delays or problems along the way).
Why Granite is Ideal for Headstones
Granite has been used for memorials and headstones for thousands of years for a reason. It has many great qualities that make it an ideal candidate for memorializing people.
Granite’s tight crystalline structure means it is a very hard stone. This is a good thing for a memorial that you would like to last for hundreds of years. It means that it most likely won’t shatter into a million pieces if a tree branch falls on it or it’s tipped over by a tornado or some unruly cows that decided to break into a cemetery and use the gravestones as scratching posts (believe us…this has actually happened).
Granite is also very durable when it comes to withstanding the weather and other potentially damaging agents in the air, especially when it is polished (more on this below).
Around here we have a good number of marble and sandstone monuments from the late 19th and 20th centuries that are almost completely illegible. This is a result of the dusty South Dakota wind that is constantly beating on the surfaces of these softer stones, essentially sandblasting them.
Granite, on the other hand, has and will continue to withstand the natural elements for centuries to come and still be completely legible.
While sculpting granite isn’t as easy as marble, it is often the medium of choice for outdoor pieces such as monuments for the aforementioned reasons. If you’re going to spend the time and money to place a beautifully sculpted figure or carving on your monument, it only makes sense to do it in granite. Otherwise, if you choose marble, your figure may well be faceless or smoothed out by the time your grandkids or great-grandchildren are paying you a visit.
Granite can be formed into many unique and elegant shapes as well. We are constantly surprised by the creativity we are able to have when designing specialized custom monuments for the families we work with.
It Can be Polished
With the right tools, a beautiful, glassy polish can be created on any piece of granite. The polish serves to primary purposes for a cemetery monument.
Firstly, a polished surface is simply beautiful. Polish granite almost magically draws out all the color and details encased in the stone’s crystalline structure unexpected ways. A stone’s beauty and elegance are truly drawn out by a well-polished surface.
Secondly, a polished surface serves as a layer of protection to the piece of granite. It creates a barrier between the pores of the stone and the outside weather and reinforces the stones ability to withstand inclement weather and greatly lengthens the life of a monument.
Granite – An Elegant Solution
Granite is an incredible natural material. It’s widely available throughout the world yet is incredibly diverse in its color and makeup. It can last millennia, even in the harshest weather. It has been used in some of our most recognizable pieces of architecture, both man-made and natural.
Ultimately, it is for these reasons granite is used for cemetery headstones and memorials. At Family Memorials by Gibson, we believe that capturing our loved ones’ memories in granite is an elegant and beautiful way to ensure their stories will be told in stone for generations to come.
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