July 27, 2006
Albany-- Many people believe we don't make products as well as we use to, that the pride of craftsmanship has disappeared and quality has suffered.
Don't say that to an Albany man whose work will easily outlive him.
Some people always have a hard day, everyday, at work. People like Larry Ledford who expects to hit a stone wall or two. "I got into it 24 years ago," says Larry, as he lays down several chisels of different sizes and a hammer with a yellow handle on a piece of granite.
He learned that holding the tools of his trade correctly ment more than how strong he was. "You have a certain way to hold the hammer; Know how to hold a chisel," says Larry. And know how to read a piece of granite like a book. "Like this particular slab, the grain goes this way and it goes against the grain over there," says Larry about a piece of granite he will cut by hand.
Larry found some of the pieces of rock have their own personalities. "Black granite, it's a hard granite. Maybe it had a hard life," says Larry with a laugh. What about the personality of the popular blue-gray granite? "At rest. Peaceful," he says.
He doesn't mind doing his job the old fashioned way with tools going back hundreds of years. That was how he was taught to cut stone and Larry makes it look amazingly simple. "I can cut one (slab) in 30 minutes,"says Larry, and he did.
It seemed impossible at first, but he methodically chipped the granite away. With a four-pound hammer and chisel, he takes the rough edges off nature's work.
The slab of blue-gray granite weighing 1200 pounds needs trimming before it goes to the cemetery. A blow in the wrong place would make the piece almost useless. "Yeah, kind of," says Larry. The granite offers no resistance as if it knows it would lose a fight with Larry. "Takes a couple of years of experience to get it down," says Larry.
He does more than knock pieces of granite to the floor. Larry takes pride in what he does, and he has been known to visit a cemetery to view his work because he knows it will be on display for hundreds of years. Larry sometimes wishes that he had lived in the Greek and Roman times when statues were everywhere, all handmade. "Wouldn't mind it at all," says Larry.
But, he knows a stonecutter today can't live in the past. He eyes progress, were a machine does the manual labor, sawing a piece of rock for a counter top. "It's a lot easier," says Larry as he watches the machine work.
Certainly physically easier for him, but with convenience comes risk. "You don't have any margin of error. You have to cut it just right," says Larry, as he lines a laser beam exactly on a white line where the blade will cut.
Ironically, if he cut it by hand, he would have a little more working room, a little margin for error.
When he finishes his work day, Larry hopes he doesn't leave any stone uncut.