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Common Characteristics of Historic Stone

Due to its strength and durability, stone has been a key element in all types of buildings and structures since the beginning of architecture and construction. Not only is it a particularly useful element, but the wide variety of colors and textures of stonework found all over the world gives rise to an extensive list of various aesthetics. Many common characteristics of historic stone fall from this commonality of strength and beauty among different types of stone.

Since stone is difficult to transport due to size and weight, stones will often be sourced relatively close to the area in which the building is to be constructed. Consequently, specific characteristics of stone will vary depending upon the region in which the stone is found. For example, igneous rock is found near volcanic activity and differs from sedimentary rock which is found near water sources. Accordingly, the different types of stone which come from igneous rock will have different specific characteristics than the stones which are by nature sedimentary.

However, there are general qualities which are characteristic of all stone. Some common characteristics include appearance, weight, durability, strength, hardness, porosity, and resistance to fire and electricity. It is important to take these and other characteristics into account when constructing or restoring a historic building. Misunderstanding stonework can result in more harm than good when it comes to restoration or new design.

Union Station

Union Station in Washington D.C. was built using White Granite from Bethel, Vermont.

Common Characteristics

    • Appearance

When it comes to historic buildings, beauty is just as important as strength. For this reason, it is vitally important to choose a stone that will fit with the building’s overall appearance. Color, warm or cool tones, texture, and pattern are all important factors that play a part in choosing the right stone.

    • Weight

A stone’s weight affects its strength and durability. Although heaviness makes transportation difficult, it is a distinguishing factor of stone which cannot be found in other architectural elements. It can withstand immense weathering and wear in a way that wood or other architectural elements cannot. Granite is among the heaviest stones which has been used throughout the centuries.

    • Durability

The durability of stone is primarily due to its compactness and homogeneity. This means that the minuscule particles of the stone are very close together and generally all the particles are of the same material. The compactness of the stone results in little room for absorbing liquids which is ideal since absorption will cause cracking and other damage to stone.

    • Strength

Due to its durability and weight, stone is the strongest material used in the construction world. Structures made with a high percentage of stone last hundreds of years or longer and are capable of withstanding severe weathering and earthquakes.

    • Hardness

Another useful characteristic is stone’s hardness which again is due to its high compactness and enables the stone to resist damage from scratching or chipping. This quality gives stone a brand-new appearance years after it is built.

    • Porosity

Stones should not be porous since water and other liquids can seep in and cause the stone to expand and crack. Low porosity results in little absorption and therefore lasting and sturdy historic structures.

    • Resistance

Stone is also highly resistant to fire and electricity due to its compactness. This immensely adds to its lasting value and durability.

Granite (left) has a much lower porosity than marble (right).

Since stone is so valuable in the architecture world, the importance of identifying and caring for historic stone cannot be emphasized enough. A few simple measures taken to conserve or prevent wear and cracking will go a long way and will be worth the time, money, and effort for years to come.

Canning is highly experienced in cleaning, conserving, and restoring historic stonework. Some examples of the company’s work include the restoration of stone and marble at the Barker Library Dome, MIT as well as St. Mary’s Chapel in Boston which involved removing the surface soot and dirt, carbon stains, and efflorescence without damaging or altering the stone’s appearance or strength.

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July 05, 2022

Featured Projects

Canning_UnionStation

Washington DC’s Union Station

This project included the conservation and restoration of 36 Legionnaire statues in Washington DC’s Union Station by John Canning & Co.

MIT Barker Library Dome

Barker Library Dome, MIT

We served as a consultant for restoring the decorative paint, stone & marble, gilding, and metal refinishing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Canning-StMary

St. Mary’s Chapel, Boston College

The St. Mary’s Chapel restoration involved conservation cleaning without damaging the surface or altering the color of the historic cast stone.

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