Dimension Stone

SIC 1411

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in mining or quarrying dimension stone. Also included are establishments engaged in producing rough blocks and slabs. Establishments primarily engaged in mining dimension soapstone or in mining or quarrying and shaping grindstones, pulpstones, millstones, burrstones, and sharpening stones are classified in SIC 1499: Miscellaneous Nonmetallic Minerals, Except Fuels. Establishments primarily engaged in dressing (shaping, polishing, or otherwise finishing) blocks and slabs are classified in SIC 3281: Cut Stone and Stone Products. Nepheline syenite mining operations are classified in SIC 1459: Clay, Ceramic, and Refractory Minerals, Not Elsewhere Classified.

Industry Snapshot

In 2009, 173 U.S. companies produced 1.83 million tons of dimension stone from about 237 quarries for use in building, monuments, and curbing. The top five states by tonnage--Texas, Wisconsin, Indiana, Georgia, and Arizona--were responsible for 57 percent of dimension stone production and 36 percent of production value. Of the total industry tonnage, 34 percent was limestone dimension stone, 28 percent granite, 19 percent sandstone, two percent marble, one percent slate, and 16 percent other types of dimension stone.

The use of dimension stone in the high-end single-family housing sector was bolstered by an increase in residential construction in the early 2000s. Historically low interest rates fueled new housing starts. Homebuilders increasingly used granite and marble dimension stone in residential kitchens and bathrooms, limestone dimension stone in landscaping stone and ledges, and "worked" or hand-carved dimension stone and roofing slate in residential homes. As a result, consumption more than doubled during the 2000s, making the United States the largest market for dimension stone in the world.

Despite the rapid growth of the early and mid-2000s, in the late 2000s, the United States experienced a banking and credit crisis. As a result, the housing market fell to a 50-year low. That is, in December 2008, new housing starts dropped to the lowest level since the government began compiling statistics. Consequently, the construction industry was down considerably during 2009 as both residential and commercial building were significantly slowed. The apparent consumption of dimension stone in the United States in 2009 ($1.7 billion) was 28 percent lower than in 2008 ($2.4 billion).

Organization and Structure

The U.S. quarrying industry as a whole encompasses two major sectors: crushed stone and dimension stone. The dimension stone segment includes companies that mine, cut, and in some instances prepare stone blocks for such uses as building stone, monument stone, paving stone, and curbing. The dimension stone industry traditionally has accounted for only 0.5 to one percent of the one billion total tons of stone produced annually. Dimension stone consists of rough block and dressed stone.

Dressed stone represented 47 percent by tonnage and 61 percent by value of all dimension stone produced in 2009. Dressed stone is consumed for such uses as panels and veneer, tile, blackboards, ashlars (i.e., a squared cut of stone used as facing material), partially squared pieces, and flagging. Rough stone, sold primarily to the construction industry or used for irregularly shaped stone applications, accounted for the 63 percent of production and 39 percent of the industry's value.

Among the many minerals mined for use as dimension stone by U.S. producers are basalt and diabase, which are known collectively as trap rock or "trap." Trap rock is primarily used in crushed stone, but small amounts are quarried, cut, and polished as "black granite" for dimension stone. Trap rock dimension products are low-cost commodities in the stone market that become less profitable the further they are transported from mining locations. As a result, proximity to end-use markets and inexpensive modes of transportation are considered more important than mineral properties.

Granite is another material commonly used as dimension stone and includes "true" granite, granite gneiss, syenite, diorite, and some forms of granite-gabbro. Dimension granite is used in the construction of monuments and memorials; in heavy construction as large blocks; in residential and other buildings as foundation blocks, steps, and columns known as ashlar (when cut to regular shapes and sizes); and as paving stones and curbstones. The value of dimension granite deposits is based on color, uniformity of texture, and hardness. Besides final appearance, these factors also affect the cost of quarrying, cutting, and "dressing" or processing the rock.

The production of dimension granite historically has occurred in three regions: New England, the Southeast, and the Midwestern states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota. Small amounts of dimension granite were produced in 14 other states.

Limestone is a type of dimension stone that has numerous applications. Dimension limestone is used across the United States for the exteriors of commercial and institutional buildings as "Indiana" or "Bedford stone." Valuable properties of dimension limestone include uniformity of color and texture, as well as the absence of stain-forming iron sulfide and quartz or chert, which impede extraction of the stone. Mines in Indiana traditionally have accounted for 60 percent of the dimension limestone produced in the United States.

Dolomite is a geologically recrystallized form of limestone used for dimension stone, and polished crystalline limestone is sold as "orthomarble." When first quarried, orthomarble is soft and easily worked and can be readily planed and carved into desired shapes. Orthomarble mines in eastern Tennessee produce a limestone known as "Tennessee marble" that ranges in color from light gray to pink, red, and brown, and is used in interior floors, panels, wainscoting, and windowsills, It is less frequently used for exterior construction.

Another popular material used as dimension stone is marble. The term marble applies commercially to any stone other than granite with an attractive appearance that can be polished. Most rock marketed as marble is metamorphic marble, crystallized limestone, cave onyx, travertine, or verde antique (serpentine), rather than true marble. The most common element in true marble is calcite, although the highest grades of statuary stone are more than 99 percent calcium carbonate. Pure marble is white, but common color variations include light gray, green, red, cream, and black.

Major uses for cut and polished marble are as architectural and statuary stone. More than 50 percent of marble production is utilized to construct building exteriors, interior floors, steps, sills, wainscoting, columns, and trim. Most of the remainder becomes memorial or statuary stone. Important properties affecting the value of dimension marble include color, texture, hardness, porosity, solubility, and strength. Marble is only profitable when worked on a large scale, and new quarries cannot be economically opened or old ones extended without proof that a large bed of stone is present.

The states of Vermont and Georgia produce the bulk of building and monument marble, but Alabama, Colorado, Maryland, and North Carolina produce small amounts. Vermont marble quarries are often up to 400 feet deep, and single blocks of Vermont marble weighing as much as 65 tons have been used as base stones for fountains. Georgia marble is used in buildings, monuments, and memorials. Well-known marble structures include the Buckingham Fountain in Chicago and the facade of the New York Stock Exchange.

Sandstone provides another material appropriate for use as dimension stone. Dimension sandstone is used for exterior facing and trim on large buildings, for ashlar in residential construction, as flagstones and curbstones, and in retaining walls and bridge abutments. Dimension sandstone ranges in texture from very fine to coarse, and in deposit depth from a few inches to 200 feet. Some of the most desired sandstone colors are shades of gray and tan. Uniformity of color in dimension stone is typically favored, but some producers market dimension sandstone that oxidized during weathering to produce aesthetically appealing spotted and streaked patterns.

Dimension slate is widely used for roofing purposes because it is easily prepared and fixed, weatherproof and durable, and often cheaper than and superior to other roofing materials. An average roofing tile of the highest grade of slate is only about five millimeters thick, which reduces strain on walls and roof supports. In addition to its use in roofing and flagstones, dimension slate historically was produced as "mill stock" for switchboards and electrical panels, blackboards, mantels, baseboards, steps, sills, and grave vaults. Colored slate, which includes red, purple, green, black, and gray, was typically favored for flagstone.

Background and Development

Techniques for quarrying dimension stone varied according to the type of rock, the depth of the deposit, and the end-use of the mined stone. Unlike some other minerals, which were processed into their marketable form at processing plants and simply extracted from the ground in the most economical method possible, the specific end-use of a dimension stone product determined the procedure used to quarry it. Ideal end-products were large, solid, relatively flawless blocks of stone of attractive texture and color that were carefully cut from quarries one by one.

The exact type of quarry excavated by industry firms depended on the nature of the terrain in which the deposit was located. A deposit extending into a hill, for example, could be entered from the side by digging a "bench" quarry. Such quarries provided long, high faces from which the granite could be blasted, as well as direct approaches to the quarry for removal of the mined rock. When granite deposits were located under flat ground, a pit quarry had to be excavated. Pit quarries were either wide and shallow quarries for deposits of uniform quality extending overlarge areas, or deep quarries extending from 20 to 300 feet for narrow deposits of great depth.

Most dimension stone was cut from the quarry face into large blocks, undercut at quarry "floor" level, and pried free by wedging. The stone was then cut into "mill blocks" of the desired size (typically between 10 and 60 feet long, four feet wide, and four to 12 feet thick) by drilling and wedging, and were hoisted from the quarry by derricks. Although light blasting was sometimes used to loosen deposits, explosives were usually avoided because they could damage the rock.

Granite and sandstone quarrying usually involved "broaching," wire sawing, or jet piercing mining methods after the covering rock and silt were removed by scrapers or steam shovels. Broaching consisted of drilling a row of closely aligned holes in the rock face with tungsten carbide drill bits, then removing the blocks between the holes with broaching tools. Wire sawing involved the application of tensioned single- or triple-strand wire cables up to 16,000 feet long, which were drawn through pulleys. The cables formed a "saw" that was held against the rock and fed with a mixture of water and sand, with the ability to cut hard granite by abrasion at a rate of about two inches per hour. When cutting was completed, the mill blocks could be extracted from channels about a quarter of an inch wide and 50 to 70 feet deep.

In sandstone and granite deposits with inherent strains or internal pressure, the drilled holes sometimes closed around the drill bit, rendering it ineffective. In such cases, a jet-piercing drill that creates a combustible mixture of oxygen and fuel from the drill's nozzle to blast the rock into fragments could cut an eight-inch channel through the deposit face. Blocks could then be cut into the desired dimensions and lifted from the quarry by derricks into rail cars for transport to the dressing or preparation mill.

Another method traditionally used by dimension granite miners in shallow quarries involved drilling six- to eight-foot holes (depending on the desired size of the block) and placing small explosive charges into them to create a "parting" in the rock. Compressed air then was forced into pipes cemented in the holes, separating the desired sheet from the rock below. Using this method, granite miners could peel off segments of stone in desired sizes as they were needed.

In marble, limestone, and soft sandstone quarries, stone could be cut using electrically powered channeling machines with steel chisels that moved in a chopping motion back and forth on a track. Such machines usually left channels about two inches wide, 10 to 12 feet deep, and four feet apart. After these initial cuts, drill holes were made into the rock, and blocks were loosened from the quarry floor by wedges inserted in the holes. These loosened blocks could then be fashioned into smaller blocks using the "plug and feather" method. Feathers were elongated strips of iron, which were inserted in rows of drill holes. Plugs, or steel wedges, were driven between the "feathers" and alternately struck until a fracture appeared, forcing the feathers and loosening the stone.

Marble quarrying was typically affected by such factors as the "dip" or shape of the marble beds, the quality of the deposit, the expected price of the mined rock, the thickness of the overburden, and the uniformity of the marble. The chief goal of marble quarrying was to produce sound blocks of uniform quality, and quarrying procedures were tailored to each deposit. Marble beds of high value could be worked laterally or vertically through deep cuts made in the marble, while gently dipping layers of marble between solid walls of earth could be worked in deep open quarries.

In a typical marble mining operation, channel cuts were made six feet apart and eight feet deep across the quarry floor. The ends of the resulting strips were cut away from the walls, leaving blocks free to be drilled, wedged, and lifted out. Using this technique, the quarry floor was gradually lowered by successive eight-foot "benches."

Because most dimension stone was mined and dressed for specific job contracts, preparation plants or mills operated by industry firms maintained extensive drafting and pattern-making departments to anticipate required stone sizes. Drawings were prepared that detailed the exact dimensions of the requested stone, which were then referred to regularly during the stone finishing or dressing stage. Processes for the finishing stage included sawing, planing, rubbing, and polishing with stoneworking machines. Finished stones were then carefully marked and packed for shipment.

Major dimension stone industry events in the mid-1990s included major new industry projects, expanding reliance on foreign sources, and new technologies. In 1995, after many delays, the Denver International Airport opened a massive construction project that featured 20,000 square feet of two-centimeter thick marble slabs from the Colorado quarry that had supplied marble for the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In July 1995, the Korean War Veterans Memorial was also unveiled, in which 41 panels of granite formed a 164-foot-long reflective wall on which were etched photographic images of the conflict. Although exports of U.S. dimension stone (primarily to Italy) decreased slightly in 1995, imports (mostly of dimension granite) rose to $476 million, primarily from Italy, Spain, India, and Canada. Indian green marble was used increasingly for kitchen countertops, and low-priced Chinese marble emerged as a new product in the U.S. market.

Also in 1995, the National Mining Association (NMA) was formed from the union of the National Coal Association and the American Mining Congress. The group, which represented the entire mining industry, said its initiatives would include promoting policy and legislation to support the health of the industry. The NMA was concerned specifically with the perception of the "environmental lobby [that] argues that 'public' land must be forever held virtually as wilderness in the public interest," according to 1995 association president Richard Lawson. The NMA expressed concern that such environmental initiatives could make resources, including lands with rich mineral resources, available only to select "special interests."

New technologies in the late 1990s included "thermally stable" waterjet stone-cutting drill bits for increased penetration rates and extended bit life and computerized wire saws that could cut complex images on monument faces. The images etched on the surface of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, for example, were created by high-precision etching and contour-cutting laser technology that had been made possible by advances in computerized design. A 1997 industry periodical described a new extraction method for granite that used diamond wire sawing machinery rather than traditional hydraulic and mechanized drilling, smooth blasting, and wheel loading. The new technique, which was manufactured by Blue Pearl and tested in the United States, Japan, Finland, Italy, and South Africa, reportedly resulted in smoother surfaces and reduced waste.

Fueled by the growing demand for "natural stone" finishes, new quarry and processing technologies emerged that permitted the fabrication of very thin stone products. Computers also aided the marketing efforts of industry firms. The explosion of the World Wide Web as a marketing tool in the mid-1990s allowed some dimension stone producers to display their products using digitized images on their own Web pages.

As consumption of dimension stone increased in the United States, so did reliance on imports. By 2003, imports accounted for roughly 86 percent of dimension stone used in the United States, reflecting steady growth since 1999, when imports accounted for 75 percent of domestic consumption. The value of dimension stone imports grew 23 percent in 2003, from $1.19 billion to $1.46 billion, while the value of exports declined six percent, from $64 million to $60 million. By 2003, consumption of U.S. dimension stone was valued at $1.63 billion.

To offset competition from substitute materials like steel, aluminum, reinforced concrete, lightweight and low-cost facing materials, plastics, glass, aluminum, and porcelain-enameled steel, industry firms had looked to the development of niche markets in granite and marble dimension stone for kitchens and bathrooms; limestone for landscaping, ledges, and tiles; and worked or hand-carved stone for custom-built houses. According to 2004 estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey, demand for dimension stone was expected to grow through 2014 due to the rising prices of substitute materials, as well as expanded varieties of stone and advances in dimension stone processing technology.

In 2006, U.S. companies in 34 states and Puerto Rico produced an estimated 1.3 million metric tons of dimension stone with a total value of $265 million. Wisconsin, Indiana, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Georgia accounted for 59 percent of total tonnage. U.S. consumption of dimension stone continued to rise and had a value of $2.7 billion in 2006. In 2006, limestone represented 559,000 metric tons, or 42 percent, of the total of domestic dimension stone produced, followed by granite at 32 percent, sandstone at 15 percent, marble at four percent, and slate at one percent.

U.S. exports of dimension stone climbed significantly to an estimated $133 million from $76 million in 2006 with granite representing 46 percent of the export value. Most dimension stone was exported to China. In addition, imports increased 15 percent, or $2.6 billion, with Brazil at the forefront. The primary suppliers of dimension stone imports were China, India, Italy, Iran, and Turkey, which accounted for 69 percent of world production. In 2006, total world production of dimension stone was estimated at 103 million metric tons.

The total number of U.S. companies producing dimension stone fell from 132 in 2003 to 110 in 2007, but their value increased to $283 million. Those companies operated 135 quarries. Dimension stone was being used more frequently for new commercial and residential construction, with no signs that demand for dimension stone would weaken through 2012. However, the economic recession that affected the United States beginning in 2008 changed optimism to pessimism overnight as the construction industry was stymied due to a credit crisis and the collapse of the housing market.

Current Conditions

In 2008, a synergy of forces came together that negatively affected the U.S. economy: oil prices reached record highs of over $140 a barrel, numerous U.S. banks either closed or had to be rescued by the federal government, two major U.S. automakers collapsed, a record three million foreclosure procedures were filed, unemployment rates reached above 10 percent, and housing prices in some parts of the country plummeted. As a result, new housing starts fell dramatically to reach 50-year lows. Commercial building also declined. Consequently, the dimension stone industry was negatively affected.

In 2009, 237 quarries produced approximately 1.83 million tons of dimension stone, up from the 1.80 million tons produced in 2008 but down from the 1.93 million tons produced in 2007. Approximate value of production in 2009 was $377 million, up from $346 million and $324 million in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Apparent consumption was valued at $1.7 billion, down nearly $700 million from $2.4 billion in 2008, representing a 28 percent decrease. Total value of imports was $1.5 billion in 2009, a 32 percent decrease from 2008.

Generally speaking, the dimension stone industry experienced growth during the 2000s, with production increasing from 1.25 million metric tons in 2000 to 1.83 million metric tons in 2009. In terms of consumption, growth was even more significant: apparent consumption grew from just 5.85 million metric tons in 2000 to 15.60 million metric tons in 2007 before declining somewhat over the next several years due to the recession. However, the United States relied on imports for approximately 87 percent of its dimension stone needs. The United States imports dimension stone from a variety of countries, including Brazil (20 percent), Italy (19 percent), China (18 percent), and Turkey (17 percent). Granite specifically comes from primarily from Brazil (36 percent), China (23 percent), Italy (18 percent), and India (14 percent).

The devaluation of the U.S. dollar overseas actually helped stimulate increased exports of dimension stone in the late 2000s, although exports remain a small segment of the industry. In 2009, the value of exported dimension stone was $111 million, up from $66 million in 2008. However, the lack of global demand due to the weak economy was expected to keep growth of exports limited in the foreseeable future.

Industry Leaders

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, industry leaders in 2008 were Buechel Stone Corp. (Wisconsin), Eden Stone Company (Wisconsin, Indiana), Mezger Enterprises Inc. (Texas), and Swenson Granite Company LLC (New Hampshire, Vermont). These top five companies accounted for 27 percent of domestic production and 21 percent of domestic revenues. The top 14 firms produced 45 percent of the nation's dimension stone by tonnage and 48 percent by value.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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