Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Technique Behind Much Of What We Do: Sandblasting

Anyone who has witnessed sandblasting first-hand will know that magical feeling... the moment the piece of stone or glass beneath the screen is transformed from a simple, plain object into a detailed work-of-art with real dimension and value. But simple as the process appears to be, there's a lot more to this technique than first meets the eye. With some engineering processes it's all about numbers and levels, but that's never been the case with monumental sandblasting, which is a separate entity in itself and considered by many to be a kind of art-form. Instead, to create the granite, marble and slate memorials sold online through Pets At Rest, company founder Stuart Gebbie uses a combination of hand-eye-coordination, skill and intuition learned over time... and hundreds of pieces transported up and down the country to many happy people!

For those who are unfamiliar with sandblasting, the basic premise behind the idea, when it first appeared, was to accelerate the natural process of erosion. The first machine was developed in 1870 by a now-infamous Benjamin Tilghman, whose objective was to remove paint and rust from the surface of various materials – something which, up until then, had been a virtually impossible task and a thing of laborious manual effort. Later on, some 34 years following this, sandblasting received a new injection of engineering mastery. Thomas Pangborn was the name of the man who forced sandblasting machinery into its crucial next stage of development. By harnessing the power of compressed air and using a specially developed grinder particle, sandblasting quickly became sleeker, easier to control and a viable solution for etching relief designs into all kinds of surfaces which before had proved impenetrable. Another huge reason for sandblasting was obvious, even in its inception: instead of having to carve lettering, a person could apply the nozzle and compressed air and bore into the surface of the object with an even appearance that would take many hours to carve by hand. Hence, monumental masonry was quick to embrace the technique.

Ever since then, sandblasting has proved enormously successful as a means of turning an otherwise bland piece of stone into a much more interesting object. Additionally, technology has made vast improvements on the technique, with everything from quartz and silicon carbide to walnut shells being used as grinder particles.

Nowadays, sandblasting machinery is more advanced than ever before, but despite the huge leaps in progress which the technique has enjoyed – making machinery more affordable and reducing the risks posed by industrial accidents – it's still a medium which requires a large amount of skill to master. Each and every sandblasted memorial produced by Stuart is a masterpiece on its own. Just have a look at some of these great-looking designs and see for yourself!

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