I got into the biz this year with my neighbour, have been all over Alberta, Canada installing granite stones and slabs up to about 1,000 lbs (450 kg). Generally I install civilian stones, but I was quite happy to do a maintenance contract with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and little side jobs with the caretakers I meet.

My job entails receiving, delivering, installing, maintenance, warranty jobs, and basically driving all over the province with country tunes and enough coffee to stop someone's heart.

Here's a letter of recommendation given to me by LCol (Rtd) Andre Michaud! Woo! http://imgur.com/pdk8vlD

Edit: I'm happy to answer more questions but I have tools to exchange and quotes to put in. Keep 'em coming!

Comments: 155 • Responses: 48  • Date: 

Dowew35 karma

do you like pants ?

Surlytaco51 karma

Who doesn't?? I wear at least one pair a day.

packtloss8 karma

I dont like pants. I'd wear shorts everyday if it was acceptable.

Non_Sane1 karma

Yeah but there's no choice when it's 29 F or -1 C

texancoyote3 karma

Come to Texas. It's not uncommon to see someone wearing a hoodie, shorts, and their boots when it's that cold out.

Surlytaco2 karma

... I wish it only got that cold here. In the winters it can sit at -40 for a week! :/

Tucana6628 karma

What is the "lifespan" of various headstones?

Surlytaco46 karma

Well I've seen tons of concrete ones from the early 1900s that are basically illegible now. Concrete has come a long way, even in the last20 years. The CN tower was made with something special like 19 MPA concrete, and was a huge slip-form project at the time. Now'n'days I don't think I could even order 19 MPA concrete because most buildings are 30+.

The granite stones from the early 1900s are still just fine and perfectly legible once the moss gets scraped off.

Edit: an apostrophe

Reedit, I've also seen new stones that were basically concrete blobs on the ground with someone finger-painting the deceased's name in while everything was still wet. I've also see what basically amount to dog-houses set over graves that look brutal.

ModernPoultry11 karma

So basically what youre saying is Torontonians are in danger down the road

Surlytaco7 karma

Well yeah but not from the concrete. That's a huge landmark and is maintained well.

the--dud5 karma

The US is weird, in Norway we have tombstones that are over 1000 years old.

Surlytaco8 karma

The oldest I've seen was from 1818 and in remarkably good shape. I've seen others from 1960 that are absolute junk.

nihton4ninnur-36 karma

Now n days? I can't go further, you're an idiot.

Surlytaco25 karma

Oh no, someone on the internet thinks poorly of me!

hugeveinycock22 karma

Have you ever seen anything paranormal?

Craziest work story?

How's the pay?

Surlytaco81 karma

Well, Mr. Veiny Cock, the only thing unusual is how worked up clients can get. They're very particular, which I can understand--it's an emotional time. These stones can cost upwards of $20,000.

The pay, frankly, is really good. My hourly rate tripled from being an employee to now, being my own boss.

PeaceOfMynd26 karma

Excuse me. That's Mr. HUGE Veiny Cock to you Sir.

TtotheItotheM6 karma

I thought Huge was his first name?

Surlytaco8 karma

Name almost checks out. It's Hugh.

snammel4 karma

wow, why so much?

Surlytaco8 karma

Some people take memorials super seriously and some people have cash to burn apparently.

[deleted]-3 karma


Surlytaco16 karma

Uhh except I'm a contractor and don't make the stones. Our rates are agreed on in advance by the company we work with. I'm guessing the stones that cost a bazillion dollars are put through a lot of sandblasting and CNC routering. Those machines are expeeeeeeensive man.

Also, I've been called worse by better.

Theleadthrower22 karma

Hello, fellow stone setter here. What is your favorite name you have come across on a headstone?

Surlytaco30 karma

McDonald, for two reasons: I hum that tune every god damn time and the old guy I work with shares the family name, so I enjoy giving him a good ribbing about it.

Surlytaco18 karma

Oh yeah, what's your setup like? We just use ramps, and dollys to drop the stone from the trailer and set it on the bases. I know some other contractors use picker trucks but even if we dig in a 5' long foundation we're still done in less than 45 minutes.

Theleadthrower10 karma

Truck mounted cranes for off loading and setting if we can stay on the roads. We cover six states so the trucks get too heavy to drive on the grass. Mostly its the four wheel cart once the stone comes off the truck.

Surlytaco15 karma

Yeah we find those trucks too limiting and too costly. We just run a full size pickup, a flat 14' trailer and a two-wheel dolly. If the stones are huge we'll both cart them around the graveyard but .. Usually it's just me since I'm young and have a great back.

plus i dont smoke like a chimney

luckilymynameisanon8 karma

Southern Alberta monument production and stone setter here. We follow a pretty similar system for "out of town" orders where we have less than 5 or so stones in a run. If we get into the larger stones we have a flat deck 1 ton with a small hoist, and a 5 ton flat deck with a knuckle crane and massive boom. For in town orders we use the 5 ton just because we can fit up to 30 Memorials and bang them out pretty quickly off of the truck.

What do you guys use for levelling the stones, just a shovel and long pry bar? Or do you not deal in that kind of maintenance?

Surlytaco3 karma

We usually only use 5' pry bars and shovels! We had 35 stones to level in a large cemetery in Edmonton with two fucking HUGE pry bars. The fulcrum was a 3" pipe welded to a piece of channel welded to a 1" pipe 7' long for a handle with a flange welded under that.

We still used 5' pry bars as cheaters to make the handle longer because these stones were just too heavy. Me and a farmer we called in for backup could move the stones only as long as we had the cheaters in and literally bounced on the bars at the same time.

We eventually bent the fucking pipes. I was super impressed with myself.

Dreams_in_Silver6 karma


Surlytaco3 karma

He's the Big Mc.

Ramquat2 karma

You said 2 reasons but only provided 1!

Surlytaco8 karma

Nah man, I hum the tune and bug the old guy I work with.

Weirdguy14912 karma

Have you ever done a headstone for a famous person?

Surlytaco27 karma

Most famous that I'm aware of was a construction worker who was buried alive on the job. He had a very nice custom stone with many family pictures lasered into the granite.

Surlytaco43 karma

The most depressing stones are ones for kids. They're physically lighter but depressing.

kasmash5 karma

Did they dig him up and move him?

Surlytaco4 karma

Probably. The cemetery didn't have much trenching going on

joethetipper9 karma

When did it hit you that this was something you wanted to do and that could be profitable?

Surlytaco38 karma

Frankly, only after I started. My neighbour has been at this for a while and it's a 2-person job, so he convinced me to start a company and work with him. The pay is similar to what I'd make on the tools working for someone overall, but the hours are dynamite. I leave home at 6:30 am and I'm usually back by noon.

Artless_Dodger7 karma

How many times have people said "wow, must be great working in the dead centre of town" Or what other joke do people keep saying that drives you mad? "Grave position to be in" etc etc.

Surlytaco10 karma

I like bad and dad jokes. So if someone new tells me an old joke I'll laugh--usually. It's just the racist ones that bother me.

Shaeos4 karma

What in earth could be racist about a grave?

Surlytaco8 karma

Not the grave but the people in it.

Ex: why do <insert race here> get buried only 2' down? So they can still get a hand out! OLOLLLOLOLLOL. ಠ_ಠ

Socialist_Butterfly5 karma

What is the most expensive gravestone you have made for a client?

Surlytaco22 karma

I don't make the stones. They're quarried in China, shipped here and there's a plant in Regina that does the legwork on that end. The most expensive stone I've installed proooobably retails around $15,000 (Marrelli)--I've done some work when the cemetery forgot to report that a stone needed to be encased in concrete, so .. I guess the most expensive work I've done in that sense was like $200 bucks .. Anyways, it's super easy to chip granite for such a great looking and long wearing product.

Here's Marrelli and Witzke: http://imgur.com/a/RFPuI

row4land23 karma

I read this and thought you were referring to a brand of stone, not your clients!

Surlytaco4 karma

I'm sure there is a brand of stone but I wouldn't have a clue what they are.

SladeRipfire5 karma

Have you done any repairs on fallen or broken stones? If so, what does that normally entail, especially when dealing with older stones / cemeteries? Biggest repair challenges / triumphs?

Surlytaco6 karma

Stones, once they fall and bust, are pretty much toast. We use a grey play-dough like compound to adhere the stones together, so if a caretaker asks nicely we'll do a re-gluing for free.

My biggest challenge was a veteran stone. I was asked to re level the upright stone, but it was encased and set into a grave cover. Sweet Odin above that was fucking heavy. I figure there was 1500 lbs of concrete, but he trouble was the slab was poured on site; the bottom face was raw. It was the gods damn dirt that was tough to move. I used a 4 ton farm jack to yard the thing up and it was all I could do. I had to fucking stand on the handle to get it to move. >:/

no_expression4 karma

I do engraving but over the pond.

If a family wants to add another name to a stone do you take it back or are they sandblasted on site? I would guess if there's enough people dying andvdemand for a dedicated headstone installation guy that they won't bother engraving at the cemetary itself.

Also, exactly how often do elderly people pester you with their life stories as you work? :)

Surlytaco11 karma

Haha the geezers don't bother me much. Often they're just around to visit a friend or tidy up a bit. I do get to hear about how ol' John loved his cattle or how whoever I'm talking to is waiting to see their friends again, but it's pretty quiet usually. It's the caretakers who are the talkative sort, and it's usually business because apparently there are very few cemetery maintenance workers.

Being a small business owner lets me branch out, hand out a bazillion cards and I'll do just about anything if the price is right.

I've been advised to get good at sandblasting, because often here the spouses name and DOB are engraved leaving only he date of death to go on, and usually there is someone who can come in, sandblast the date and scram, rather than risking damage to the stone by removing and shipping it.

Also in which country do you work? I can only work to November1 or so because a) the ground freezes and b) that's when rifle season open up for deer and moose.

no_expression2 karma

I'm in Finland. It's the same over here about being able to work until November only. I thought it was a local thing! The reason is ground freeze here as well, plus the fact the state church owns all the cemeteries' land and won't allow it. I don't mind too much, I work from early-mid May until October and make a good living doing it.

I would suggest learning to renovate stones as well. I assume leaf gold and silver is in use there as well? That's an excessively simple process and can be a lucrative business. Leaf gold (in our climate, which is likely similar to yours) is good for like 7 years depending and needs to be re-applied then. Sandblasting is easy in and of itself, but making the mask with a gazillion different fonts out there is a major pain in the ass. It definitely takes some artistic talent and is a time investment. I've been doing this for 11 years and still more often than not I will pass on a stone I can't print the mask for.

Here's my tapecutter for making masks

Sometimes cemeteries come with a view!

Surlytaco2 karma

I have never seen gold and silver leaf applied! I understand it's a bit of contact glue, brushes and yarn or something to put a finish on. That's .. Actually a really good idea, and you have surprisingly well maintained cemeteries.

Around here all the little towns are slowly dying so the churches don't have the funds coming in so most work is volunteer only.

no_expression2 karma

Yep you got it. We use a simple furniture paint as glue for the gold. Yellow is a good color so it doesn't stick out too much when the gold itself eventually wears. Silver is just a paint and there's very little actual silver in it. It takes literally less than 5 minutes to re-silver a name so if you can somehow score a bunch of those jobs it's very good.

I've done bulk renovations for churches/the state with military memorial slabs and such. Some of the best work I've had. Sounds like you might have a foot in that door already. :)

Surlytaco1 karma

Maybe .. A lot of the military stones here are grey. The lettering is either black paint or just engraved stone. I'll play around here a little and pitch that idea to them in the spring!

RugbyAndBeer4 karma

What do headstones look like under the dirt? Like... we know they look like a (filled in) arch or a rectangle. Are they like that all the way down? What happens at the bottom under the dirt? How do they stay in the dirt?

Surlytaco3 karma

They look like dirty rocks, or .. Y'know, regular rocks.

Headstones are quite shallow actually. The deceased are buried deeply and cased in a fiberglass crib as well as a coffin to prevent the ground from sagging over time but that never works and the ground bellies in anyways.

Back to my end of the job, headstones are set on taller and sometimes shiny bases. The bases are generally 6" wider than the upright, and 6" to a foot or so longer, depending if the estate or widow has ordered vases. The whole thing sits on another slab of something, fiberglass, concrete or granite (in order of awesomeness) that's 6" bigger in both directions, level with the ground and probably 4" thick.

Even the little monuments are hundreds of pounds all in, so they won't go anywhere unless someone smacks one with a car or frost gets in there and nobody does anything about it.

karlrocks233 karma

Stonemasonry has been my family trade for the last 55 years. We do lots of kitchen work along with headstones. We cut and produce most of our headstones, but we do get them pre-cut too. We cut and designed a backlit reception desk from onyx and installed it in a hotel a few months back that looked particularly striking! http://m.imgur.com/1hgRFxp,uUsvzCp Do you intend on branching out into other stone related products?

Surlytaco2 karma

If the cash is right I'll branch out anywhere. :)

But generally no, I plan to stick with head stones and general carpentry until something better shows up.

DeathHaze4203 karma

Any headstones have you in tears when making them?

My friend makes them in saskatchewan! Hello canadian neighbour!

Surlytaco7 karma

I AM A MAN AND CAN NOT CRY. Except for infants and toddlers. I get a piece of dirt in my eye every damn time.

Edit: do you know Darrell in Regina? He ships us stones all the time!

Branphlayx2 karma

What did that one headstone say that stuck with you?

Surlytaco2 karma

Life's work well done.

It's around on a few stones but I just feel that it's a really nice sentiment without being super in your face about religion.

Some stones have had bronze Virgin Mary statues and Pope Joey II medallions set on to the rocks, which I find kind of over the top. But hey, to each their own.

EJ882 karma

Hey I used to set stones too in Ireland. I gave it up cause it was back breaking work. Most of the time it was two of us lifting the headstones on to the bases. I always assumed there was an easier way to do it, what way do you do it?

Surlytaco2 karma

Lifting? Dude. Fuck that. We have a large dolly, sort of between furniture movers and something to move a safe. It has 6" (140 mm) wide wheels to avoid cutting into the grass and it's 6' (1.8 m) tall. We use the tall wheels as a fulcrum and the dolly to lever the stone up. If we get the tongue of the dolly up on the base its a breeze.

The guys using the cranes have very little lifting to do but it takes a lot longer. We're in, out, cleaned up, and the work is photographed between 20 and 45 minutes.

EJ882 karma

We would actually us the same to get the headstone to the base but due to lack of space or uneven ground we can't lever the stone up.What did you use to stick the head to the base? We used cement with two metal dowels.

Surlytaco2 karma

Uhh it depends. We will dowel if we're asked to but generally we don't. We use pennies for shims and an adhesive compound that is supplied to us. We've taken stones off that are 5-10 years old and they're TOUGH to remove. I'll stand on the base and make sure nothing tips too far and my coworker will boot fuck the stone for a while just to try and break it free.

I've suggested perhaps using a thin wedge would be better but .. He's done this way longer so I defer to his experience most of the time.

bingobangobongo112 karma

I realize your in canada, but is it legal for a graveyard in new jersey to refuse to put the headstone back up on a multiple grave due to lack of a footing? Is there anything we can do since they are effectivly holding the grave hostage?

Surlytaco3 karma

Lack of a footing? Do they mean like piles or a strip footing? I guess that could be done but that's pretty intense..

Well, IANAL, here's a good test: who owns the grave plot? Who purchased the stone?

bingobangobongo112 karma

I'd have to ask my dad all that it's my grandparents he was thinking of going down and threatening, or possibly just us going in middle of night and standing it back up. But unsure of legality or ramifications (ie they knock it over)

Surlytaco2 karma

Well do yourself a favour and find out why it tipped, was it hit? is the foundation unlevel? Either way get yourself a tube of PL400 or some other masonry adhesive and reattach the upright. It's not fool proof but it'll make the stone harder to tip next time.

If the adhesive calls for a small space between the stones we use pennies as shims.

bingobangobongo112 karma

It's a 3 person grave 2 were buried about a year apart the 3rd about a year ago and 4 years after last of other 2, we went there for burial and they took it off and had it laid on wood, last time we went they removed the wood and had it laying on ground and said it needs a footing to be reinstalled

Surlytaco2 karma

Without pics or being there I can only speculate, right? It might have been tipping a lot for such a new stone .. It may genuinely need one. Ask what the cemetery rules and regulations are. If you can get away with concrete that's a lot cheaper to do yourself than to have a company install a granite one for you.

Steils1 karma

We get calls like this every so often. This headstone your talking about was probably set before we knew the best way to set them so they won't fall over. When we get a call like this we take it as a repair job. We have to remove the stone and put a new foundation/footing which in my area we normally dig down 30 inches by 22 inches wide and whatever length we need(about 4 inches on each side of the base) and then another 1-2 post holes with rebar that go down another 24 inches. This will prevent the foundation from moving or tipping causing the headstone to fall over. But as Surlytaco said, check who owns the plot and has the deed. Whoever has that can legally go in and fix this according the cemetery's rules and regulations.

Surlytaco1 karma

Jeeeez, you actually dig 2.5' down?! The frost line here is about 4' but we basically just scrape the sod, drop a 4" granite (usually) foundation down and we're done. If we're installing on a hill we'll feather out the ground a bit but that's pretty intense foundation work.

personaldistance2 karma

How much do you think you will make by the end of the fiscal year?

Surlytaco1 karma

Enough. This was a good year and next should be better!

This winter I'm still going to put my carpentry hat back on -- I earn a pension with those boys but then I have to work 40 hrs a week again. :(

WaXmAn242 karma

What inspired you do have a change of carers and do this?

Surlytaco7 karma

Moving. My wife and I moved from the south side of Edmonton to an acreage North of the city by .. I dunno, half an hour. Country folk are waaaay friendlier than every one in the city was, my neighbour is an older guy who needs a hand (hell, I would too..), and he asked me to come along. I only agreed to it as long as I could keep my bills paid, and since I've been drumming up my own business building sheds, cabinets and doing a littl concrete work I'm more than set.

juusukun1 karma

It's a true like your title implies that not a single Cemetery installs its own headstones?

Surlytaco2 karma

Well some do, but around here it's the small ones--they let us contractors handle the uprights.

[deleted]1 karma


Surlytaco2 karma

Fuck yes. As long as you agree to be buried face down!

iH8er1 karma

What is the nicest most sweetest thing someone has goten engraved for a headstone? As well as the darkest?

Surlytaco3 karma

Nobody gets any nietzsche or anything. The coolest was "God knows I tried." I thought it was kind of lame originally but I got to talk with the daughter and whenever the kids and friends wouldn't eat their veg, or were generally just being kids that's what this lady would yell.

Sort of an inside joke for those who knew her.

iamanut1 karma

The monument company I purchased a headstone from also installed the headstone. I thought all the monument companies provided that service. Do people contact you directly or do the monument companies do that on behalf of the client? Who pays?

Surlytaco1 karma

Oh they do. But we're one of the few companies that'll maintain and come in after 20 years and relevel stones. I don't care who sold it originally because the estate owns the stones here. It'd be like taking my ford to a Chevy dealer to have work done.

DanishWonder1 karma

Hobby genealogist here. When I find an ancestor whose headstone is flipped over or damaged, do I call someone like you to fix it?

Surlytaco1 karma

Well you could call me but even in Canada the travel cost can be a real killer.

I'd start with the caretaker and ask if they have anyone that they know. If that's fruitless, check with memorial companies that do installs and then granite/rock companies.

DanishWonder1 karma

Thanks. I didn't mean you specifically, but an installer like you.

I have one family in upstate new york. Headstones are upside down. From the 1700s. Cemetery does not appear to be maintained. Wasn't sure if a private company like your could do it, or if I would have to go to local government.

How much would I expect to flip over/reset a headstone?

Surlytaco2 karma

That sucks that it's the wrong way, but cool for caring enough about an old headstone like that!

If it was close I would charge probably $250 all in--$100 for the removal and $150 for the reinstall and guarantee the work for a few years.

Stellen_Klo1 karma

What machines do you use to make the head stones?

luckilymynameisanon7 karma

Production guy here, not associated with OP, but I work in a monument company in Alberta, Canada that both handles production and installation.

The granite is mined, shipped to a production facility, and then cut to size, polished and otherwise "finished" with laser etching, hand carving ect. From there the lettering and more basic designs are produced in a CAD program and cut into heavy stencil. We then glue the stencil to the monument and remove the area that will be cut into the stone. We then place the granite in a sandblast booth and have an automated sandblaster that runs over the stone multiple times.

Different colours require different times in the booth. For example, blacks and dark colours often receive what is called "two pass" which basically means we run the sandblaster over it twice and the contrast between the unpolished and polished stone is more than enough to garauntee a low maintenance, long lasting, easy to read finish. Pinks and greys may require hundreds of passes. We use a proprietary mix for our abrasive in our sandblaster which minimizes wear on our equipment while efficiently cutting the stone.

From sandblasting the stone is stripped, cleaned, and made ready for transport to the installation site.

I would be happy to answer any other questions on production for you.

Surlytaco2 karma

^ what he said.

Edit: to install the stones we use ramps, levers, wedges and wheels--both dollys and little rollers on top of 2x10s to slide grave covers around.

Beefyous-24 karma

Do you mind taking advantage of these sad, depressed and vulnerable people by over charging for head stones?

Surlytaco7 karma

Swing and a miss. Thanks for calling me a jerk though.