Carrara Marble

PROSPECTING For stone to be extracted from the ground and fabricated for architectural use, the first step is finding deposits that will yield large, roughly cubic blocks that can be cut into smaller blocks, or, more commonly, slabs that are thin and flat. Cylindrical borers drill down as far as 5 meters for sectional samples of stone to determine precisely its properties and its potential to yield commercially viable blocks.

QUARRYING "Bench cuts" as deep as 3 meters coax the marble out in enormous blocks. These cuts, made with a large diamond-wire saw, are first made behind what will be the extracted block, and then beneath it: Precision is crucial. Heavy-duty shovels help to wedge the material away from the mass of the larger deposit. Workers lay out a bed of softer rubble around the block (right) so it lands gently when it rolls over a step known as the bacio, or kiss, because it needs to land in just the right place.

CUTTING At the Henraux finishing plant in the nearby town of Querceta, stone arrives from all over the world for finishing and then shipping to parts equally far-flung. Big bridgelike cranes, or gantries, span the yard and roll back and forth to move the heavy blocks around. One of the first steps is to square the irregular edges of the blocks (left) with a diamond-wire saw (right). The square blocks are then moved under gang saws, which act like outsized food slicers, slicing the blocks into thin slabs as if they were loaves of bread.

FINISHING Once the block is sliced into thin slabs--all individually bar-coded--the pieces are moved to Henraux's finishing operation. Some are covered with an epoxy resin to fill in the natural cracks and then placed inside a catalysis oven. A round of abrasive polishing (left) removes excess epoxy from the surface. After inspection (right), the finished stone is then packed in pest-protected wood crates and shipped all around the world.

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