How to cut letters in stone

I’ve always had an appreciation of letterforms, and as a teenager my ambition was to become a graphic designer. Obviously that didn’t work out, but luckily one big part of stonemasonry is letter carving, and we have a variety of materials at our disposal: sandstone, limestone, marble, granite, and my favourite, slate.

Slate is excellent on many levels. One, it has an extremely fine grain. Two, it has a wonderful contrast between the smooth, polished, ebony surface and natural silver-grey colour of the carved letters.

There are many books written on this subject. I would recommend Lettercarving in Stone by Tom Perkins to anyone.

It’s advisable to design your lettering on layout paper so you can adjust the inter-character spacing or kerning as designers call it.

The best technique I find is chasing out, which involves carving the letters by carving the shape out from the centre of the letter and doing several passes to achieve the full girth of the letter. A very sharp short chisel specifically designed for this purpose must be used for the best results.

This is a test-piece I carved a few months ago in Welsh slate.

Letter carving

Roman Lettering on Welsh Slate

This is a memorial to my friend David which I carved in York stone (a sandstone). The grain is much coarser so the type on the stone has to be bigger.


Memorial in York Stone with Green Man relief carving

I greatly enjoy letter-carving and welcome any commissions.

  1. John Haddon said:

    Very interesting.
    I want to create a large brick (50cm X20cm and say 10cm deep) in stone with a script on the front – eg “Kate’s Garden” in a Serif font. What materials are available? Could you give me a quotation? I would like it for mid June. I can collect

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