It was not until the end of the 18th Century that the frame-saws needed to saw the stone blocks into slabs were invented. The sawmills on or near a waterways, which connected them to Gora via a canal, are comparable with mills. The flowing water drove water wheels, which in turn provided movement for the frame-saws. The wheel also collected water in the vessels attached all the way around its rim. Old and new silica sand was added to this is a very specific ratio and the mixture poured over the saw blades and onto the block surface to be cut, where it acted as a buffing material.
The first frame-saws had just a single saw blade. Later versions had multiple blades, although these had to be controlled by hand until a deeper cut had been created. The equipment was improved significantly by the addition of cast iron columns and guide rails on the sides of the frame-saws. The workers became used to the sounds and were now able to add the sand mixture which was piled onto the block and wetted simply by listening to the saw blades. In 1870, there were still 40 sawmills of this kind in Carrara, 15 in Massa and 26 in Seravezza.
New technical achievements even began slowly to find their way into stone sawmills. Above all, electricity began gradually to replace the old water-driven sawmills. The frame-saws and their ancillary structures saw technical improvements. One example is a frame-saw which can saw 80 slabs at the same time: in the last sixty years, this has been modified so much that its sawing performance has doubled. However, this only means that the capacity has increased from one centimetre per hour to two.
It still takes about 100 hours for a two-metre block to be sawed into slabs.
Only the improvements to the machinery and ancillary devices are worth mentioning. Key examples include the system of sinking, the automatic water supply, the replacement of water wheels by pump equipment, electro-mechanical generators in the case of power cuts and the extensive use of mechanical lifting equipment.
In recent years, the diamond frame-saw has completely replaced the traditional frame-saw, increasing productivity ten-fold. Construction on the expansion of Carrara’s port, oriented on import and export, finally began between 1920 and 1930. The port plays an important role in bringing in materials from all over the world, which are processed further there and then sent back out as final products.
Today, the Tuscan stone processing companies in Carrara, Massa and the surrounding coastal region import, process and export granite and other natural stones from all over the world, all over the world.
A lot could also be written about the diverse methods of further processing the marble in the workshops, which are very significant, as they are what make architectural and artistic plans a reality, after all. But that would go beyond the remit of this text.
The mechanisation and technologisation which occurred in the Twentieth Century, and especially in recent decades, has brought about tremendous development which would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. An industrial leap forward, which has not passed the natural stone industry by without the introduction of computers.
It is now possible – and this is only an example – that a block which is recorded incorrectly or not at all on the computer, does not exist and therefore cannot be sold, even though the purchaser saw it in the enormous outdoor storage facility with his own eyes.
We chose use the example of marble to describe the quarries, the mining and transportation and the sawing of the blocks because the delivery technologies were and are essentially the same for all other natural stones, whether they are in Brazil in South America, in Nigeria in Africa, in China in Asia, in the lonely north of Canada, in far-off Australia, in tropical India or in the Travertine quarries in Tuscany.
One further point must be recorded here. In every quarry, wherever it is in the world, the person, the worker, remains the most important link in the delivery process, even if today the blaster takes just a fraction of a second to do what used to be a long, laborious task. In the oldest industry in the world, processing without trained expert workers is still impossible, in contrast to other industries with series production.
Becoming a master in the natural stones profession is just as difficult as becoming an engineer. While engineers have to attend school for 18 years, a stone processor needs to take journeyman’s and master craftsman’s examinations and to hold the experience of many generations.