After 11 years of bringing you local reporting, the team behind the Vancouver Observer has moved on to Canada's National Observer. You can follow Vancouver culture reporting over there from now on. Thank you for all your support over the years! [by Lee Gass]

I’ve often admitted that carving rocks is a strange way to make a living, but I’ve never claimed it to be a waste of time, resources, or anything else. Carving produces waste stone, though, and an important question is what to do with it. On the average, for every 100 pounds of finished sculpture, at least that much dust, mud, chips, and larger pieces are produced, and the question is what to do with them. Tailings piles might work for mines and slag heaps for metal smelters, but there are environmentally friendlier, non-toxic, and esthetically pleasing ways to dispose of stone waste from a small-scale sculpting studio.

Cutting and grinding generate dust, or mud when water is used as a coolant and lubricant. In my studio, mud goes down floor drains to a settling tank, and I recover it every year or two for the garden. Inside in winter, dust is either filtered from the air by a dust collector or ends up on the floor. Outside in summer, some drifts off into the forest, but whatever I can recover accumulates in buckets for the garden, sorted by type. Carbonaceous dust from limestone, marble, calcite, travertine, and alabaster is soil-sweetening and alkalinizing, making it an ideal soil amendment for lime-loving plants such as lilacs, peas, and kale. Dust from granite and most other stone enriches soil nutrients, if slowly, and improves drainage. Sand and small chips also go to the garden, where they provide a colour accent in the beds.

I use larger chips to build paths through the forest. Sometimes I wish I were producing 10 times as much sculpture as I do, because it is a big forest, the paths are long, and it takes a lot of chips to gravel them, even for a single season until they are swallowed by the teeming life and litter of the rainforest. I dream of yellow paths of calcite and limestone chips, a red carpet of travertine and marble, and paths as white as snow of marble and granite chips. I use the largest fragments in walls and other construction projects.

Photos by Lee Gass.

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