The debate about the influence of increasing technology and mechanisation, and whether it detracts from the arts and crafts aspects of stonemasonry, is ever present and will continue forever. With five generations of continuous operation spanning three centuries, A F Jones Stonemasons have a perspective on this issue that few others can boast.
Even back in 1897, a book entitled ‘STONE WORKING MACHINERY’ by M. Powis Bale expounded the arguments. The introduction reads “It has been argued that machinery has damaged the art process by reducing the production of skilled handcraft to a mere dead mechanical level”, but even back then he goes on to counter that the skill required is actually enhanced whilst the quality benefits from such mechanisations.
A F Jones Stonemasons emerged at the tail end of the 1st Industrial Revolution when no mechanised production existed at all and that continued for some while; through the 2nd Industrial Revolution they invested in increasing mechanised cutting saws, and presently, in the ‘3rd Industrial Revolution’, they are one of the leading investors in 5 axis and 6 axis CNC machinery for the production of complex stonework.
And yet, all their banker masons are put through the same apprenticeship programmes, and the workshops are driven by the best, most skilled, time-served stonemasons that have grown up living breathing and understanding the fundamentals of good masonry. Hand finishing and individual attention to every stone is the only way to master, capture and deliver the true beauty and value of natural stone. Such skills will remain relevant and vital for all of time.
At the same time the mastering of cutting technology is not to be besmirched either and is indeed vital for three main reasons: health & safety, productivity (affordability), and repeatable accuracy whilst operating at volume. The knowledge and technical skill required in this sphere is not to be underestimated. Nevertheless the journey of each piece of stone needs managing, drawing upon a deep rooted understanding of the properties of an infinite variety of stone type – its bedding, natural flaws, shell content, colour variation and so forth – and simultaneously also assessed through a lens of the ultimate goals of the project rather than the myopic angle of a single piece.
The blending and balancing of traditional art & craftsmanship with 21st century CNC technology is therefore one of the greatest of challenges for the modern stonemasonry practice. Multiple strands of expertise need to be drawn into one strong chord, from concept to realisation. This is the mission at A F Jones.
In so many ways achieving ‘perfect’ buildings and assemblies in natural stone keeps masons (and masonry technologists) on their toes at every step. Affordability is paramount at the same time. And so it is only through passion, commitment, and a deeply rooted understanding, that stone projects are successfully mastered. Not only our built heritage but also the heritage of future generations, rely on the skills of stonemasons to bring this most ancient and versatile of building materials to be enjoyed by all.