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Splitting large rocks

 
garden master
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Honey wants some large rocks for a couple of projects. A housing complex has unearthed a few. I need a plan before begging permission to remove them. But all we have to move them are a borrowed truck and our own backs. Ha. The rocks need to be smaller!

I found this method of splitting. It appears that he is using railroad spikes rather than chisels. Also is that all he used? Or are there longer rods inserted into the holes he created? We have limited tools, but sledgehammer is included in our inventory.



Are there other simple low tech ways of splitting rocks?

 
pollinator
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You can drill holes, and then pound in dried wooden stakes or poles, and apply water. The water swells the wood, which has nowhere to go but out, and so stress is placed on the rock around the drilled hole. A series of holes situated in a line in the right place can actually break off solid slabs and blocks, as they do in quarrying.

It's functionally similar to the use of det-cord and drilled holes that we see here, both in quarries and for the clearing of natural obstacles to road building. It just works slower.

-CK
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Time is of the essence here. They are building a house on the lot. I expect we will need to be able to accomplish all the splitting within a week of being given permission.
 
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Ive tried the spike method without much success.

If there are burbs nearby, you might be able to share the rocks with someone with equipment to borrow. Kind of like when a field owner gives up half the hay but doesnt have to own or run the equipment.
 
Chris Kott
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Well then there are drilled holes and det-cord, or black powder can be used in some places.

I think that some softwoods swell really quickly, so by longer, I mean not instantaneous, but like overnight.

The other option is slightly more effort, but using equipment called feathers and wedges, you basically pound wedges into the rock at regular intervals, tapping them each in turn a bit until the rock splits. Lee Valley will carry them, I think.

-CK
 
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This is a better video of the process and tools needed.

Apparently the name for the toolset is "plug and feather" if that helps your google-fu!

 
Chris Kott
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Thanks, Michael. I also heard them referred to as wedge and plugs. Regardless, Lee Valley will carry them, or did, at least, last I checked.

-CK
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Thanks, guys! I wish we could dash out and purchase a bunch of tools. Not gonna happen.

We have to use what is on hand. I know that will result in more wear on the body, but that's the way it is. We have about 25 giant nails hanging about. They may be 3 inches shorter than the one pictured here. Maybe they could be useful?



Maybe extra tire irons, we've only got two. That is if they actually are extra. We may not be able to risk their demise. Something like this:



 
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How rare are the size of rocks that you wish you had?  I'm thinking that trying to break down rocks without the right tools is a recipe for burning up a lot of time, causing frustration and wear and tear on the body.  If you can buy or source the correct sized rocks elsewhere for a given dollar amount, make sure the $/hour on the free rocks is really favorable before pursuing them.  Just an old man's two cents...
 
Michael Cox
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The geometry of the feather and wedge are really important. I can't imagine that you would be able to get the immense outwards force required from something like a nail - not without serious blacksmithing work first.

How much time, energy and money are you willing to put into this project? And are you likely to get other opportunities to collect and work stone in the future? Good quality stone splitting tools look fairly expensive - probably £100 or more to get enough to split a large rock - but may pay for themselves in the longer haul if you have repeated opportunities to use them.
 
Chris Kott
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There's a saying in manufacturing. It's something like," A job can be done cheaply, quickly, and well, but only two of these things at a time."

It seems to me like you want all three.

I think if you try to go fast and cheaply, you risk damaging yourselves. If you want to get it done in a hurry, you get the appropriate tools if you aren't paying someone else to do it.

You can most certainly mess around, but please do so carefully. Hammers can mash delicate digits, and wrongly-struck or ill-seated tools, and especially makeshift ones, can and do go flying. And there's the rock chips to consider.

The wet wood splitting technique dates back to Egypt. I think that would be your safest bet, though you still need to drill those holes.

Please just be safe.

-CK
 
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Joylynn, You are making an assumption that you need to move them yourself.
If you ask the contractor about whether you may have the rocks, you may get them to move them to your yard for free.
Often, these things are a nuisance for them to dispose of, and cost them money and time. (burying, pushing to the margins, hauling away to a gravel plant to be crushed)
If you offer a place to dump them that is nearby to the jobsite, they may be pleased to drive them over with their machine. They might also like a case of beer for their troubles. ;-)

Depending what you want to do with the stones, you might also hire them to place the stones.

Years ago, my mother got the sewer contractor installing the sewers in our neighborhood to deliver stones and boulders. It was faster for them to drive the loader to our yard and dump them, than to drive to the far side of town to where there was a crusher.
A few mornings a week for a month, they rolled into the yard and dumped a 3-cubic-yard bucket load of stones!

It took years for us to build them into a dry-stacked retaining wall... but, we didn't spend the time getting the stones!
 
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We call them "feathers and irons" or "wedges and shims", but they look just like the photo above - ours fit into a 1 inch hole drilled with a *very* large drill with expensive special bits. You can get both in different sizes (our drill is a SDS Max). We bought them because we had some big rocks in our way and at the time did not own a tractor to help move them. You need to "read" the rock - sort of like being able to see the grain on a piece of dead tree - in order to split where the rock is willing to break, and for whatever reason, I was much better at doing this than my husband was. It was *really* hard work for a Class A wimp like me - but I weigh 115 lbs on a good day and it's not the sort of broad-shouldered 115 lbs that is good for these jobs. I learned that I needed to work slowly, with breaks, and in fact I'd often whack in the irons until the sound changed and then walk away for an hour, come back and whack them in further until the sound changed again, and occasionally be forced to leave them overnight. This is not a speedy process, but the rocks are no longer in our way. The last time I needed big rocks turned into smaller rocks, I'd already tired myself moving the rocks I could manage, and made hubby drill the holes where I wanted them, as I knew I'd hurt myself trying when already fatigued.

So I'll back the suggestion that you try getting the builders to move the rocks to your property if possible, and stock pile them until you've got the resources to deal with them. I'll back the comment Chris Kott made with asterisks and flourishes and bold print -  Please be safe!!** -
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Chris Kott wrote:There's a saying in manufacturing. It's something like," A job can be done cheaply, quickly, and well, but only two of these things at a time."

It seems to me like you want all three.  



Of course I do!

I am  MISER. Last time I priced them, I gasped. But I don't remember the price.

He keeps saying big rocks. I think he means about 1 foot in diameter. They need to be heavy enough that our rainy season won't wash them into the bottom of the pond. This is not normally a problem in our region, an ex-neighbor messed up the watershed when he filled in his pond. Now the water travels on top of that property, eroding the edge of our pond. Sometimes the flood is 18 inches deep, 10 feet across.

The boulders I have been eyeing are much much much larger. From the road, one appears to be about 3 ft X 4 ft. I have not seen any other boulders in our area at the construction sites. I'm thinking that around here, they are not normal.

Ah well. I guess this project is back to the "I hope to someday..." pile. Thank you, everyone, for your contributions!
 
Jay Angler
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If you could watch the "free" boards for used chain-link fencing, could you use it to fake up a gabion/s that would  hold a bunch of smaller rocks to do the job you want the ginormous rocks to do? It's on my to-do list, but I haven't actually tried it because I want to get the Himalayan Blackberry roots our first, and hubby hasn't fixed the leak in the back-hoe hydraulics yet, which would be the easier tool to use to get out really large roots. If he doesn't get on with that, I may make break down and use the power-washer as a "dirt cutter" to get the roots out - a messy job, but it works!
 
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I just wrote some stuff about burying rocks, while you need rocks, right? My bad.
What kind of rock are those? If they are ingenious rocks (such as granite), don't waste your time. Sedimentary rocks are easy to break, but they are not good for  many projects. If they are limestone, then try to find natural cracks.
The recommended tools will not work efficiently for ingenious rocks (you need diamond drilling stuff, or a lot of patience). You don't really need those tools for sedimentary rocks if you are not going to deal with many. Those tools will be perfect for metamorphic rocks (such as marble).
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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I don't think so....

Once winter arrives, I'll try to post pictures of the problem, asking for permie suggestions. Maybe the fall rains will come. They are late! Then I'll try to get a few pictures of the flood.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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They're not granite. They are kinda reddish? Maybe? Or maybe there was a deposit of red clay in the spot they were. Dunno. In my yard, clay tends to be grey.
 
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The easiest, fastest way to break rock is to start a fire, and then dump cold water on it. It will shatter!

I am not sure if you can do that on a neighbor's land though.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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He he he he he! Um... No.
 
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Talk to the contractor. Extend his options. Open his eyes to easier possibilities ... <g>

Or talk to the guys running the heavy equipment. Have to pick a time/place where you don't get in the way, though. But you run into a trucker or a foreman that just needs something _gone_, they can be pretty flexible about the details if it saves them something. Might arrange to have them drop it exactly where you want it.

Always worth asking.


Cheers,
Rufus
 
s. ayalp
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Joylynn Hardesty wrote:They're not granite. They are kinda reddish? Maybe? Or maybe there was a deposit of red clay in the spot they were. Dunno. In my yard, clay tends to be grey.



I searched for rocks of SW Tennessee. Bedrock is located very deep over there (300 ft). Wow. It is probably limestone. I couldn't find comparative picture source. If it is limestone, it shouldn't be hard to break with a sledgehammer. Try to hit the same spot couple of times till a larger crack appears. If stone is getting pulverized at where you hit, try another spot. If you want get better shapes from the main rock, you will need a steel wedge and a 3kg (6-6,5 lb) hammer and work through smaller cracks.

You say they are reddish and asking how to break. Limestone should be on the easier side. So maybe it is marble? Or something in between. One might expect to break marble with sledgehammer with ease. On the contrary, even though they are definitely not as granite, big pieces of marble are hard to break with sledgehammer. It is one was to go nevertheless. There is a famous marble of Tennessee, pink Tennessee marble. Its found mostly in east Tennessee though. You might want to check its pictures.

Edit: Turns out Tennessee marble is not actual marble but limestone (sedimentary) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennessee_marble. That's encouraging.

Hope it helps!
 
Travis Johnson
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Usually "red: indicated a vey high iron content.

I had some soil that was really red, and when the wetland expert came out, he told me why. The red was iron in the soil that was basically rusting. It was red because it was an old growth forest. So much so that it had never been grazed, tilled or logged, otherwise the soil would have long been churned up by hooves or plows, and the rusting already occurred and would be gone.

But I believe down south they have a lot of red clay. Here clay tends to be blue, but that is because it is marine clay, the reason why our slate here is blue in color, while up north it is black...it has higher levels of titanium.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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s. ayalp wrote: There is a famous marble of Tennessee, pink Tennessee marble. Its found mostly in east Tennessee though. You might want to check its pictures.



And it makes a a beautiful building! Once upon a time, a rich dude went broke while building an um, shall we call it a house? You be the judge.






Pink-Palace-Museum.jpg
Pink Palace Museum
Pink Palace Museum
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Travis wrote:But I believe down south they have a lot of red clay. Here clay tends to be blue, but that is because it is marine clay, the reason why our slate here is blue in color, while up north it is black...it has higher levels of titanium.



It is strange how different soils can be, in nearish regions.  When driving through Alabama, it was red everywhere that I noticed. An hour away from us in TN, to the north is a state park, with very red clay. Here though is two shades of grey. I also have some clods of iron, like what you described.
 
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My sisters live barely 1 Km apart - G's soil is heavy clay, A's soil is sandy-silt. There are visits when I'd love to wheel-barrow loads from one yard to the other in an effort to improve both! I suspect the reasons relate to the last Ice Age as they live between the Great Lakes and the Niagara Escarpment.

This just confirms how much nature and the planet should be respected for having their own agenda, and humans should be more willing to accept,  live with, and cooperate with that agenda!
 
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Michael Cox wrote:This is a better video of the process and tools needed.



I am greatly unlikely to ever do anything quite so arduous, but I am eternally fascinated by the sort of craftsmanship that begins with making the tools you need to do a difficult thing.   The guy in the video is obviously an accomplished blacksmith and metalworker, but the entire "Today I need to be a stonemason, so let me fire up my forge and make the tools" attitude is delightful.
 
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