That is how a man from the local quarry described my methods of lifting and moving stones. I use no machinery more complicated than a pair of wooden timbers – “shears” – lashed together with hemp rope, and a block and tackle or, at most, a “come-along,” a hand-cranked winch. Skeptical though he was, the quarryman couldn’t deny that I get the job done. With my simple equipment I have slowly lifted and swung into place stones weighing more than 1,000 lbs.
I use these 19th century implements and methods not just because I am thrifty. It’s true, I don’t own a backhoe and don’t care to rent one. But I also prefer the pace of the old tools. Moving stones with heavy equipment is an almost casual process: you jerk the stone from the ground and plunk it down, and if you don’t like the result, you just snatch it up again.
When working with hand tools, however, moving a stone is a deliberate process. You must confront the stone first, assess how its weight is distributed and how to rope it so that it can be lifted safely. Then you must think through how you want it to sit when you lower it into place. What is the stone’s top and what its bottom? Which side do you want to face forward? You get to know the stone intimately before ever you lay a hand on it. And when you do finally hoist it, you get a true sense of the mass of the stone.
Working with heavy loads of this sort is dangerous, and this post is not intended as a practical guide. I strongly recommend that beginners find someone experienced to help them and practice with smaller stones, no more than 100 lbs. in weight, before attempting anything larger. Also, before attempting to move any stone, whether by heavy equipment or with a hand winch, it is essential to estimate its weight, so that you can select appropriate tools and techniques.
In the end, you may decide that you’d rather hire someone with a backhoe to do your stone lifting for you, and that’s fine. If you do, though, take time to study the rock before you touch it – think as if you are moving it “old sch