A dog may well be man's best friend, but sometimes a dog's best friend is another dog. My reward for doing a good job on Peter's stone, besides the feeling of having done a good job, was to carve a stone for Peter's pal Reddy.
Having grown accustomed to the unique characteristics of Buckingham slate, I turned to the fresh challenge of pink Tennessee marble. It's actually a kind of limestone, but it performs and polishes like marble and so has been popular among architects and builders, especially in Washington, DC. Reddy, as his name indicates, was of a reddish hue, and since a brick gravestone would be awfully small and perhaps a bit unsporting not to mention dreadful to carve, he gets the Tennessee.
I finished transferring the layout and was about to set chisel to stone when John Benson passed by looking for Nick. He usually does a few laps around the shop over the course of a day "looking for Nick", but if I were to hand out badges to the crew of the USS JSS John would be the Morale Inspector. He checks in on everybody, offers a verbal backslap of support and leaves you with the feeling that you're the right man for the job. But sometimes his pep talk sounds all too familiar. On this occasion he looked at Reddy's stone and then at me and said "Don't (screw) it up!"
But then I very nearly did. The marble crystals tend to pop unpredictably, often taking a lot of material with them. After the first few passes it isn't much of an issue, but when the final depth of the v is being established, a badly dislodged crystal can completely alter the shape of the line. And because the stone is so much harder than Buckingham or Italian slate (Nick: "It'll make you cry." Sweet!), chisels can lose their edges fairly easily. As in they snap off, which means a frustrating while spent at the diamond sharpening stone removing enough precious tungsten to restore a straight edge. Another difficulty is the lack of contrast between surface and carved letter, requiring a deeper cut to enhance the interplay between light and shadow. I figured all of this out in time to avoid any major catastrophes and while it didn't exactly make me cry, I wasn't smiling, either. Until the end, that is.