Quarrying basalt from generation to generation
May 1, 2006
Located just outside the village of Bagnoregio in the Lazio region of Italy, the basalt quarries owned by Basaltina Srl cover 600,000 square meters. The company has been in business since 1925, when Giuseppe Tecchi Cristofori Celiani purchased several small quarries in the area from local craftsmen and joined them together to form one operation. Today, Basaltina remains a family business, producing approximately 2 million square feet of basalt per year for a worldwide market.
BasaltinaÂ®, as the material has been named, is a light gray basalt which has been known since the Roman times as Pietra Aniciana. Because this lava stone is dense, uniform, frost resistant and durable, the ancient Romans used it to build the roads and monuments of their empire. In fact, the first project for Basaltina Srl, as a commercial company, was all of the sidewalks in Rome. More recently, the company has supplied Basaltina for numerous high-end commercial and residential projects worldwide, including paving for Dolce & Gabbana locations around the globe and the Rolex headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
The quarriesThe site where Basaltina is quarried is the result of a large lava flow that covered the land years ago. Basaltina Srl employs 75 workers, including a staff at its head office in Rome and 50 people at the quarrying location. The company also operates two factories near Ascoli Piceno.
â€œBasaltina is one of the top three producing quarries in Italy,â€ said John Donatelli, a sales representative with the company. â€œIt's very large. The [company's] three quarries all work at the same time.â€
Pneumatic hammers are used to free blocks from the quarry face. Because the size of the resulting blocks are still too large to move from the site, tools such as plugs and wedges and feathers are used to split blocks. Workers strike in a rhythmic way so that the block splits evenly.
On average, the size of the blocks range from about five to 20 tons. â€œEverything has been studied for years to maximize quarrying efficiency,â€ said Donatelli. Once the blocks are split, they are brought to an on-site saw mill to be squared off with a BM monoblade saw. The sawmill is also equipped with several gangsaws.
According to Andrea Salustri, the company founder's grandson, the quarry consists of various layers, with each reflecting a different level of quality. In particular, there is one unique section where gases slowly exit the basalt, resulting in a product that can be left unfilled. This is a premium product for Basaltina, comprising approximately 10% of its material.
A custom-made productWith the exception of the company's premium product, all of the basalt is filled with resin. â€œIt is a highly acid-resistant stone and very slip resistant,â€ said Donatelli. â€œIt does have porosity, but all basalts do. With sealers, this is not a problem.â€
While original uses for Basaltina included paving and sidewalks, now the lava stone is ideal for most applications, according to the company. â€œYou can use the stone from paving to countertops,â€ said Donatelli, adding that the material is priced from moderate to moderately high. â€œWe do everything for order here. There is no inventory. Anything that can be thought of to be done with stone, we can do.â€
Slabs can be produced as large as 5 feet, 6 inches x 10 feet long. The standard size for a slab of Basaltina's premium material is 3 x 6 feet. While 4- x 6-foot pieces of this material can be produced, a longer lead-time is necessary. â€œIt is harder to get because [the slabs] can only be cut in one direction,â€ explained Donatelli.
Thicknesses of slabs can vary from 1 cm to custom-made sizes. The facility in Bagnoregio also includes a Breton tile line. All tiles are calibrated for size and thickness, according to Donatelli. â€œMore specialized cut-to-size [pieces] are done at this operation,â€ he said.