Branching out into slate production
In operation for nearly 20 years, RMG Stone Products, Inc. of Castleton, VT, recently expanded the scope of its business with the addition of several slate quarries. The company, which until last year bought its material from local distributors, realized that there was a market for slate countertops as well as landscape stone and roofing tile.
“My father started the company in 1972, and I joined him in 1980,” said Dave Socinski, company president. “At that time, we were in Rutland - just manufacturing. In 1988, we came to [a larger facility in Castleton]. It was a huge expansion.”
The facility in Castleton includes a large block cutter, which is used to process slabs for countertops. Additionally, it utilizes coping saws, several routers and hand polishers in its main fabrication work, which includes granite, marble and other stone varieties.
In the area of slate, the company produces about four to five slate countertops a week, which are mostly sold to homeowners in the New England area. RMG Stone Products also - in partnership with a father-and-son team in Brazil - owns a Brazilian soapstone quarry and plant. The material is sold by dealers throughout the U.S. and Canada.
“It’s nice to offer slate and soapstone, because it is different,” said Socinski. Currently, the company offers two trademarked slate varieties - Woodland Jade TM and Mountain PlumTM. The bulk of the company’s slate products is sold through large distributors in the area. In addition to countertops and roofing material, the slate is used for landscape products such as pavers, stairs and flagging.
Preparing the quarry sitesAbout one year ago, RMG Stone Products purchased a 110-acre and a 88-acre site only a few miles away from its office and fabrication facility. “I wanted to do something with slate for a long time, and the opportunity finally came along,” said Socinski. “I partnered with A. Turner, who has been in the quarrying business for years.”
He explained that the quarries originally operated during the pre-Civil War days, and a lot of the land needed to be re-developed before they could start to extract blocks. When walking around the quarry sites with Socinski during Stone World’s visit, he pointed out remnants of old stone structures that were left from the days when the quarries were operated by Welshman and their indentured workers.
According to Socinski, there are tunnels that run underneath the ground, remnants of the activity of more than 400 workers. But to open a 21st Century quarry, much work needed to be done.
“This was all thick woods when we started,” said Socinski. “For the last year, we have been clearing trees, draining the water [in the quarry holes] and building a road. We really started from scratch. It gave us an opportunity to revitalize. We are just now starting to produce lots of slate.” He explained that it will most likely take another year for production to really take off.
Each of the two properties owned by RMG Stone Products, Inc. has several quarrying sites on them. According to Socinski, these sites were filled with water to protect the slate. Although they laid dormant for many years, they were still considered to be existing sites that are registered for slate extraction.
Quarrying the slateAt this time, RMG Stone Products produces about 200 tons of material a month, including roofing slate. On the 110-acre site that Stone World had the opportunity to visit, there are five registered quarries. The company is currently working one of them.
“For small guys like us, we are just trying to process the stone day by day,” said Turner. “We’re just getting into purple right now. The last few years, everything has been green.”
The quarrying hole that produces green slate is presently about 60 to 80 feet deep. The purple vein lays underneath the green, and runs at a 45-degree angle. In addition to the green and purple varieties, the company also produces some mottled material.
Turner explained that Vermont slate is rated “S1,” which is the highest rating given. “The stone is harder in Vermont because of its formation,” he said. “Heat and pressure created the colors.”
The company uses a variety of black powder in its quarrying process to free the stone, and extraction takes place year round. The average size of blocks being extracted is about 6 feet long x 4 feet wide x 2 feet thick. Pneumatic air hammers then break the pieces to 7 inches thick for processing, according to Turner. “Because slate has grain like wood, it comes out narrow and long,” he said. “It’s like a surgical extraction.”
At the quarry site, there are two workers for the roofing slate production, two for landscaping products and two that work in the pit. In total, RMG Stone Products has 28 employees.
Landscaping productsAnother aspect to the company’s business is landscaping. “We picked up landscaping to make ends meet,” said Turner, adding that this division helps with profits while the company is getting up and running. “Flagstone is a by-product of the roofing slate.”
Turner explained that for quite some time, consumers have been requesting slate without sawn edges. So, to meet this market demand, RMG Stone Products produces flagstone this way. The company also makes steps and wall stone.
Additionally, an outside source comes to the quarry site periodically to crush waste material, which is also used in landscaping. “It’s great as a ‘green’ product,” said Turner. “You just have to rinse it off every year, and it looks good.”
Moreover, the company also is getting ready to introduce a new slate product, which it believes will be ideal for landscaping. The material has been named “Zebra Stone,” and it is a black slate with a high quartz content. “It is a much harder stone,” said Socinski. “It actually passes road specs because there is so much flint in it.” Also, because of the unique look of the black-and-white stone, Socinski believes that it will make a nice decorative landscaping product.