Large-Scale Production / Quarrying Sites

Stewards of an iconic Colorado stone

The Buster family doesn’t only produce and sell stone at Lyons Sandstone; they also serve as educators on the past, present and future of the material, which is a signature building stone for the state of Colorado

November 1, 2013
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When you visit Lyons Sandstone’s website, the very first page welcomes architects and installers to come visit the quarry and get a first-hand understanding of their material. This invitation is typical of a company philosophy to not only produce and sell Colorado Red sandstone, but to also make sure it is used in the most effective way possible.

The company is owned by Bernard and Brenda Buster, and their nephew Josh Buster is also an integral part of the business. Over the years, the family has hosted architects from across the country, as well as installers, fellow stone suppliers and full study tours. It is also active at trade events around the country, and Bernard Buster is the current President of the Building Stone Institute.

Quarrying activity on the site dates back to the 1800s, with remnants of an old railway towards the southern end of the property. A total of 173 acres of land is permitted for quarrying, and areas that have been exhausted are then backfilled. “If you go back 260 million years ago, this was all sand dunes,” Bernard Buster said.

Lyons Sandstone currently has a total of 36 employees, many of whom are H-2B workers that are given an opportunity to work in the U.S. The quarry can operate year round, depending on conditions, and the company usually has a crew of 10 to 12 workers in the winter.

Quarrying operations

At the time of Stone World’s visit to the site, the company was working two separate areas — a principal area and another being explored for future full-scale extraction. “Right now, the quarry has gotten into a section with bigger, thicker blocks than usual,” Josh Buster said.

" It can sometimes be hard to get people to understand the natural characteristics of sandstone "

-- Bernard Buster, founder of Lyons Sandstone

The quarrying process relies heavily on the natural splits that are inherent in the striated material. “You literally split pieces apart by getting in between them like you are separating two frozen pieces of sliced bread,” explained Brenda Buster.

These natural breaks in the stone are exploited in a number of ways, including large-scale machinery, a hydraulic plug-and-feathering method and hand-splitting with a sledgehammer and wedge. “It can be a labor-intensive process,” Josh Buster said. “But at the same time, you need to have an eye for stone and know where to extract when it comes to untapped areas. We’ve been fortunate to have some very good people here.”

In addition to the traditional rust-colored sandstone, the top layers of the quarry yield a material referred to as “Bluetop” because of the bluish tones mixed in with the rust. These are generally larger blocks used for retaining walls, landscaping and benches. “The top 6 to 8 feet of the quarry is often Bluetop, and it won’t split,” Josh Buster said. “Further down, the striated material is easier to split.

Stone production

Similar to the quarrying process, the methods for processing Colorado Red sandstone are labor intensive and also require skill and experience among the workers. Large slabs of stone are split by hand, and equipment also includes four splitters from Cee-Jay Tool as well as a bridge saw.

Among landscape materials, Lyons Sandstone offers steppers, flagstone and other paving products. Random flagstone is one of the most common and most efficient uses of Colorado Red sandstone, and it is used for patios, walkways and as stepping stones, among other applications. Typically, stones measuring 1¼ to 2¼ thick are used for pedestrian areas, and thinner material can be used when set over concrete.

“It is also fundamentally durable, so we emphasize using the natural-cleft finish,” Bernard Buster said. “You always need to have a plus-or-minus tolerance on the finish of around ¼ inch because it depends on the natural split of the rock. For something like a pool coping, we would recommend a sawn and waterjet finish.”

Architectural products include stone for masonry projects, “strip stone” and sawn panels. Wall stones and veneers are often used either as a wall cover or to build an entire wall. The company’s 2- and 4-inch veneer can be used to enhance a structural wall, as a wainscot or cover an entire building. Wall stones are wider and can be used to construct stand-alone landscaping walls or planters. Both can be installed to achieve similar looks.

In addition to random-shaped materials, the company offers square and rectangular stones, which can be an alternative to Ashlar veneer on a building. Colorado Red flagstone can be “Snap Cut” on the guillotine splitters or “Sawn” using the bridge saw.

Projects using Colorado Red sandstone include government facilities, commercial buildings, parks and other landscape applications.

Lyons Sandstone has also become a specialist in creating furnishings in Colorado Red sandstone. These include tables ranging from 20 to 42 inches in height, benches with eight different leg options and seven different top options and custom-designed furnishings.

For the Buster family, no matter what the finished product is, the goal is to make sure the right approach is taken for each application — and that requires constant education and dialogue with end users.

“It can sometimes be hard to get people to understand the natural characteristics of sandstone,” Bernard Buster said. “For so many people, their concept of stone is the block quarry. We get specifications saying to sandblast and thermal-finish the material. Why would you do that to our stone? The natural-cleft finish is already slip-resistant, and that’s the lowest cost.”        

Editor’s note: After Stone World’s visit to Lyons Sandstone, the region was devastated by flooding in early September of 2013. The Buster family released the following statement: “The community of Lyons was very hard hit by the recent flooding in Colorado. While Lyons Sandstone itself was largely spared, the Buster Family Ranch had considerable damage, and more importantly, the roads in and out of Lyons and our location were destroyed. This will have a temporary impact on our ability to ship material, but we expect to be back to full operation in a comparatively short time and come out of this in a stronger position in the marketplace.”

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