Photos by Michael Reis-
The equipment used by fabricators to move stone around the shop can vary
depending on space configurations and overall size of the operation. For slab
lifting, many fabricators today are using boom cranes that are outfitted with a
Q:How are you maneuvering slabs around your
shop? Are you using overhead cranes? Forklifts? Vacuum lifters? Do you have
different methods for slabs versus finished job pieces? Also, what is the
process for training employees of proper material-handling
Joshua Hopkins, Albemarle Glass Company Inc., Albemarle, NC:
We use an overhead crane with an Abaco lifter to move slabs and finished pieces
around. If it is small pieces - weighing 100 pounds or less - we move them
manually. The new employees are trained to look for fissures or cracks in
granite, and they then determine if they are safe to handle while unloading the
They are also trained to stay away from the sides of the granite until it is
placed on racks and within an arm’s reach of the edges to minimize risk in case
Dan Riccolo, Morris Granite Co., Morris, IL: We use jib cranes with vacuum
lifters and Abaco clamps. We also use flatbed trucks equipped with knuckle boom
cranes. For moving multiple slabs at once, we use a small carry deck crane.
Training is mostly by watching, practicing (supervised) and help during
procedures by trained employees.
G. Cooper, Moonlight Tile and Stone, Cashmere, WA: We use all the above
mentioned methods for in-shop maneuvering of pieces and slabs. Our shop unloads
with a forklift into a set of racks, from which the sawyer can pick the slabs
from there and place them on the table with an overhead crane. For larger
pieces and pieces that are awkward
to lift, we like to employ the vacuum lifter. It saves a lot of stress, and it
can also save a lot of energy.
Vacuum lifters have proven to be helpful in
loadings slabs onto the bridgesaw without the need to tilt the worktable.
As for training, this is really a hands-on
process - literally. Multiple people are involved when we unload and move
slabs, so there are normally at least two or three people watching, learning
and practicing alongside the more experienced guys. They are “paired up,” if
We use the same methods for our slabs. Our overhead crane fits the “clamshell
clamp” and the vacuum lifter, so we switch out heads as needed. As for everyday
standard pieces, it is really important that everyone have direct-eye contact,
clear communication and a nice steady pace. Do not rush, and make sure your
lifting partner is 100% with you. We have not had any back injuries or
accidents moving pieces in my shop for a long time due to this, along with the
inclusion of tools that the industry has created for us to use.
Kris Jorgensen, Natural Stone Interiors, LLC/NSI Solutions, LLC, Mukilteo, WA:
We use a 5,000-pound forklift with a boom and Abaco clamp to unload full slabs
from our trailer and to load full slabs onto the saw (our saw has a hydraulic
tilt table). The pieces are moved off the saw with a jib crane and vacuum
Our employees are trained hands on. I work with them until they have developed
safe slab handling practices. I remind them all the time how serious that part
of the job is. I tell them to assume that every time they move a slab, it could
fall at any time, so make sure to be out of its way. Also, while moving slabs,
there is no horseplay allowed, no answering cell phones, etc.
While some shop configurations are well suited
for an overhead crane, others are more suited for boom cranes.
Scott Weinbrecht, Stone Age Fabrication, Inc., Vero Beach, FL:
We use the Gorbel jib cranes. We wanted to buy an overhead crane, but our
layout was too wide and costly. We have a 20-foot reach (radius) crane by the
saw, and a 22-foot reach crane by the CNC machine. They have a clearance of 17
feet. On each of the cranes, we have a Manzelli vacuum lifter that can reach
the majority of the fabrication area. We handle slabs off the delivery trucks
with a 5,000-pound forklift, boom and Abaco lifter clamp.
The vacuum lifters are used in slab and finished work applications. A large
“scissor” clamp is used on thick stock material. Occasionally, we pull out the
straps/slings to handle the fragile or ornate work.
We hold a training class whenever a new employee arrives, or about once a month
for a refresher class.
Mark Mihalik, Counterparts, LLC, Delaware:
I think material handling should always be looked at from a safety perspective.
Moving around 1,000-pound-plus pieces of stone is serious business. Keep the
pieces at arm’s length and stay out of the “kill zone” when moving pieces
around. Most guys don’t realize the danger involved until they see a slab break
in half or get involved in an accident.
We use a forklift with a jib and an Abaco lifter to move slabs into the
building. From there we use a jib crane with a Wood’s Powr-Grip suction cup
lifter to load and unload the saw. For light pieces, the guys will move them by
hand from the tables to carts. Heavy pieces get moved again by the suction
lifter. Once pieces are finished, we load them onto a Weha A-frame in the shop
and fork the whole A-frame into the truck for install.
For loading slabs into the shop, many fabricators
utilize a forklift equipped with a boom and a clamp.
Reuben Flax, Sinai Marble & Granite, Baltimore, MD:
In our shop, we have an overhead crane that runs the length of the shop. Full
slabs are loaded onto an A-frame at the front of the shop using a boom and
Aardwolf clamp. Then, the slab is picked up using a Wood’s Powr-Grip vacuum
lifter on the overhead crane and transferred to the bridge saw, which is
located at the back of the shop. Two people move the full slab at all times
while it’s on the vacuum lifter. There is one person on each
end to guide it and also to help position it properly on the saw table. We have
a non-tilting saw table, so we position the slab in front of the table about 1
inch below the top and then push near the middle of the slab to help “tip” the
slab down onto the table while lowering the slab with the electric hoist. Both
people try to stand at the sides of the slabs with their feet out from under it
at all times.
Our shop is set up with the wet areas located in the back and the dry
areas/loading/storage of finished work near the front loading door. To avoid
having to drive the forklift through the shop, we set up the slab A-frame right
next to the loading door so that people working in the shop are not near the
forklift or slabs as they are being loaded onto this frame. When we move the
slab to load the saw table using the overhead crane and vacuum lifter, everyone
must stop what they’re doing in the shop so that they can stay out of the way
of the slab as we’re moving it. This helps generate proper respect for the
dangers inherent to moving stone.
Steel-toed boots are mandatory for everyone and are provided/replaced for free
as often as is necessary. The clamp and hoist are inspected daily to make sure
all the bolts are tight and that there isn’t any damage to the clamping face.
The vacuum lifter is inspected once a week for pad wear, and we have recently
replaced the foam rings to help improve suction on the back of the
We utilize a flipping cart to help us turn over large pieces of stone. Ours is
homemade, but there are commercially available models. The stone is simply
lowered into the cart with a vacuum lifter, and then the vacuum lifter is
transferred to the back of the stone. This is all done in a near vertical
position in a cart that looks like a “V.” Using the flip cart has eliminated
the need to ever physically pick up a piece of stone until we are ready to
New employees are trained by having them watch a video to understand what’s
going on. Then they will assist while a supervisor observes to make sure that
they get it right. After a couple of days, most people get it. If there’s a
fundamental problem, and it seems like the person can’t show proper respect,
then that person is not allowed to move stone.
No amount of money can replace a life, and you’d be hard pressed to put a
dollar value on a limb. Accidents involving stone are usually very serious, and
it’s the job of every owner and employee to help minimize the
Scott McGourley, SFA, Kasco Stone, Tampa,
FL: Material handling is one of
the most laborious things we do, yet it is often overlooked. It is important
not only to use machinery to “lighten your load,” but also to use a workflow
pattern that will minimize handling. For example, we normally underpolish
1.5-inch overhangs shiny side up to avoid flipping a part. Sink runs come off
the saw upside down and are rodded and underpolished, and slots for sink
anchors are cut before flipping to profile and cut the sink. Also, you must
take into consideration that usually you have to disrupt a co-worker in order
to help you move a part. Now he has lost his momentum and may forget where he
left off. (“Let’s see, was I done with the 800 grit or not?”)
Clamps are also used inside the shop,
particularly for smaller pieces.
We try to clamp or vacuum lift every piece we
can. I am of the opinion that a back only has so many lifts in it . . . and so
does a part. Each time you lift a part, you risk back injury and breaking the
part. Fragile pieces or sink runs get a bar clamped to them for lifting for
As far as training goes, it is on the job. We explain that pretty much the only
thing that can kill you in the shop is a slab falling on you. We forbid cell
phone conversations while moving slabs and other obvious things like not
getting under the load or in a position they cannot escape.
First, they are taught hand-moving techniques and the theory that “if the
granite cannot bend, it cannot break.” Then, as they progress, they pick up the
vacuum lifter and eventually the forklift.
In each case that I have seen a lift go wrong, it was like a bomb going off. I
stress this to my employees. When a slab falls out of the clamp or simply
breaks in half, the result is immediate and catastrophic. The only thing they
are told to do is get out of the way and not try to “save” the
There are many new tools available, such as install carts, bar clamps, hand
clamps and suction cups that can make your handling easier. Forkliftable
A-frames and trailers will reduce cycles, also. These are the best investments
you can make to reduce your risk, and at the same time, increase your
Reuben Flax, Sinai Marble & Granite, Baltimore, MD: One of our slab
suppliers related a story to me and posed the question of: “Would you try to
save a slab that’s falling?”
He was picking up slabs from a local shop to return to their warehouse. While
the employees of that shop were loading his truck with slabs using a forklift
and slab clamp, the slab broke off -- leaving just a small square of stone in
the clamp. The slab was only a couple of inches off the ground and it fell
right on i’s edge, standing perfectly balanced. the ground man (second man used
when moving slabs to help position and rotate slabs) was standing right there,
but he didn’t reach out to grab the slab to balance it. So after almost five
seconds, the slab finally leaned over and broke on the ground.
If you were the ground guy in that situation, would you try to save the slab?
My supplier said he would have done so if he were in that
In our shop, we use a forklift, and it’s important for people to understand
what can go wrong and to have an exit strategy in place. After realizing the
discrepancy between what I would do and what this guy would do, I immediately
instructed everyone in the shop that should they find themselves in a similar
situation, they should run and not try to save the slab.
Guy Robertson, SFA, Robertson Manufacturing, Inc., Davenport, IA: I tell my
guys that if they hear, feel or sense any danger, GET OUT! Don’t try and save it, because you will be
doing so by yourself because I am getting out of the way.
I can buy another slab. I don’t want to have to buy flowers.