(1) Water can help but if the stone is splotchy in color or an old box tomb it
will not work in that case. It will also not work well in low light such as
the shade of trees.
(2) Get your picture when the sun is shining across the face of the
inscription. Since most stones face east early in the morning is better. Be
careful to avoid casting your shadow on the stone though. A planned approach
is to go in the morning for eastern facing stones and go back at 2 in the
afternoon for western facing stones. that is about all of them as 99.9%
of the stone face one of those directions.
(3) Take a tall mirror and hold that so the reflection of the sun shows up
across the face of the stone. This takes one person holding & pointing the
mirror and one to photograph.
Preferred but the stones must be dry for this to work.
(4) Purchase a box or two of sidewalk chalk at Wallmart and use it this way.
(a) Lay the stick on its side and glide the chalk over the inscription until
it is covered. (b) Next take a flat kitchen sponge and smooth that over the
flat surface using a couple of circular strokes. Remember - do not over do it
- probably no more than two strokes. If you continue you will leave chalk
residue inside the inscription thus defeating your purpose. Since chalk
residue left in the inscription works against you blow it out or brush it out
with a small broom. If you did it right it should look like this: (this was a
gray-blue color chalk)
Bynum-Williams Cemetery-Maury Co Tn using gray-blue pastel chalk.
Never rub a stick of chalk over lettering that protrudes above the stone.
That could break off the lettering. In this case rub the chalk into the
sponge and then rub that lightly over the lettering.
Use the lighter colors and pastel chalks and throw away the dark brilliant
colors as they show up strange looking in the photos. White is the better
color but only a few white sticks are included in the mix of a box so use the
white sticks first, then pastels (whitish blues, grays, browns etc) and then
go for another box at $1.97 per box. One box should cover about 50 stones
depending on the style stones. Remember we are talking about old stones here.
Modern Granite markers need nothing but a good photographer.
A better sponge can be made by modifying an old sanding sponge. Take one that
is well used and grind off or tear off the sanding grit and underlying black
coat. NEVER USE A NEW/RAW SANDING GRIT SPONGE ON A STONE, you will destroy
its patination and do permanent harm! Below the black coating is
left a very flat, soft & smooth foam surface that provides a great medium to
smooth in the chalk on the inscription. If you are having a hard time grinding
off the grit layer lay the sponge on rough concrete and rub it in a circular
motion fiercely and that should peel it off. Use the cheap sanding blocks from
China at $.30 cents each. For those the grit & coating peels off easily on
rough concrete such as your driveway.
Remember if you get the grit off, but leave the smooth black undercoating on
the sponge it will work, but just not as well as it tends not to smooth in the
chalk as much, but with the grit gone it will not harm the stone. Also this
will not work on wet stones as they must be dry or the sponge absorbs the
This is a great method on old box tombs that are hard to read:
Nelson Cem in Giles Co. using pastel yellow-green chalk to highlight the
inscription. Notice in this case I applied the chalk only to the inscription
and not over the entire area of the inscription. That was just to save time.
Really it looks better to cover the area evenly and have an even look. Done
correctly the look should be almost natural and not loud or bold. I repeat do
not use the bright phosphoric colors such as bright reds or bright orange etc.
These are not historic looking and will show up in photos as dull looking, and
to me is just ugly. The chalk easily washes off with the first rain and leaves
no residue. The only precautionary note is this chalking method is not a
procedure that should be applied regularly on a stone, just as any cleaning
process. Over many times it could wear the stone to some degree more than
You can use the shaving cream method. I have never used that. It is expensive
& time consuming and requires a soft plastic smoothing trial to force the
cream into the inscription. The left over residue if not washed away can harm
the stone too. It sets up a acid based chemical residue that can do harm and
also fertilize growing things to form on the stone surface rendering the stone
worse for reading over time.
I hesitated for many years in presenting the
above procedure. There are so many dummies out there who are callous and
insist on altering any presentation given to them or they don't bother
to understand or follow instructions properly. This could do a lot of harm to the old soft stones.
Remember some of these old stones are softer than a bar of soap. You will find
that out by breaking one of them if you are not careful. Remember be a jeweler
and work with softly applied precision and never be rough and forceful in dealing
with tombstones. That is a delicate art & difficult when dealing with a
pound stone. I am convinced there are folks among us who are incapable of
that by their nature. But what ever you do follow this advise:
Do not use
wire brushes on stones
Do not use sanding mediums (blocks, paper, etc.) on stones.
A good test to tell if a brush is soft enough is to rub the bristles across
the back of your hand. If it hurts don't use it on the stone.
Never use anything with strong acids on a stone.
Chlorox and other bleaches leave a residue that will breakdown into harmful
substances unless flushed away thoroughly with water immediately after use.