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Folklife Festival 2003 > Scotland > Sports > Curling Stone Makers
curling stones
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The centerpiece of curling is the curling stone, which has been called a "geometrical masterpiece of tooled geology." Kays of Scotland has been making curling stones since 1851, when William Kay and his sons Andrew and Thomas set up a workshop in Mauchline, Ayrshire, in southwest Scotland. Kays is still owned by the relatives of the founder, and today it is the only curling stone maker left in Scotland.

Kays is also the only curling stone manufacturer to use granite from the legendary Ailsa Craig - a remarkable 1,100-foot high, 245-acre granite island located 11 miles off Girvan on Scotland's west coast. Formed by volcanic activity, Ailsa Craig's igneous "microgranite" rock comes in three varieties: Common Ailsa or Common Green, Blue Hone, and Red Hone. All of them have specific uses in the making of curling stones.

Granted exclusive use of Ailsa Craig granite by the Marquess of Ailsa, whose family has owned the island since 1560, Kays workers visit the island occasionally to remove boulders - a massive task given that Ailsa Craig has no roads and only a rudimentary dock. In the summer of 2002, Kays transported 200 tons of granite to the mainland - enough for the next 10 years of curling stone manufacturing.

Used in a highly competitive sport, the curling stones are made to exacting specifications. First, boulders are sliced into slabs, then round "cheeses" are cut from the slabs. Finally, the cheeses are shaped and polished into curling stones in a series of precise steps.

Each stone must weigh 44 pounds. Each must have a maximum diameter of 36 inches. Polishing is done by hand on a wheel using water, diamond-talcum power, and felt. Finishing the stone's "running edge" is done entirely by hand with emery paper and a digital gauge and magnifying glass. Lastly, a handle is fitted into countersunk holes on the top of the stone. Stones are computer-matched into pairs. Sixteen stones - 8 pairs -- are needed for a game, and since curling rinks usually have 6 lanes, each rink needs 96 matched stones!

Kays is a small firm, employing fewer than ten artisans. Master craftsman and co-owner James Wyllie is skilled at all phases of curling stone making and is also an enthusiastic curler, as well as active member of Mauchline's Burns Club, which meets regularly to honor that well-known Mauchline resident.

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