The Wrong and Right Way to Repair a Headstone


On a visit to a local cemetery today I came across a sight that, well to be frank, stunned and pissed me off! Someone, and although I believe their intentions were good, completely ruined a headstone due to their improper repair techniques. To be honest, if you don’t have the required skill set to tackle and complete the task correctly, please don’t attempt it… find someone who does.

Definitely the wrong way to fix a headstone... the dates have been obliterated! Poor young C.W.A. Grimes needs help now.

I found the following article posted on StonePics.com It shows the best and most harmful ways of fixing cemetery headstones.

Repairing Headstones

A variety of techniques for repairing headstones was observed during the picture-taking phase of this project. Some were very good; others were very bad. By sharing the ideas and experiences of other people, perhaps this web page will lead to more repairs being done as well as better choices in how repair projects are carried out.

Sample photos (sizes much reduced) and commentary are used here to illustrate both good and bad repair techniques. At the bottom of you will find some information about selection of materials and tips for mixing concrete.

This repair was accomplished by “gluing” the stone back together with mortar mix or some other Portland cement mixture. Not only is it the worst way to repair a stone, but it is widely popular throughout Newfoundland. Sadly, the individual who was ambitious enough to do the work, ruined the face of a beautiful old stone.From an engineering perspective, this repair technique is poor because the stone will fail again when lateral force applied to the stone subjects the mortar to tensile stresses. Concrete is only strong under compression. Steel re-bar is typically used to carry tensile loads. In simple terms, this repair will easily break in the same place as soon as someone pushes on it.The second common error with this sort of repair is not masking off the face of the stone so mortar does not ruin it. George Peckham’s year of death was completely covered and unreadable.

A metal plate was bolted to the back of this stone to hold the two pieces together. The left side of the photo shows the face of the stone, and the right shows the plate attached to the back. Although this particular repair appears to have lasted a number of years, it is not a recommended repair method. Installing the bolts can cause the stone to be broken again. A fundamental problem with the use of bolts is that they create a region of high stress in the stone that can immediately or eventually cause additional damage. 


Epoxy was used on this stone. It was found in the Belvedere Catholic Cemetery in St. John’s where vandalism is high, and a large number of stones had been repaired using epoxy. Judging by the quantities used in those repairs, it was probably an industrial grade of epoxy purchased in large containers at a reasonable price. If attempting a stone repair using the small tubes of epoxy from the supermarket, it will be costly.Some words of warning about epoxy: If it runs it can make a big mess of the stone if precautions are not made to mask it off. If possible, lay the stone fragments face-up on a flat plastic-covered surface prior to gluing. Also, exposure to the sun will break down epoxy over time, although that which is sandwiched in the crack of the repair is fairly well protected from the sun.An important consideration before using epoxy concerns the quality of the edges of the stone that are being rejoined. The epoxy may become “as hard as a rock”, but is the old headstone “as hard as a rock”? Do it appear that the stone failed because of physical damage from impact, or from a general weakness of “rotting stone”? (See the page onDeath of a Headstone for more information on this problem.) If the edges of the stone are like a sugar cube and flake off when rubbed, glue is useless because the stone will soon break again. Stones broken due to physical abuse are generally good candidates for epoxy.

The pieces of this stone were set in a fresh bed of concrete, sort of like tiling a floor. Although not obvious from the photo, the surface of this one was raised at a steep angle from the ground. This provided good drainage, lowering the opportunity for water to collect, freeze, and cause further damage. This is an excellent repair technique for a stone with multiple fractures. The individual who performed this repair was careful to mask off the face of the white stone to protect it from the inevitable splashes of gray concrete. This fine repair job gets high marks!
This is one of several fine repairs completed by someone at “Barr’d Island, Fogo Island”. It looks as though a lot of thought when into planning the concrete forms, protecting the face and exposed surfaces of the stone, and carrying out the repair. The individual was obviously skilled with concrete. The finished product provides excellent support and drainage for the stone. The only drawback with is repair is that it is too difficult for the average handyman.

This stone had a single horizontal break across the base, the most common place for failure. The repair technique is similar to the one above, and the same individual probably performed the work.

A blue ribbon goes to the person who originated this idea. It was observed in several cemeteries around Newfoundland, so perhaps it is illustrated on another web page somewhere on the internet. This method is excellent for several reasons: It does not cause any additional damage to an already damaged stone, it should be mechanically stable for a long time, the stone will drain well, the cost of materials is low, and best of all, it is simple enough for any handyman. The only difficulty might be finding aluminum stock with a slot equal to the stone’s thickness.Notice in the photo that this was the second time this stone was repaired. The failed repair appears to have been with mortar mix.

 This is the same technique illustrated in the previous example, but with two slight modifications. Apparently the repairman was unable to locate aluminum stock of the appropriate dimensions, so an additional aluminum strip was used to shim the gap. Also a horizontal crosspiece was welded to the back to tie the sidepieces together. This is a complication worth avoiding, especially if heavy gauge aluminum stock is used on the sides.Some tips about carrying out this repair technique are offered below.

Tips on the Repair Process & Material Selection

To perform the “blue ribbon” repair technique shown immediately above, use only heavy gauge aluminum stock. Cut the stock long enough to cover the straight edges of the stone plus at least 8 more inches to extend down into the concrete base. Place the aluminum stock along the edges of the stone pieces and bind it all together with bungee cords. Mask off the exposed surfaces of the stone with plastic and/or masking tape to prevent contamination with wet concrete.Dig a broad flat-bottomed hole at least eight inches deep for the new concrete base for the stone. The dirt at the bottom of the hole should be “undisturbed” and well packed to prevent the stone from overturning with the passage of time. Do not throw loose dirt back into the hole!Now prepare some “ready-mix” concrete to go into the hole. A typical bag contains less than one cubic foot, so you will probably need several bags. The biggest mistake people make with concrete is not mixing it properly. If you don’t mind if your new base resembles the following picture in about 20 years, then stop reading here.

Concrete” is an aggregate compound made by mixing a gray powder known as “Portland Cement” with water, gravel, and sand. The relative proportions of each of the four components including the water, determine the final curing strength and life of the end product. The relative proportion of sand to gravel has been carefully determined through laboratory testing, so don’t be tempted to thrown in an extra shovel full of sand. The Portland Cement is the “glue” which holds it all together. The curing of concrete is a slow process by which the water mixed with the Portland Cement actually chemically combines with it over a long period of time. In fact, it takes 30 days for concrete to cure to 90% of it ultimate strength, and 100 years to reach its ultimate strength! Then it begins the slow process of breaking down. The point of this information is that because the cement and water actually chemically combine, if you add too much water to the initial mix, the ultimate strength and watertightness of the final product will be degraded. When concrete is too porous, it is much more susceptible to the destructive affects of Newfoundland’s deep-freeze winters.Tips for buying and mixing concrete: Do not purchase “cement” which contains no sand and gravel, or “mortar mix” which contains sand without any gravel. Instead buy the bags of “ready-mix concrete”. These bags already contain the cement, gravel, and sand in the correct proportions. Slowly add the absolute minimum amount of water necessary to make a thick plastic mix that will not “flow” under the force of gravity. If you really want to have a strong watertight mix, use liquid acrylic ad-mix in place of water. It’s available at home-centers and stores that sell tile-setting products.With the stone standing on its two aluminum legs in the hole, shovel in the freshly mixed concrete. Use a level to square up the stone and brace it as necessary. Trowel off the top of the wet concrete to give it a neat professional look. After an hour cover the fresh concrete with plastic to prevent the surface from drying out. Concrete does not get hard by “drying”; it must “cure” in the presence of moisture. Therefore it is important to keep the concrete damp while it is curing. Give the concrete at least three days to cure before tampering with it again or removing any forms that were constructed.


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