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Stone on a mobile metal trestle, in the foreground you can see a club , a stone cutting tool
Plastered stones from around 1568. On the left the stonemason is working in the engraving and a wooden support of the building's hut can be seen above.
Work place with set stones in France around 1770. On the right you can see a manual stone saw

Benches are a ritual that dates back to the Middle Ages and is still used today by stonemasons and stone sculptors when laying stones .

Medieval ritual

If a stonemason or stone sculptor needs collegial help to lay down his stone due to its weight, he uses a medieval ritual. He speaks to his professional colleagues with the word addressed , and this means that he needs support and has to receive it immediately. It is also called the bench help . The stonemasons addressed have to interrupt their work immediately after this address and are subject to the instructions of the colleague who needs help. The bench work is ended with the word thanks , earlier with oblegated .

This ritual is still a practiced stonemason custom from the time of the building works and it is written down in the medieval building works regulations. All trained stonemasons and stone sculptors know this ritual and it is common practice.

Process of benching

Correct benching in the technical sense means that a stone should be placed at an optimal working height for the respective stonemason. The optimum working height is reached when the hand comes to rest horizontally on the stone with the outstretched arm. At this working height, manual stone work with a hammer and chisel , traditionally called iron by stone masons, is less strenuous and tiring.

Ashlars are placed either horizontally on two specially made stable wooden trestles or on a house stone in the workshop that is about 60 centimeters high and measures 50 × 50 centimeters square. There are also stonemasons who use frames welded from angle iron as supports. Since the 1980s there have been metal trestles on four castors that can be adjusted in height by rotating the support. To adjust the height to the required working height, so-called bench wood in different thicknesses or, to prevent scratches and flaking, felt strips can be placed underneath. If natural stones are placed on work tables of the stationary stone processing machines for sawing or grinding, they are also referred to as benches.

European stonemasons work handcrafted stones horizontally on the bench . The term bench probably comes from the shape of the wooden trestles. The wooden trestle consists of carpentry-style inclined feet made of spruce wood, which are integrated into the square wood above (about 10 × 10 centimeters and 100 centimeters long), which used to be made of oak. In other cultures, stone work is performed while crouching, with stones resting on wood on the ground. This is the case in India, North Africa and China, for example.

There are representations from the Middle Ages that show that the stones are being worked by stonemasons at an angle. This processing technique is referred to as processing in the stitch , whereby certain work could also be carried out while sitting, stone dust and stone dust fell to the ground. Nowadays, stone dust is simply extracted.

Stone sculptors use specially built swivel stands or bogies that can be easily rotated, thus ensuring that they can look at all sides and in different lighting conditions when creating a stone sculpture.

Since manual benches can place heavy loads on the entire human musculoskeletal system, particularly wear and tear on the intervertebral discs and the lumbar spine , cranes , gantry cranes or forklifts are used to transport stones when benching . This is why manual benching is practiced less often, but is still taught in the stonemason and stone sculptor training.

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