Jump to main content Jump to navigation Jump to footer

Otto blasts out slate from the mountain with gunpowder on his fingers

Skytebasen i skiferbruddet til Minera Skifer på Oppdal står nede i en bergsprekk og med en styrekonsoll

When Otto Ørstad detonates the explosive charge, he does so in the same way and with the same equipment as his forebears, and their forebears.

The life cycle of slate is long, but uncomplicated. It has been formed and hardened over millions of years, until it is suddenly blasted out of the mountain. And when this happens, you’ll likely as not find Otto Ørstad a little further up the hillside, with gunpowder on his fingers and an over 80-year-old detonator in his hands.

A portrait of a blaster working in the slate quarry of Minera Skifer in Oppdal

Name: Otto Ørstad

Works at: Oppdal, Norway

Job title: Blaster

– I work at the rock face. In the quarry itself. That’s where I drill the holes to blast out the slate for production, he says, when asked what his job entails.

He works as a blaster at Minera’s quarry in Oppdal. He’s been doing the job for ten years and this experience is vital, as handling explosives isn’t child’s play, particularly when precious natural materials are at stake.

– My job is both easy and difficult. I do pretty much the same thing every day, but I also have to assess every new situation. How deep the hole should be drilled, and how much gunpowder to use? says the slate blaster.

A blaster in working clothes who works in the slate quarry of Minera Skifer in Oppdal, Norway.

Gunpowder is necessary to blast out slate of a high enough quality to be used. Dynamite is too powerful and just destroys the stone.

– All you have to rely on is your experience, and even with ten years behind you, it’s always exciting to see the results of a blast. Even an experienced blaster gets a little nervous when a charge is detonated, but it usually ends well, he assures us.

Tried and tested working methods

Otto is a cog in the machine that works hard to extract and produce Oppdal slate in the best possible way. Before drilling the holes to plant the gunpowder, someone will have carefully assessed the area to be blasted, removing trees, moss and undergrowth from the hillside.

En skytebas og en borerigg i skiferbruddet hos Minera Skifer i Oppdal
Holes are drilled…
En skytebas i skiferbruddet til Minera skifer i Oppdal trer tennlunte ned i hull for å sprenge ut berget.
Detonating cord is inserted…
En skytebas i skiferbruddet til Minera skifer i Oppdal heller svartkrutt ned i borehull i berget for å sprenge.
Gunpowder is added…

– It’s a really exciting process, with a long and rich tradition. And it hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years. We still use gunpowder and the stonemasons still work by hand, he says.

Even the actual firing device – the detonator that Otto uses – dates back to before the war and would have been used when Otto was growing up in the nearby village.

An explosion detonator from the 1950s that is still used by Minera Skifer in Oppdal for blasting in the slate quarry.

– The equipment is reliable and slate production is very much based on tradition and experience. Why replace something when it still works so well? he explains.

If you grew up in Oppdal, it’s impossible not to know anything about slate.

– Slate has always been used widely here in Oppdal. It’s always been part of my life. There was slate on every roof when I was growing up. Slate walls and paving stones too, he reminisces.

A  worker in a slate quarry stands over a large crack in the rock and controls a drilling rig with remote control.

Yet it took some time for him to end up in the industry, too. He only returned to the quarry in Oppdal around ten years ago.

Do you feel at home now, then?

– Well, I enjoy the job I do, he says, before adding:

… and I am actually home.

The best qualities of Oppdal slate:

It’s difficult to put into words what makes Oppdal slate so fine, but wherever the slate is used, it always denotes quality. You’ll never go wrong with slate, unlike other materials that wear out or go out of fashion. It’s also nice to visit old friends who used slate when they built their homes and see that the supporting walls, steps and fireplace are still as beautiful as when they were built. Even the floor in the hallway looks as if it’s just been laid, even though the children who have now left home stomped in and out with ski boots and football boots throughout their childhood. The old folks may have gone grey and put on a bit of weight, but the slate still looks like new.

Otto Ørstad

The process of dividing and shaping slate is so detailed and sensitive that it is still impossible to fully replace it with robots and technology. And the same tools and techniques that were in use hundreds of years ago are still in use today.

We are sorry, but you are using a version of Internet Explorer that is not supported on this site. The browser is no longer updated by Microsoft and may therefore pose a security risk. We recommend that you use a different browser. Welcome back!