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Working with slate is an artisanal handicraft

Steinhogger hos Minera Skifer kløver store plater av Ottaskifer inne  produksjonshallen

Geir got a summer job at the Otta Pillarguri quarry in 1993, and stayed there. With this job, it's a bit like technology: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

A portrait image of a stonemason working at the slate manufacturer Minera Skifer in Otta, Norway

Name: Geir Ove Tullut

Works at: Otta

Job title: Stone mason

– The job of a stone mason never changes. You’ll usually find me with a hammer and chisel in my hands. There’s some technique involved, but it’s not something I think about that much. It’s an advantage to have a bit of experience, Geir Ove Tullut says modestly.

Because experience is something he has more than “a bit” of. After 25 years at Otta Pillarguri quarry in Norway, few people know the properties of the slate better than Geir Ove. He works as a stone splitter, one of many tasks still done by hand at the quarry.

A stonemason who assesses the block before splitting the large slab of Otta Pillarguri phyllite slate.

– Working with slate is a craft. There are no machines to help you. It’s your hammer and the strength of your arm. The only mechanical aid we have is a vacuum lifter to lift the stones with.

It may have been difficult at first, but after 25 years, being able to spot how different stone blocks should best be worked has become a matter of routine.

– It’s definitely a question of routine. The job is about getting rocks in, splitting them and sending them out again, so it becomes a bit repetitive.

A stonemason at Minera Skifer who splits large slabs of Otta Pillarguri slate inside the production hall.
A stonemason who lifts a large slate slab of Otta Pillarguri slate with a vacuum lifter.
A stonemason carries a large slate slab of black Otta Pillarguri phyllite inside the production hall.

The fact that this is done by hand is partly a matter of tradition, but also because no technology has yet been developed that can do the job better than Geir Ove and his colleagues achieve by hand. So, as the saying goes: – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

– You have to read the stone in a way that a machine would never be able to do. Each stone is unique, so a stonemason learns to read the stone so as not to damage it, he says.

The best qualities of Otta Pillarguri phyllite slate:

It has a very special appearance. The hornblende and rust colour make it a unique slate that is not found anywhere else, and it has a lot of mica, life and sparkle in it.

Geir Ove Tullut

Grew up with slate

As he was born and raised in Otta, slate is not exactly an unknown material for Geir Ove.

– Slate is part of Otta’s identity and has been an important industry here for many, many years. So anyone who is from here, or lives here, probably has a pretty close relationship with the slate. Especially if you’ve worked with it every day for almost 30 years, he says.

A stonemason splits slate slabs of a large block of Otta Pillarguri slate with hammer and masonry.

Even though he works with the stone day in and day out, or perhaps because of it, he has chosen to use slate in his own home. It surrounds the fireplace and he has also used it as a slightly untraditional kitchen worktop.

– Having slate in the kitchen is really great and is something not many other people have. I think Otta Pillarguri slate is an exceptionally beautiful material. Hornblende gives the stone an appearance you won’t find anywhere else. It’s full of character and life, he concludes.

Two stonemasons are reviewing slate blocks of Otta Pillarguri slate inside the production hall.

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.

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