Mike May, who created and owns Spike’s Stoneworks, displays some of the household goods he’s made from stones. The former masonry retired from the trade recently and is using his masonry skills to create items like bowls, plates and candleholders that are in high demand. Rocco Frangione/Local Journalism Initiative Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative

Devoting 40-plus years to laying stone and bricks as a masonry has proven beneficial for Mike May.

The Burk’s Falls man retired from the trade a couple of years ago but wasted little time in deciding what he would do during his retirement years.

“I had nothing to do,” May told the Nugget so he decided to try his hand at carving household items from stones.

However, his wife Judy May tells the story better.

“One day he came into the house with this rock and said he was going to see if he could make a bowl out of it,” she said. “I said okay, you go do your thing.  But at the end of the day he came back with this absolutely gorgeous rock he hollowed out, polished and I said wow.”

And so Spike’s Stoneworks was created.

May’s list of household goods he makes from various stones include plates, bowls, coasters, lazy susans, candle holders and trivets to hold hot food. He’s self taught when making the items but admits being a masonry all those decades helped.

“When you lay stones for over 40 years, you develop an eye on what to look for,” he said. “And nowadays the more I do it, the more I know what to look for.”

May mostly works with granite but has used other stones.

“The first year I made plates out of limestones, but limestone is not easy to work with,” May said.

He will also do custom work from stones people bring him.

“One time a woman brought me a piece of alabaster,” May said. “I had no idea what alabaster was.  It’s like quartz but is soft.  I made a bowl with a pedestal from it.”

May was so impressed with the final piece that he offered to buy it from the woman but she declined to sell it. May will usually buy his stones from six area gravel and quarry pits. He’s limited to what he can lift since he’s mostly a one-man operation and the larger the stone, the heavier it’s going to be and the more difficult it is to lift. When he’s searching the pits he keeps an eye out for rocks that are round or oblong because they help add to a finished item’s final look plus in the two short years he’s been at his hobby he’s learned what people want.

“If you can find a stone that has a vein running through it, like quartz or feldspar, they love that,” May said. “People also love stones that are colourful.”

May avoids stones with cracks since people don’t want a plate or bowl with a crack running through it. Sometimes the crack is hidden and it doesn’t become visible until he cuts the rock in half and starts to hollow it out. But rarely will he throw out a ‘damaged’ stone. Rather he’ll find a use for it.

For example, his small candle holders can be made from the cracked stone since he can work around the damage.

May learns about the varieties of stone from different people and because every rock can be different, so is every bowl or plate he makes. Such is the case when he was in Kirkland Lake last year and was told about pudding stones. The rock derived that name because it resembles raisins and plum pudding.  The stone is a collection of different coloured pebbles and small rocks that May says rolled into silt in waterways and was built up over millions of years.

“I had no idea what it was until then but we brought back a ton of it,” May said. “But it’s very hard to work with”.

May does all of his handiwork in a large garage on the family property. His primary tools are cutting saws and grinders. After cutting a stone in two, he starts by carving out the bulk of it with a grinding tool until he reaches the point where he’s satisfied with the look. Another grinder is used to polish the stone. The stone is also put through an acid wash to get rid of small imperfections.

May says the final step is to apply a bees wax to the finished item to protect the stone so people can put food on it.

From start to finish it takes May about three-and-a-half hours to make each item.

Considering his small bowls sell for $40 apiece, he’s working for less than minimum wage.

“But I’m having fun,” says.

However, he’s able to make up for the lower dollar amount when he makes and sells his larger bowls which are closer to $200.

May adds if that sounds like a lot, he points out that in a retail shop, the same bowl  would easily retail at double his selling price.

May will work on several rocks at a time to avoid the tediousness of working from start to finish on the same piece.

A ‘typical work day’ for him consists of cutting three or four rocks, that may become bowls, in half. The work begins to start hollowing out the halved stone followed by the acid wash and polishing.  

Over the past two years May has built a loyal following of clients from the region and he’s become a fixture at the Magnetawan Farmers Market. He rarely has to worry about carrying over his finished products from one year to the next because as he put it, “I sell everything I make”.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

By Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative

Original Published on May 29, 2023 at 09:50

This item reprinted with permission from   North Bay Nugget   North Bay, Ontario
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