how to restore a headstone
August 21, 2009 7:55 PM   Subscribe

How do I restore a grave headstone. My son's headstone has faded over the past 20 years. The engraving (once highlighted with black) has faded, the writing is now hard to read. I could use a small brush and, with my shaky hands try and fill in the letters, but there has to be an easier (and more effective) way... ideas?
posted by HuronBob to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Headstone companies can do touchups/restorations like this. I don't know what kind of paint they use, and I don't know how much it might cost to have them do it, but you could call and find out.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:04 PM on August 21, 2009

A Sharpie marker (they come in many sizes) is easier to wield than a paintbrush, and is pretty weatherproof. You will probably want to add some clear UV protective finish when it's dry, though, because it will fade after months of direct sunlight.
posted by rokusan at 8:12 PM on August 21, 2009

I don't mean to sound flippant in any way but I did a similar restoration on a marble slab by using a black sharpie and some clear nail polish to seal it. The sharpie is easy to control and get a clean line and the small brush of the clear polish can get into the engraving and seals up the marker. The slab I worked on was very similar, a church
corner stone, and it really looked good. I cleaned everything with a nylon brush and some Bon Ami cleaning powder first. Then inked the engraving and did the sealing. We were thrilled at the results and it looked "restored" for
about 10 years. Then another member did the exact same process again. It cost about $5 each time. Call the professional folks but if money
is an issue, try the sharpie method. Maybe as a temporary restoration
until you find funds for a real one. Your son is very luckie to have a father who
still cares for him after all this time. I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by pearlybob at 8:15 PM on August 21, 2009 [5 favorites]

I would think the people at the cemetery would be able to offer you advice.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:41 PM on August 21, 2009

I've heard of applications for these kinds of things, where the un-engraved part is covered with a wax or gel, while the letters are painted with signwriters paint. Then the wax/gel is removed, taking the excess, undesired paint with it. This is likely the kind of thing a professional would do.

That said, the Sharpie trick sounds easier and cheaper. You could get a similar piece of granite, maybe a cast-off from a tile outlet, and practice, to see if it's giving you the results you want.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:22 PM on August 21, 2009

I was going to suggest black crayon. Getting a heavy waxy buildup in the crevices, and then a chamois or similar to wipe the smoth outer surface and remove any excess.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:49 AM on August 22, 2009

(smooth, sorry)
posted by Meatbomb at 3:49 AM on August 22, 2009

Forgive the formatting of my previous answer. Typing one handed on an iphone.
posted by pearlybob at 5:56 AM on August 22, 2009

Black enamel paint is what the professionals use. If you call a headstone maintenance joint, they should be able to do this for you, including cleaning, for less than $100. Any outfit that does additional name engraving onsite should also be able to reblack an existing inscription.

Although others above seem to be reporting success with felt markers and nail polish, please consider that it may contribute to erosion of the stone or make future conservation more costly. It also looks pretty sad after it rains a couple of times.

Here's a short PDF about cleaning (taken from this long one) and what never to put on a gravestone. It's angled toward much older markers, but one day, this will be one.

Today, he is your son. In a hundred years, he might be a link to someone's family history that they wish they could read.
posted by Sallyfur at 6:04 AM on August 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Sallyfur has it. Whatever you choose to do, please consider how the materials you use will interact with the stone over the years to come. The company that engraved your son's stone, if they still exist, would be a good place to start.

If they can't help, the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office has an extensive section on historic cemeteries, including a 203-page document on cemetery preservation [PDF]. It's similar to the one Sallyfur posted; most states have these offices now, and if you can't find a headstone cleaning service nearby, contacting the Michigan preservation office might help.

I'm sorry for your loss, HuronBob.
posted by catlet at 7:15 AM on August 22, 2009

I happen to have a friend who has done memorial stone masonry for a living (in the distant past), so I forwarded your question to him. Here's what he said:
I know it sounds pretty low rent, but a sharpie would do it. I might suggest oil paint if Sharpies don't come in the exact tone the guy is looking for. but coloring in the lettering of tombstones has been done for a long time, though not necessarily with a sharpie. Oil paint does have the advantage of being removeable with solvents more easily than sharpie marks, so the guy better not make any mistakes.

I'm also assuming the tombstone is marble, as granite does not wear. Another option, though this might be more involved than what the guy is looking for, would be this: take a rubbing of the lettering, and recreate the lettering on a computer - match up perfectly the copy of the lettering, in size and font, on a word document. Take the file to a signprinter or any signmaker, and ask them to cut a stencil of it, for use in sandblasting.This is done with a stencil cutting printer hooked to a computer, pretty standard equipment these days, that can do this for about 30 bucks. If they're lucky, the signmaker also does mobile sandblasting, and they can reblast the lettering into the tombstone on site; otherwise, they'd need to find someone who can.
posted by amtho at 5:16 PM on August 22, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the input (and kind words)... I'm going to check with the company that did the stone for suggestions as well.
posted by HuronBob at 6:48 AM on August 23, 2009

This stuff removes Sharpie (you might want to experiment on some random rock, first).
posted by TruncatedTiller at 10:14 AM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older Who am I really?   |   I forget your name Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.