Meet Terry and Kyle Dutton, the father and son tag team duo that spends their days cutting stone by hand. Based in Rockport, MA, they have accumulated a large social media following by sharing with the world laborious footage of their hand splitting process and stone masonry. In this special episode of Bucket Talk, Jeremy and Eric visit the duo for our very first on-site interview, as the Rockport team works on finishing a retaining wall and walkway. Tune in as we learn about their family’s humble beginnings in stonework, hand splitting, and the rich history behind American stone masonry, among other topics.
Going back to 1969, Terry got his start in masonry after returning from Vietnam. Him and his wife bought their first home with money he had never spent while in the military. Terry needed a retaining wall built on the side of his property. After asking a few masons, he was shocked at the price of the project and decided that he could do it himself. Terry began taking trips to the nearby quarry to collect small pieces of material from the discard pile to build his wall.
“I ran into the person that used to own the quarry called Pearson... He's like, so son, what are you doing? And I'm like, ‘Well, I'm trying to build a little wall in my side yard.’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘Anybody willing to climb up and down the pile that much to put stones in their truck - God bless you, you can have all you want.’ And he gave me a few pointers on how things were cut in and everything else.”
From there, Terry attracted the attention of neighbors and friends who saw his stone work and started inquiring about small projects. He began working with different types of materials and finding a deeper understanding of masonry. As time went on, Terry refined his stone work skills and began building his lifelong career in the trade.
“The real stone work didn't start till probably 25 or 30 years ago, when I really, really started to understand the process that was involved in cutting, trimming and fitting the way it should be. It's kind of sad. It's one of those things where if you go back and look at some of the work you did 40 or 45 years ago, you're like, wow, I could have done that so much better.”
Terry’s son, Kyle, has been working under his father on and off since high school. Originally, Kyle pursued a college degree in Sports Medicine, and would work with stone on the side. However, he was stopped short after being diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma in his 20’s. After recovery, Kyle eased back into the labor force again by working with his father. Through the years of switching between different jobs, he learned that working with stone is what he enjoys best.
“...at the end of the day you have a literal pile to show for yourself like ‘this is what I did today. This is what we got done today.’ And it's the same thing with building and I find that to be like this incontrovertible satisfaction… At the end of the day, you go home and you sleep well, because you're like, ‘This is what I got done.’”
Terry and Kyle started hand splitting stone as part of their core business during a project for Rockport National Bank in 2009. Up until then, they focused strictly on masonry work. For this particular project, they had to source a large quantity of granite from two different quarries.
“Some of the contractors that also do granite work, saw the quality of the material that we were cutting for the project, and asked us if we could in turn cut material for them if they needed it. And it blossomed from there initially… to the part that it is now where it's at least half of our time is spent cutting stone.”
Part of what drives Terry and Kyle is their shared passion for masonry and the rich history behind the trade. American stonework dates back centuries in time to when many of the modern tools were not available. While it is often taken for granted at face value, those who are familiar with the trade can recognize the skill and labor that was required.
“It's crazy that the reach of this stuff and again, you know, all of this was done back in the late 18, early 1900s, talking about... getting it to the trains via oxen. And the big gerrymander carts... you look at the history, and even just what that took in labor and manpower just to even get started. It's really neat.”
To an onlooker, hand splitting stone might seem like cruel and torturous work. It’s not an easy job in any sense. But for Terry and Kyle, the intense labor is highly rewarding and driven by passion. Through decades of hard work and dedication, the father and son duo have become rock stars in the fascinating world of masonry.