The centerpiece of curling is the curling stone, which has been
called a "geometrical masterpiece of tooled geology."
Kays of Scotland has been making curling stones since 1851, when
William Kay and his sons Andrew and Thomas set up a workshop in
Mauchline, Ayrshire, in southwest Scotland. Kays is still owned
by the relatives of the founder, and today it is the only curling
stone maker left in Scotland.
Kays is also the only curling stone manufacturer to use granite
from the legendary Ailsa Craig - a remarkable 1,100-foot high, 245-acre
granite island located 11 miles off Girvan on Scotland's west coast.
Formed by volcanic activity, Ailsa Craig's igneous "microgranite"
rock comes in three varieties: Common Ailsa or Common Green, Blue
Hone, and Red Hone. All of them have specific uses in the making
of curling stones.
Granted exclusive use of Ailsa Craig granite by the Marquess of
Ailsa, whose family has owned the island since 1560, Kays workers
visit the island occasionally to remove boulders - a massive task
given that Ailsa Craig has no roads and only a rudimentary dock.
In the summer of 2002, Kays transported 200 tons of granite to the
mainland - enough for the next 10 years of curling stone manufacturing.
Used in a highly competitive sport, the curling stones are made
to exacting specifications. First, boulders are sliced into slabs,
then round "cheeses" are cut from the slabs. Finally,
the cheeses are shaped and polished into curling stones in a series
of precise steps.
Each stone must weigh 44 pounds. Each must have a maximum diameter
of 36 inches. Polishing is done by hand on a wheel using water,
diamond-talcum power, and felt. Finishing the stone's "running
edge" is done entirely by hand with emery paper and a digital
gauge and magnifying glass. Lastly, a handle is fitted into countersunk
holes on the top of the stone. Stones are computer-matched into
pairs. Sixteen stones - 8 pairs -- are needed for a game, and since
curling rinks usually have 6 lanes, each rink needs 96 matched stones!
Kays is a small firm, employing fewer than ten artisans. Master
craftsman and co-owner James Wyllie is skilled at all phases of
curling stone making and is also an enthusiastic curler, as well
as active member of Mauchline's Burns Club, which meets regularly
to honor that well-known Mauchline resident.