From the birth of the game at least four
centuries ago, until the modern curling stone came into being, ardent
curlers took to the ice with some most unusual rocks.
And although most of us think the modern
granite is 'perfect', variations on it show that development is
The professional curlers of today depend for the near-perfection
of their play on today's curling stone - a tough, resilient granite,
identical to its brother in color, shape, and weight, highly polished,
perfectly balanced for exact delivery, with a finely tapered running
cup roughened to a hair's degree for true curl and exact positioning.
This geometrical masterpiece of tooled geology has been perfected
over centuries of play. Your great-great-grandfather ws capable,
perhaps, of a game as rare as Richardson's... but consider the rocks
he hurled - 60 or 70 pound Goliaths to be tamed by a David and no
There was, for instance, 'The Jubilee Stone' which weighed in at
117 pounds! It was but one of many giant rocks taken from the Ericht
Channel and other rivers in Scotland. These boulders, shaped by
water action, carried a great deal in weight, size, and shape. One
writer described them thus: "They were wretched enough... some
were three-cornered... others like ducks, others flat as a frying
pan. Their handles were equally clumsy and unelegant..."
But these channel-stones, however awkward and cumbersome, were
streamlined compared with those that preceeded them. The channel-stone
at least had a handle!
The most primitive stones, used in an early game that resembled
quoit pitching on ice rather more than curling, were known as loofies.
They were flat in shape, about the size of a man's hand. It is likely
that the game played with these stones developed out of distance-throwing
The first real 'curling' stone was the kuting stone with grip
hollows on either side. The kuting stone didn't actually curl;
like the loofy, it was thrown and slid along the ice to its mark.
As it could be held only by the thumb and fingers, not with the
whole hand, it is as well that these kuting stones were fairly
lightweight, ranging from 5 to 25 pounds.
So far is known, the oldest curling stone in the world i sone
bearing the date 1511. Is is of the kuting type. Its shape is
nearly oblong, with top and bottom rounded and the sides straight,
measuring 9" x 7-1/2" x 4-5/8" and weighing 26
pounds. The kuting stone - sometimes called quoiting or even coiting
- really got the roarin' game going and served its players for
over a century and a half.
Next to emerge were the channel-stones - appropriately shaped
riverbed boulders, which were at first used with the addition
of finger and thumb holes, then were rough-hewn and equipped with
iron handles. from these channel-stones evolved the third major
'breed' of rock - a rounded circular stone - forerunner of today's
symmedtrical, high-polished granite.
It was only when handles were added to the stones that any degree
of accuracy could be given to delivery. The kuting stone, which
faded in popularity sometime in the mid-1600's, had been impossible
to deliver properly. The player gripped the underside of the stone,
swung it from behind and gave it a short throw, ending in a thrust
forward. No hint of blanaced swing/slide here! The transition
from kuting to channel-stone was at first more of a matter of
size and weight than of shape. Stones grew larger and heavier
as the value of the bigger rocks became apparent. The addition
of handles also made it necessary to use a bigger stone to give
more depth as purchase for the handle's iron upright.
These channel-stones, many of which survive in museums and curling
clubs, are probably the most facinating of all curling stones.
Each one moved in a way peculiar to it alone; each ha a name according
to its shape or the owner's calling. Curling was very much a challenge
during this period! One of these odd-shaped rocks - a triangular
terror known as "The Cocktail Hat" - unless hit dead
on, would not move from its spot on the ice, but would rotate
'in great perfection.'
The rocks in the illustrations are some of the rocks that were
discovered when ponds and lochs were drained or that have been
handed down from father to son for generations. Considering the
shapes of these stones, there might well have been great conjecture
(and small wagers??) as to what would happen when, say, Jock's
triangular rock went 'a thundering' down towards Tam's square
one. At what angle would they strike? In what directions would
In the Scottish county of Lanark, an advanced type of stone with
a hollowed bottom appears to have been used as far back as 1784.
Another strange type of stone was tried - one sole of which ran
on three feet, or points, and the other on a circle of about one
inch. Some experimental stones in the region had steel bottoms;
others, made of cast-iron had steel or brass bottoms.
The first really circular stone appeared about 1750, although
vari-shaped stones were still in play some 25 years later. An
early example of a carefully rounded curling stone, shown in the
illustrations, resembled a mason's mallet of the period.
Variations of the circular type looked more like partly squashed
balloons and were often decorated, or marked with the owner's
"The Cheese" was one of a rink of stones cut in either
the late 1700's or early 1800's from a large block of Lanarkshire
whinstone (quarryman's term for any dark-colored rock, often basalt).
"The Cheese" weighs 70 pounds and was last used ina
match sometime around 1840. After matches it was occasionally
used as a test of strength and was also used as a counterweight
for oatmeal and cheese!
The popularity of curling waxed and waned but little over the
years. When it waned, it was often because the stones were lost.
When more pressing work called, the curlers would leave their
stones on the ice, where they often stayed until spring thaw provided
them with a watery grave. If the men were especially busy, they
might not have time to find a suitable channnel-stone or chunk
of rock, then shape it and outfit it with a handle before the
season came around again.
In spite of minor setbacks, the Scots became more and more proficient
at shaping the stones. They experimented with sizes, shapes, weights,
and handles to find the best combination for a rock that would
stand up to extremely rough treatment and that could be guided
to the house as accurately as possible.
More than one hundred years ago, Andrew Kay established the first
curling stone manufacturing business. Andrew Kay and Company is
still manufacturing today (1965).
As technology improved and workers gained skill through experience,
curling rocks became more precisely made. Balance was improved,
more satisfactory handles were used, refinements appeared, weights
became standardized. Now the ladies bagan to enter the picture,
and other countries also sat up and took notice. Scottish emigrants,
of whom there were many in the 19th century, carried the knowledge
of their beloved game with them to their new countries.
In Canada, early garrison officers improvised stones by filling
the metal-rimmed hubs of gun carriages with molten metal and inserting
iron handles. So popular were these 'irons' that local settlers
urged their blacksmiths to make imitations. Thereafter, the irons
were preferred above the granites by many Quebec curlers and by
curlers in other parts of the country too. Not until the early
1950's, in fact, was their use completely abandoned for general
play - victims of the need for 'standardized' equipment in a game
of international participation.
Other early Canadian curlers fashioned 'stones' from hardwood,
weighted with lead.
The Scottish Monopoly
Today, the curling stone that counts is the granite rock. Until
recently, virtually all the granite for these stones came from
Scotland, more particularly, from a wave-lashed island thrusting
out of the Firth of Clyde 10 miles west of the Ayrshire mainland.
Ailsa Craig and Wales are the principal sources of the world's
curling granit, which must be tough, dense, abrasion-resistant,
resilient, non-absorbant, and uniform in color. The Scottish Curling
Stone Company said "The unique quality of Ailsite is that
its water absorption is negligible. Were it not so, water-to-ice-to-water
expansion and contraction would soon cause small granite particles
to break off and pit the rock."
The granite stones from Ailsa Craig, produced by the Scottish
Curling Stone Company, are generally designated as Ailsa Blue
or Red Hone. Those manufactured by Andrew Kay and Company in Ayrshire,
from Welsh granite, are known as Red or Blue Trevors.
Quarrying the stone requires a great technical skill and exemplary
patience. To get one ton of usable stone may take as much as 100
tons felled. Unlike most granites, this granite does not split
along a determined grain, but breaks in all directions, sometimes
yielding not a single usable curling stone block.
Even when the blocks are ready for transformation to curling
stones, there is considerable wastage. A core of about the diameter
of a curling stone is cut with diamonds from the block, and if
the surface reveals fine hairline cracks, the core must be rejected
- such a stone would split or chip in play.
The core is rough-turned, then brought to its approximate finished
weight. Next, the stone is brought to exact shape and the polish
and striking banks are meticulously finished. The handles - usually
aluminum and plastic - are carefully designed to complete the
balance. The end product is a true-running stone that is extremely
resistant to wear.
Because of the time-consuming, often difficult, and highly specialized
methods used in their production, these fine curling stones are
expensive. The manufacturers, recognizing that the cost is prohibitive
for some clubs and arenas, have made various attempts to produce
less expensive stones with the running qualities of the Ailsas
and Trevors. The newest of these is the Scottish Curling Stone
Company's "Ailsert". It has a disc of Ailsite forming
the running cup of the stone on one side to give a running surface
identical to that of the more expensive rocks. The basic stone
however is made of a lower, but still durable, grade of granite.
Recently, two companies made brief and ultimately disappointing
forays into the world of plastic for curling stone manufacture.
The first plastic stones were lighter and livlier than the granites
- in fact, they continued to move after striking other stones.
The early stones also chipped when exposed to the rigors of the
game. Although both these problems were solved, curlers were still
dubious and the plastic stones were moved from the market. Tradition
is so strong in curling, that plastic will probably not usurp
even a part of the granite curling stone's place in the near future.
A chance discovery of a fine-grained black granite outcropping
at River Valley, 20 miles north of Sturgeon Falls in northeastern
Ontario, led to the most recent bid for part of the booming curling
stone business. A small company called River Valley Manufacturing
Limited was formed when government analysis of the find confirmed
the excellence of the granite.
The black granite - darker than the Scottish stone - tested 29
on a device known as the Page Impact Machine, which is used to
test industrial building stone. The figure is well above the 21
minimum standard for good tough granite (average Canadian granite
registers only 12 to 16) and equal, perhaps superior, to the best
granite found elsewhere in the world. Abrasion tests gave a reading
of 87.55, higher even than the granite used in Scottish stones.
To help capitalize on the potential of this remarkable granite,
River Valley hired a master Itallian stonecutter. Pietro Ellero
had never seen a curling stone, but he borrowed one from the local
club and painstakingly handcut a pair of them. They were fine,
but they wouldn't curl! Minute comparison of the River Valley
stones with regulation stones revealed that the lip of the running
cup on the Scottish stone was slightly rough, whereas that of
the Canadian stone was highly polished. Now they knew how to make
a curling stone that would curl. The next step was to plan mass
production methods and refine their techniques to make production
economically feasible and place the stones within a competitive
price range. Almost all of the machinery and equipment had to
be designed and rigged by the company because it simply wasn't
The new stones were different in some respects from those to
which curlers have long been accustomed, and for this reason,
acceptance of them may take a little time. The stones are of regulation
weight, but because the granite is denser, they are more compact.
To offset the difference in height which results (diameter and
running surface remain the same), there is more space between
the handle and the stone.
The early River Valley stones chipped and presented other problems
in use - not because of the granite, River Valley believes - but
because selection and manufacturing techniques were still being
developed. Probably the only true test is one of use over an extended
period of time and those clubs that have already bought the new
Canadian stones will be watched with keen interest in the next
The entry of another stone manufacturer is a healthy sign of
the game's increasing popularity, as thousands of new curlers
appear in dozens of new clubs every year. Providing the stones
are good, there is plenty of demand.
The supplies of good curling stone granite in Scotland and Canada
are plentiful enough for years to come, so it's not likely we'll
ever have to revert to channel-stones. Though wouldn't it be a
colorful Scotch Cup if we did?
Note: The foregoing article is from a 1965 issue of the Canadian
curling magazine, "The Curler". The curling stone illustrations
are from a very good book, "Curling Past and Present",
written by Creelman and Weyman, published by McClelland & Stewart