The secret of the stone, or how 'papering' gets the best out of 42 lbs. of granite

Making ice and sanding stones is personal for Greg Ewasko. The long-time technician lets the CBC's Devin Heroux in on the secret of creating the perfect curl.

The art of precisely sanding creates the best curl

Ice technician Greg Ewasko goes through the task of "papering" the curling stones at the mixed doubles tournament in Fredericton. The process creates more curl on the ice. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)

FREDERICTON, N.B. — For years it was one of curling's best kept secrets — sacred stones wrapped in the mystery of when they were "papered" and where.   

Papering, as it's referred to,  is an old craft — the process of sanding the bottom of the smooth granite to roughen it up so it grabs the pebbled ice and curls just a little bit more. 

It's usually done at the beginning of tournaments. Sometimes though, rocks are retouched during bonspiels in the middle of the night in an unknown location.

"We signed papers decades ago saying we wouldn't tell people what we did with the rocks," said Greg Ewasko, a lead ice-technician for 23 years. "This was our secret. We signed an agreement between top ice-makers around the globe saying we wouldn't say anything about sanding rocks."

Making ice and sanding stones is personal for Ewasko. His task this week is to create the best conditions for the top university, college and mixed doubles curlers in the country. He took a direct flight to Fredericton from the Brier in Brandon, Man. 

Now Ewasko is willing to reveal his papering techniques, only because a fellow ice-maker, Hans Wutrich, pulled back the curtain on the process years ago. 

In the bowels of Willie O'Ree Place in Fredericton, Ewasko opens up an obscure door at the back of the building. Inside is a labyrinth of tools, trinkets, rocks and sandpaper. 

"We have a recipe and then we fine-tune it," he says, looking carefully over a stone. "First thing we always do, especially if they come from a different event, is blueprint the rock."

What he means is flipping the rock over and taking carbon paper to it. He carefully rolls a marble rolling pin over the paper pressed up against the rock to get a sense of how wide the sliding surface is. This particular rock has a sliding surface of eight millimetres. Too wide, according to Ewasko. 

"We like them to be around 5.8 millimetres," he says. 

Yes, it's that particular. 

Ewasko then lifts the rock onto a makeshift wooden frame where he spins it over sandpaper, grinding down the running surface. He might do this 30 or 40 times to get it the right size. 

Ewasko does this to every stone at the beginning of every event he does. But it doesn't end there. Once he gets the sliding surface to his liking, he then picks the rock out of the wooden frame and places it on a coarser sandpaper. 

This is the crucial part of the craft. 

Ewasko pushes the rock once over the sandpaper with the handle at a particular direction. He then drags it back one more time over the sandpaper. That's all though. 

"This rock will probably curl seven or eight feet right after doing this," Ewasko says. 

He goes on to say that every ice-maker has their own technique when it comes to papering the rocks. Getting it right the first time is important. 

"That way you don't mess with the curlers minds," Ewasko says.

Precision is key when it comes to the rock's sliding surface. "We like to them to be around 5.8 millimetres," Greg Ewasko says. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)

And if he does have to do it again during the event?

"I usually tell them. But I don't usually sand rocks halfway through. But if we have to, we have to."

There are just two granite sources in the world from which curling rocks are made. And there are just two companies in the world making curling rocks.

One of those locations is Ailsa Craig, an island located off the coast of Scotland where blue hone granite comes from — the manufacturer using this granite is also located in Scotland.

The other location is a small town in Wales called Trefor. This is the granite used by Canada Curling Stone Co. located just outside of London, Ont. 

Ailsa Craig, off the coast of Scotland. (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

Kim and Wayne Tuck have been part of this company for nearly three decades. It's a family affair for the husband and wife, and serious business. 

"We did 1,200 stones from April of last year to right now," Kim says. "That's not counting the numbers of repairs we do for clubs during the summer."

Their rocks are in curling clubs around the world and the demand is as high as ever. A large part of that has to do with the fact that Canada's curling stones are starting to age. 

Kim says the life expectancy of a curling stone is about 50 to 70 years. In many cases, Canadian curling club stones are that old or older, forcing them to purchase new ones. 

"They send us granite from Wales every two to three weeks. It's ongoing throughout the year," Kim says. 

A minivan-sized slab of Trefor granite farmed from the mountain is chiseled down, producing thousands of curling stones. It's then shipped by boat in raw, semi-curling stone form for Kim and Wayne to work their magic. 

Once it arrives at their shop in Ontario, the raw hunks of granite are run through a computerized machine to get it into the nice, familiar curling rock shape. 

This is where Wayne comes in. 

"I get to put all the magic into it," he says. "All the stones come to me exactly the same. Then I hand polish them and texture them so they can go out to the clubs."

Curling stones can remain in use up to 70 years, with the most coveted stone coming from Wales or Scotland. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)

Before they're sent out though, Wayne also sandblasts the strike band around the rock — that sweet spot around the rock that makes contact with other rocks. 

"If we left that spot unpolished the rocks would actually chip," Wayne explains. "After five to seven years the clubs should send them back and we'll redo them."

The rock starts out weighing exactly 42 pounds but over the years loses weight due to papering and sandblasting. 

That's where the technique of reading rocks and knowing how they're reacting on the ice comes into play. 

"You're starting to see new stones used at the Scotties and the Brier. And what's happening is there's more action with them. They're 42 pounds as opposed to 38 pounds," Kim says. 

"It's a heavier stone traveling down the sheet and it packs more punch. They're not livelier because they're spring-loaded. There's no magic. They're just heavier."

Curling Canada has three sets of stones — two sets of Trefor granite and a set of blue hone granite from Scotland. 

This week in Fredericton a brand new set of Kim and Wayne's rocks are being used for the university, college and mixed doubles curling championships. 

They've been papered and pampered and are ready for their pebbled ice moment. 

"I think of them as my kids," Kim said. "I want them to get where they're going safety. I want them to behave while they're there."


Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.