About York Stone – a general guide

About Natural York stone

York stone is one of those quintessential English stones that everyone has heard about but how many people actually know what a very special stone York stone really is?

Of all the natural stones quarried in the UK York stone is probably the most versatile.
Used for paving, house signs, headstones, fireplaces and all types of buildings from churches to office blocks. York stone is now increasingly the stone of choice for quality house signs.
York stone is a sedimentary sandstone, that is a stone laid down from the sediment of long disappeared lakes and seas. This process means that all sedimentary sandstones are to a greater or lesser degree layered or stratified.
The strata on some sedimentary stones such as Portland or Bath stone are deep and each layer or strata can produce a different class of stone some with fine clear stone, some with heavy fossilised shell. However, York stone is laid down in fine layers of just a few millimetres thick per layer.
It is this layering that gives York stone much of its character and its strength. The stone is constructed in layers or strata, that can be seen in the edge of house signs made from the stone. This strata forms a dense hard stone with greater tensile strength than most limestones.
It is this tensile strength and hardness that makes York stone so suitable for application where strength is important such as paving and house signs. York stone paving slabs have an incredible capacity for wear and tear and today old York paving originally laid down a hundred or more years ago is a prized and expensive re-claimed commodity.

York Stone. Times Roman Font. Running pheasant motif engraved in-relief in an oval panel.

York Stone. Times Roman Font. Running pheasant motif engraved in-relief in an oval panel.

The colour of new York stone tends to be mainly in varied shades of buff to grey, but old York stone was commonly available in greys and dark browns as well as a true blue!
This variety of colour and hue made York stone the material of choice for fireplace builders in the eighties. As a young man I built hundreds of these fireplaces, sadly out of fashion now of course.


York stone is ideal for engraving as it shows less sign of the fossil shell that can mar the finish of other stones and the colour generally remains fairly uniform throughout the slab or block, though can darken when a new layer or strata is cut through. The density of the grain means that engravings and carvings on house signs and commemorative plaques are crisp and sharp.
This uniformity and consistency is one of the reasons York stone has always been valued for its suitability for engraving.


York stone 60 cm Stone Circle. celtic style font. Appletree motif.

60 cm York Stone Circle. celtic style font. Appletree motif.

It has been used for generations for headstones and today is being increasingly chosen as the material of choice for engraved house signs and commemorative plaques.
York stone has other attributes less well known, for instance did you know that it is an excellent fine abrasive? All stone masons yard and workshops used to have a block of York stone and a large hand turned York stone wheel for sharpening chisels. Lubricated with water the stone was often the only sharpening stone available. The swords at Agincourt were probably sharpened on a York stone wheel!
Another use was to finish off the lead filled lettering on marble headstones. After the lead had been hammered into the finished letters, they were rubbed over with a piece of York stone and water, this both flattened and blackened the lead at the same time.
Lastly the reason I love this stone is its ability to age and weather gracefully.
Old York stone headstones, walls and house signs hundreds of years old, covered in moss, and the grime of history with the inscriptions all but unreadable are still very beautiful and the quality of the stone still shines through!
One word of warning, (always check with health and safety) the dust created by dry cutting York stone can be a serious health risk, if you are going to work York stone yourself work it outside, and always wear a proper respirator or better still cut it wet – and wear a mask!

Article by Stephen Walker.