What Headstones Last The Longest (Material, Engraving, Style)



We see headstones of different, shapes, sizes, and materials everywhere. All of these were chosen to remember the deceased while looking nice and lasting more than a lifetime. The question is what type of headstone should you order for your loved one to withstand the tests of time?

A flat quartzite headstone, with laser engraving, is the longest-lasting headstone. It can last centuries if the weather is the only factor in degradation. Quartzite is a very hard material that can withstand almost all climates & the laser-etched engraving will last as long as the headstone does.

There are many other options that may suit your needs better than a quartzite headstone. It all depends on what you are looking for and where you live. It can be broken into a four-steps and could take some time to choose. 

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Cemetery Location and Upkeep 

Before you even start to think about all the other details, the first thing you need to do it choose where it will go. Of course, this may be a decision that was made for you by the deceased or one which has already been made.

Most cemeteries especially ones that are religious (most common in America, being Christain) usually have a set of rules and guidelines to follow.  For example, some cemeteries will only allow certain types of stones, colors, and finishes.

You may not be able to have a quartzite headstone (not the type of stone the cemetery sells) or a polished finish (the sun reflects off it and makes it stand out).   You have to do your due diligence, while most cemeteries follow the letter of the law, some are more unscrupulous. Check your local laws and regulations, this website could be of assistance as well (https://iccfa.com/

Something many people don’t think about with longevity of the headstone is upkeep. Will you be doing it? Will the cemetery, and if so how often will they clean it? With different types of finishes on stones, this could make a difference.

Also, the weather in different areas will affect the headstone. Things such as a level of acidity in the rain, or salt from roads that can come in contact with the headstone.  Ask the cemetery these things before you start the rest of the process. 

Material 

What material is right for you?  There is a lot of material that gravestones could be made from depending on where you live, some of these will be very accessible and others will not.

While you may want the longest-lasting possible headstone,  it may not be the most fiscally accessible. The most common materials are quartzite, granite, marble, bronze, sandstone, iron and slate. If you are going to select a material for its longevity, the three most common longest-lasting materials are quartzite, granite, and marble.   

Quartzite vs Granite

They are both very similar in a lot of ways. But for the most part, quartzite is harder and denser, since it is made of quartz is much more resistant to chemical/physical weathering. 

Quartzite also has a pattern similar to marble, which is why many choose marble over granite (even though marble doesn’t last as long). Though all colors can be laser etched for these materials, the choices and are better for granite. The darker colors are better for laser etching, with dark black granite being the best. 

Granite vs Marble

Marble used to be the most popular stone for graves, but today it is granite by far. There are a few reasons for this. Marble deteriorates from acids that are prevalent in rain.  Marble is also very soft and can be scratched with a metal object. Marble does have colorful swirls/veins in the pattern that make it more desirable, while granite is a solid color. 

For color choices, all three come in different colors, ranging from pink, white, variations of grey and black.  It varies widely from the makeup of the rocks. This also affects the integrity and ability to be carved/etched. Black being the most common color, because it is the easiest color to see the engravings. 

Engraving 

After you have found a plot and chosen a type of stone, you need to figure out what to put on it.  This is done third because it will be easier to figure out which types/styles would look best and are able to be made. 

You then need to choose which text/font and images you want to use if any.  This size and how much/little writing you need is another factor. The more writing and images you have on the headstone the faster and more of a chance it has to wear.

The two main options you have you choose from are a laser-etched and the classic deep-cut/ sandblasted design. They both have their positives and negatives, but laser-etching will last as long as the stone does if it is done correctly, while hand-cut can last a very long time but can eventually fade.  

Laser etching

Laser-etched designs are done by computer and CNC machines. It is done in a precise fashion and is can take photographs very well. The cost is usually cheaper as well, as it takes less time and effort.

One issue is that the images do not show up well on lighter materials and cannot be done on marble because it is too soft.  If something was to happen and you wanted to repair the letter or pictures, it is a very easy process and can be done on your own cheaply and easily. 

Hand-carved & sandblasted

Traditional carved/ sandblasted and carved designs are lovely and can be a work of art. They tend to be more expensive because it is more time-consuming to create. Another positive is that it can also be done on any type of stone and color. 

They are not the best for photographs since you can get better detail with a laser. You can inlay photographs, but it will be more costly. If the writing was to fade you need someone to come out and repair it as well which happens more often with this type of engraving. 

The different types of finish will affect longevity as well. The popular types of finish are polished, part-polished and honed. It does not matter too much what the finish is, as long as it is kept up. They will all need upkeep and maintenance. The polished headstones will require more maintenance,  so if they are not taken care of they can degrade more quickly. 

Style/Type 

Now that you have chosen every other detail the last is what style you would want.  The three main types are upright, flat and kerbed. 

The one that will last the longest is going to be the flat headstone.   It can either be flush with the ground or raised, it is usually rectangular.  While it is not very flashy, it is the simplest and smallest. It is also the easiest to have maintained due to its size. This also can be useful if you are on a budget, but it does not have much space for personalization or photos. 

The upright headstone is the most traditional design and the most common one seen in cemeteries.  It is not that the stone is less durable than the one used for the flat headstone, it is just bigger and comes in more contact with the elements and people (vandalism). 

This too leaves it more prone to weathering. If you want to have a nice stone, with a longer epitaph and a photo this would be the one to get. If looked after and maintained it will still last for a long time.  

Kerbed headstones are above the ground, full-length headstones that lie flat.  They are very large and need a lot of maintenance. They can be very beautiful and intricate. They do take a long time to create and are often very costly. It is not uncommon to spend over $10,000 on one. 

What are the Costs?

The costs of each type of these can vary greatly depending on what you want.    On average for a basic flat headstone will cost around $1,000 and upright $2,000. 

The cheapest of the three stones are granite then marble and lastly quartzite. For engraving, a laser-etched is cheaper than traditional sandblasted and the fewer words/pictures the cheaper it will be. For styles, flat than upright and kerbed (the more stone and carving the more it will be).  You are usually charged by the square foot for the stone. 

Other common questions

How do I know what to choose? 

Hopefully the deceased has left behind a will and has taken care of all this before their passing. If not, seeking the help of other family members and or a professional would alleviate some stress.

When in doubt, follow the trend set in the cemetery you will be laying your deceased loved one to rest. If your budget can cover the price of the most common design and material, then this may be the best option during your time of grief.

How long does it take to make a headstone? 

Depending on all the factors listen about around 4-6 weeks from start to finish. This does not include putting in it the ground which could take up to 2 weeks depending on the weather. 

Remember that you only need to erect a headstone roughly 6 months after burial, this gives the grave plenty of time to settle and shift without the risk of a subsiding headstone.

What is the difference between a headstone and a tombstone?

A headstone is a gravestone, that is there as a monument to the person. Traditionally a tombstone is just there as a marker to show a person is buried there. 

What is an epitaph? 

An epitaph is a short text honoring a deceased person, it is usually on their gravestone. They tend to have the deceased’s: name, DOB, date of death and a quote (often religious). 

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