Bob Murrell 

Special Contributor

Photos provided by Bob Murrell

St Paul’s Cathedral exterior, St. Paul, Minnesota. The current structure is the 4th in a series of buildings that began as a small log cabin structure in 1841. The cornerstone was laid in 1907.I met Tim Lesnar back in the late 1990s when he and one of his associates attended my training class in Knoxville. I have been supplying Tim with products and technical assistance where possible ever since.

In front of the St Paul’s Cathedral altar, from left:  Luis Campoverde, Tim Lesnar, and Rich Barone.Tim is the owner/operator of Classic Marble Restoration in Blaine, Minnesota. Tim is a professional in every detail. He knows his trade extremely well (since 1992), and is an all-around good guy.  

St Paul’s St. Joseph’s chapel – before (left) and after (right)Tim recently took on the restoration project for the historic Cathedral of Saint Paul, which overlooks St. Paul, MN. It began as a small log cabin-like structure overlooking the Mississippi River in 1841, in what was then the settlement of Pig’s Eye. Seriously!

The current structure is the fourth since that first log cabin in Pig’s Eye. The cornerstone was laid in 1907 and the church was consecrated in 1958. Just as an FYI, to be consecrated the church must be durably constructed, monumental in character, substantially complete, and no chance that the building will ever fall out the hands of the Church.

Tim and his team had the daunting task of completing the first true stone restoration work on the church in over 100 years. There was approximately 13,500 square feet of marble floors and stairs, which had to be ground, and in some cases filled, honed, polished and finally, sealed. This first phase of the project took about 3 months to complete. 

There were at least 35 different types of stone, including Alpine Green, dark and light Botticino and Carrara from Italy. Others included were Mankato Kasota Stone (American Travertine) from Minnesota, Connemara marble from Ireland, Formosa from Germany, Portura Black from Spain and even Tennessee Pink (from guess where?).    

Birdseye view of St Paul’s nave floor during the restoration process.There was vein damage, holes and general scarring that had to be ground using both wet and dry methods. The first phase of operation was to restore the marbles in the main altar, side chapels, shrine altars and hallway, and the Narthex. The second phase has not yet started due to scheduling the repair of the large stained glass windows. The second phase will restore the cathedral Nave (main seating area).

There were up to 7 technicians on site at any given time. Working hours were mostly 9 hour days on Monday through Saturday. Working Saturdays helped shorten the project by 2 weeks while certain church events like funerals periodically stopped all work.

Specialty work was performed to clean and seal the 30 foot main altar pillars holding the marble cornice which supported the bronze baldachin. Tim’s team erected scaffolding to allow technicians to safely work around in their safety harnesses and gear. Walls and newly cleaned bronze grillwork as well as the pipe organ and chamber were masked off with plastic. Protection and dust control was extremely important during the restoration project. 

Initial cutting using 30/40 grit diamonds was done dry. This allowed for quick, custom color- matched polyester filling of vein damage and holes, with no extra drying time required. Once the adhesive was installed and cured, floors were honed to smooth the fill. All edge work, bull nosed edging, and staircase work was done by hand.

Wet honing was completed to 3000 grit before any polishing was done. Floors were polished the day after wet honing to allow for the stone to dry before the Majestic 5X was used. Allowing the moisture in the stone to evaporate typically helps both the production and performance of the polishing procedure.

Green marble was finish polished using a spray crystallizer to achieve the extra gloss and color. All floors were sealed with an impregnator to help facilitate long-term maintenance of the stone.

All waste cutting slurry and dust was carefully removed for off site disposal. Dry cutting was bagged and disposed of. Wet slurry was first separated using a flocculent. Once most of the water was removed, a gelling agent was then used to help solidify the remaining marble slurry before normal disposal.     

A variety of equipment and products were used. Planetary floor grinders, Stone Medic single disc machines, Ermator dust extractors and both Makita and Flex hand tools were part of the list of equipment. Diamond tooling consisted of M3 Typhoons, M3 PLP diamond impregnated pads, metal bonds, and various others grits for hand work. Tim used Majestic 5X and Stone Polishing Compound to polish most of the marbles.

Tim and his team of professional technicians have taken on the monumental task of a complete restoration project for one of America’s historic landmarks. They have certainly hit a home run on the first and largest phase of the project. Tim and I have had a business relationship and been friends for almost 20 years. I am very proud to say that I am associated with this project, even though remotely.

As always, I have to close with the importance of partnering with a good distributor of quality products and technical support, like Braxton-Bragg. It is essential for a contractor’s success.

Bob Murrell has worked as a supplier of products and technical support to the natural stone industry for over 35 years. He has written numerous articles for various trade publications and has also trained thousands of contractors over the last 25 years.