In years past, a headstone was purchased only after a loved one died. Today, it is not uncommon to choose, purchase and place a headstone on a grave in advance. Each cemetery has its own regulations governing the type and size of headstones it allows. Cemeteries also decide who is allowed to set the stones in place -- the monument company, plot owner, or cemetery employees -- and whether or not a concrete footer is required under the headstone or monument. Footers help to stabilize a headstone and prevent it from sinking or listing to one side.
Ask the cemetery to mark the place for the headstone. Dig a rectangular hole about 12 to 18 inches deep and at least a foot longer and wider than the headstone, or headstone base, if you have one. Place a frame made of 2 x 4s around the inside of the hole near the top so that the visible edges of the footer will be straight and neat. Mix the concrete according to the directions on the bag and pour it into the hole. Smooth the top and make sure that it is level. Allow the concrete to dry for a week or so.
Align two 12-inch-long pieces of 2 x 4 boards on either side of the concrete footer. The boards should be placed apart enough to allow the lip of the dolly between them, but close enough together that they will support each end of the headstone to keep it up off the footer.
Move the dolly holding the headstone up to the footer and carefully set the headstone upon the boards. You may need to use the crowbar as a lever and a small piece of board as a fulcrum to adjust the positioning of the headstone. Center the headstone, which is still temporarily resting on the 2 x 4 boards, upon the concrete footer.
Roll a long rope of setting compound -- a putty-like material -- and place it on the footer about an inch inside the area that will be covered by the monument when it is lowered onto the footer. Use the crowbar and small piece of board to lift one end of the headstone. While it is lifted, have someone else pull the 2 x 4 board out from under the headstone and quickly place some setting compound on the footer where the board had been. Carefully lower the end of the headstone onto the footer.
Place the small piece of board at the other end of the headstone and use the crowbar to lift the other end of the headstone. Have your assistant slide out the remaining two-by-four board and insert two pieces of setting compound on the footer where the board had been. Check to see that the headstone is centered on the footer, then slowly lower the headstone to the footer.
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Use setting compound under a headstone to prevent water from getting under the headstone. Freezing water could damage the footer and cause the headstone to become unstable.
If a cemetery does not allow concrete footers, pack some gravel into a hole before placing the headstone in place. This will help prevent it from sinking into the soil.
Remember to check with the cemetery to find out their rules on sizes of headstones allowed, any requirements for footers and who they allow to place headstones on graves.
If you want a large headstone or one with a granite base, hire a professional to install it. It will save you physical injury and any costs incurred if a headstone is damaged during installation.
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