Locals living on Florida's first coast, an area that extends from Jacksonville to St. Augustine, enjoy a tabby look to their buildings. This doesn't mean they want images of cats on their walls. Tabby refers to the traditional look taken from the coquina limestone that settlers first used in construction. This unique texture differs from other limestone. The stone's matrix is composed of naturally cemented shell fragments.

While the surface looks interesting and beautiful, tabby, or coquina, isn't exactly the best building material. It's very pervious. And the naturally occurring cement is a rather weak bonding agent. Today, tabby is most commonly used for ornamental pieces, such as fireplace mantles and coppices.

Ben Spina and his team at TabbyStone Co., a cast stone producer in Jacksonville, have profited from the locals' love of tabby. For 20 years, TabbyStone has created a comprehensive line of cast stone elements found on most of the area's respected residential and commercial projects. These range from balustrades, columns, and fireplace mantels, to fountains and other decorative elements.

To keep up with strong demand, TabbyStone has developed a fast-paced strategy that allows Spina's crew to cast what seems to be a custom product in the time expected for a standard item. In this business, neither the architect nor the builder wants to hear about delays. The warehouse contains more than 2000 molds. “The key to our success is the on-time delivery of even the most ornate pieces,” says Spina, company president.

A new method of casting

As business grew, Spina searched for an efficient way to create the foam molds used in casting in-house. “We had been subcontracting the mold-making process locally, but the turnaround time was getting worse and worse the busier we got,” he explains. “At first it was two weeks, and that was tolerable. But when the lag extended to three or four weeks, we decided to go ahead and make our own.”

This dramatically changed the business. Spina first bought a mold-creating system that uses a foam cutting system controlled by an easy-to-use software program. This not only speeds up the mold-making process, it also provides an outlet for creativity.

“We can create intricate shapes quickly without first carving them from wood,” says the company president. “The foam cutting machine's flexibility is limited only by our imagination. We've cast some rather unusual elements that we wouldn't have even bid. It has enabled us to grow.”

The system also is fast, allowing TabbyStone to cut a mold and pour it the same day.

Learning how to use the computer design element was easy. Spina was already well-versed in AutoCAD, when he started drawing molds. He then imported the file into the machine's programmer to create a wire cut path through the foam block. He now creates mold shapes in one or two days and has started creating circles and bowls.

“We've cut some huge bowl molds that we wouldn't have been able to do before,” Spina says. “We've also created molds with helixes so we can cast spiral staircases using the turntable.”

For more on the producer, visitwww.tabbystone.com.For more information on CNC foam cutting machines, contact the manufacturer, Hotwire Direct, atwww.hotwiredirect.com.