The quarrying of pipestone is often an underappreciated part of the tradition surrounding pipemaking. The task of extracting pipestone from the earth is a slow and labor intensive process and the hand tools used today are not much more advanced than the tools and methods used in centuries past. The process can require many days of physical labor with only the use of hand tools such as sledgehammers, pry bars, chisels, wedges, and steel bars allowed. For someone not already in good physical condition the process is slowed or should not be attempted at all.
Depending upon the specific quarry, experience has shown that quarrying time can be estimated at two to six weeks. The layer of pipestone is sandwiched between layers of very hard Sioux Quartzite rock. Depending upon a quarry’s location on the quarry line the upper layer of quartzite can be four to ten feet thick above the pipestone layer. Prairie plants and soil varying in depth from one to six feet cover the upper layer of quartzite.