A stonemason doesn’t go at it hammer and tongs (or should that be hammer and chisel?), smashing away at bits of rock. Stonemasonry is a pretty skilled profession, and it’s been around for thousands of years.
Stonemasonry is all about the conservation, reparation and restoration of stone buildings, statues and bridges, as well as the construction of new stone structures. Stonemasons develop a deep understanding of the different types of stone, the tools of their trade and how to shape and fix stone.
Work in this area can be varied: a stonemason might spend days painstakingly chiselling beautiful carvings, or they might fire up the modern power tools to prepare and trim blocks of stone for the cladding of modern buildings.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that stonemasonry is all dinky chiselling: modern stonemason workshops are loud, noisy and dusty. Protective clothing, such as ear defenders, goggles and masks, are frequently used. It’s not a job for those who like their creature comforts, as it often involves outdoor work in all weathers and heavy lifting.
There are two types of stonemason: a banker mason and a fixer mason. Banker masons are largely workshop-based, using a mixture of tools to skilfully shape stones from new designs or replicate and replace an existing stone. They might produce intricate stone carvings for new and existing buildings or polish finish stone slabs.
Fixer masons work in the great outdoors and do they installing, putting the stones that have been shaped by the banking process into place. They are dab hands at using traditional lime mortars and have an expert understanding of specialist fixings.
More often than not, a stonemason will be expected to carry out both banker and fixer roles, particularly if they are working for a small company.
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What is a Stonemason?
A stonemason is someone who takes rough pieces of rock or stone and shapes them into geometric shapes in order to create a structure and/or a work of art. These structures can include monuments, buildings, cathedrals, tombstones, etc. Stonemasons take great pride in being able to produce beautiful yet functional work that is uniquely suited for each client.
Stonemasons have been responsible for the construction of buildings, statues and structures since the beginning of civilization. Stonemasonry workers created some of the greatest pieces of art and most notable structures; the Easter Island statues, the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge, the Egyptian Pyramids, and the Chartres Cathedral, to name a few.
Definition and Nature of the Work
Stonemasons build stone walls, floors, and the exteriors of private homes and other buildings. They also make stone piers, arches, sills, steps, and hearths.
Stonemasons work with both natural and artificial stone. The natural stones they use are marble, granite, sandstone, and limestone. The artificial stones are made of cement and cement mixed with marble chips or other masonry materials. Stonemasons use tools such as hammers, chisels, trowels, mallets, wedges, pneumatic (compressed air) drills, and brushes. They generally work with helpers who carry the stones.
Stonemasons sometimes work from plans that number each piece of stone. They spread a cementlike material called mortar between each row of stones with a flat, pointed tool called a trowel. When the stones are in the proper position, the stonemasons check their placement with a plumb line to make sure they are aligned. The stonemasons then smooth the mortar between the stones. Sometimes, the masons work with derrick operators, who run hoists that lift and lower large stones into place.
The stone facing that stonemason put on the surfaces of buildings is called veneer. It is generally two inches thick, and it is fastened on and supported by the building’s steel frame.
Sometimes stonemasons must cut stone to exact size. They determine the grain of the stone for easy cutting and mark a line along with it. They use a stonemason’s hammer to strike the stone along this line. Sometimes they use an abrasive saw to cut valuable stones.
Some stonemasons specialize in soapstone and other stones that are resistant to acid and are used to contain dangerous acidic substances. Masons set such stone into tank and vat linings and on floors.
What does a stonemason do?
As a stonemason, you will be responsible for helping to repair or maintain structures, such as churches or houses. This can include cutting or carving a variety of types of stone, and you will usually have to ensure you preserve the look and feel of the building.
The job role of a stonemason involves the following duties:
- Repairing old buildings and monuments
- Making and fitting stonework like window frames and archways
- Dressing stone and building walls
- Carving and repairing headstones and statues
- Working with different materials including slate, sandstone, limestone, marble and granite
- Interpreting technical drawings
- Working with a range of hand tools
- Collaborating with historians and conservationists
- Thinking creatively and problem-solving
- Lifting and carrying heavy materials and equipment
- Working indoors or outdoors, sometimes at height and in dusty environments.
What knowledge is needed to be a Stonemason?
- Mathematics – Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
- Building and Construction – Knowledge of materials, methods, and the tools involved in the construction or repair of houses, buildings, or other structures such as highways and roads.
- Public Safety and Security – Knowledge of relevant equipment, policies, procedures, and strategies to promote effective local, state, or national security operations for the protection of people, data, property, and institutions.
- Design – Knowledge of design techniques, tools, and principles involved in the production of precision technical plans, blueprints, drawings, and models.
- Mechanical – Knowledge of machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.
- Education and Training – Knowledge of principles and methods for curriculum and training design, teaching and instruction for individuals and groups, and the measurement of training effects.
- English Language – Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language, including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.
- Psychology – Knowledge of human behaviour and performance; individual differences in ability, personality, and interests; learning and motivation; psychological research methods; and the assessment and treatment of behavioural and affective disorders.
There are several types of stonemasons:
- A quarryman works in a quarry splitting sheets of rock down the vein of the rock in order to extract rough chunks of stone.
- A sawyer mason is someone who takes these rough chunks of stone and shapes them to meet the required shape and size using diamond-tipped saws.
- A banker mason takes these stones into their workshop and further hones the stones into the shape and size required by the building designs. A banker mason’s goal is to make sure that the shaped stone is oriented in the building in as natural a position as it was oriented in the ground.
- A carver mason uses their artistic ability to create patterns and designs in or from the stone-like animals, figures, or other types of designs.
- A fixer mason specializes in fixing stone permanently onto building structures using various forms of epoxy resins and/or cement. This is a highly dangerous and skilled position requiring precise tolerances and works at high altitudes, all while manipulating very heavy pieces of stone using tackle lift systems.
- A memorial mason carves gravestones, statues and memorials.
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- Handling and Moving Objects — Using hands and arms in handling, installing, positioning, and moving materials, and manipulating things.
- Performing General Physical Activities — Performing physical activities that require considerable use of your arms and legs and moving your whole body, such as climbing, lifting, balancing, walking, stooping, and handling of materials.
- Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates — Providing information to supervisors, coworkers, and subordinates by telephone, in written form, e-mail, or in person.
- Coordinating the Work and Activities of Others — Getting members of a group to work together to accomplish tasks.
- Training and Teaching Others — Identifying the educational needs of others, developing formal educational or training programs or classes, and teaching or instructing others.
- Getting Information — Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
- Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Material — Inspecting equipment, structures, or materials to identify the cause of errors or other problems or defects.
- Estimating the Quantifiable Characteristics of Products, Events, or Information — Estimating sizes, distances, and quantities; or determining time, costs, resources, or materials needed to perform a work activity.
- Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships — Developing constructive and cooperative working relationships with others, and maintaining them over time.
- Making Decisions and Solving Problems — Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
- Organizing, Planning, and Prioritizing Work — Developing specific goals and plans to prioritize, organize, and accomplish your work.
- Thinking Creatively — Developing, designing, or creating new applications, ideas, relationships, systems, or products, including artistic contributions.
- Resolving Conflicts and Negotiating with Others — Handling complaints, settling disputes, and resolving grievances and conflicts, or otherwise negotiating with others.
- Coaching and Developing Others — Identifying the developmental needs of others and coaching, mentoring, or otherwise helping others to improve their knowledge or skills.
- Scheduling Work and Activities — Scheduling events, programs, and activities, as well as the work of others.
- Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment — Running, maneuvering, navigating, or driving vehicles or mechanized equipment, such as forklifts, passenger vehicles, aircraft, or watercraft.
- Drafting, Laying Out, and Specifying Technical Devices, Parts, and Equipment — Providing documentation, detailed instructions, drawings, or specifications to tell others about how devices, parts, equipment, or structures are to be fabricated, constructed, assembled, modified, maintained, or used.
- Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events — Identifying information by categorizing, estimating, recognizing differences or similarities, and detecting changes in circumstances or events.
- Evaluating Information to Determine Compliance with Standards — Using relevant information and individual judgment to determine whether events or processes comply with laws, regulations, or standards.
- Provide Consultation and Advice to Others — Providing guidance and expert advice to management or other groups on technical, systems-, or process-related topics.
- Judging the Qualities of Things, Services, or People — Assessing the value, importance, or quality of things or people.
- Monitoring and Controlling Resources — Monitoring and controlling resources and overseeing the spending of money.
- Guiding, Directing, and Motivating Subordinates — Providing guidance and direction to subordinates, including setting performance standards and monitoring performance.
- Interpreting the Meaning of Information for Others — Translating or explaining what information means and how it can be used.
- Repairing and Maintaining Mechanical Equipment — Servicing, repairing, adjusting, and testing machines, devices, moving parts, and equipment that operate primarily on the basis of mechanical (not electronic) principles.
- Communicating with Persons Outside Organization — Communicating with people outside the organization, representing the organization to customers, the public, government, and other external sources. This information can be exchanged in person, in writing, or by telephone or e-mail.
- Developing and Building Teams — Encouraging and building mutual trust, respect, and cooperation among team members.
- Developing Objectives and Strategies — Establishing long-range objectives and specifying the strategies and actions to achieve them.
- Controlling Machines and Processes — Using either control mechanisms or direct physical activity to operate machines or processes (not including computers or vehicles).
- Staffing Organizational Units — Recruiting, interviewing, selecting, hiring, and promoting employees in an organization.
- Performing for or Working Directly with the Public — Performing for people or dealing directly with the public. This includes serving customers in restaurants and stores and receiving clients or guests.
- Monitor Processes, Materials, or Surroundings — Monitoring and reviewing information from materials, events, or the environment, to detect or assess problems.
- Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge — Keeping up-to-date technically and applying new knowledge to your job.
- Documenting/Recording Information — Entering, transcribing, recording, storing, or maintaining information in written or electronic/magnetic form.
- Assisting and Caring for Others — Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients.
- Analyzing Data or Information — Identifying the underlying principles, reasons, or facts of information by breaking down information or data into separate parts.
What is the workplace of a Stonemason like?
A stonemason’s workplace is generally outdoors and relatively hazardous, making hard hats and caution extremely important. The work is physically demanding, and contracts are often less frequent in times of bad weather as stonemasons typically work outside. However, various advancements in masonry technology allow modern-day masons to work outside in varying weather conditions.
The work can be considered hard physical labour, as stonemasons are required to climb scaffolding, use chisels and hammers, and spend all day bending, kneeling and lifting heavy materials over rough terrain. Stonemasons will often be contracted privately and therefore have a schedule to keep, meaning overtime and weekend work is often necessary to meet deadlines.
Education and Training Requirements
A high school diploma is preferred but not required. Many stonemasons start by working as helpers for experienced craft workers. Others learn the trade through courses at vocational or technical schools. The best training is a three-year apprenticeship sponsored by labour unions or industry groups. The apprenticeship consists of three years of on-the-job training combined with more than four hundred hours of classroom instruction. On the job, apprentices are helpers, learning to use the tools and materials. In the classroom, they are taught blueprint reading, mathematics, and other subjects relating to the craft. Applicants for the apprenticeship program should be at least seventeen years of age and in good physical condition.
Getting the Job
The best way to enter the craft is to join an apprenticeship program. Local union offices and industry groups will have information about training opportunities. It is also possible to learn a craft by getting a job as a stonemason’s helper. Local contractors should have information about job openings for those who want to enter the field in this way.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Stonemasons are already at the top of their craft. However, experienced stonemasons can become supervisors. They can also become costly and material estimators for stonemason contractors. Some stonemasons start their contracting businesses.
The employment outlook for stonemasons is very good. The need for new structures, spurred by population and business growth, will increase the demand for stonemasons. The number of jobs will grow about as fast as the average for all jobs through 2004, and many experienced stonemasons are expected to retire or transfer to other fields, creating more openings.
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Because most stonemasons work outdoors, they can expect to lose work time in bad weather. Generally, they work forty hours a week and earn extra pay for overtime and weekend work. The work is physically strenuous and involves much heavy lifting. Stonemasons must climb ladders and scaffolding, and they are often stooping, standing, and kneeling. Many stonemasons belong to labour unions.
Stonemasonry is something that is pretty much learnt on the job. Hands-on practical experience is the name of the game, and trainee stonemasons spend much of their time on-site, with the rest of their time spent at college working towards NVQs in stonemasonry. For those aged 16-24, there may be funded stonemasonry apprenticeship places available.
Experienced stonemasons can go on to take up supervisory or construction management roles. Whilst many of these guys are employed by specialist firms, some are self-employed and subcontract their services to construction companies.