Brickmasons, blockmasons and stonemasons create attractive, durable surfaces and structures. For thousands of years, these workers have built buildings, fences, roads, walkways and walls using bricks, concrete blocks and natural stone. The structures that they build will continue to be in demand for years to come.
The work varies in complexity, from laying a simple masonry walkway to installing an ornate exterior on a high-rise building. Workers cut or break the materials used to create walls, floors and other structures. Once their building materials are properly sized, they are laid with or without a binding material. Workers use their own perceptions and a variety of tools to ensure that the structure meets the desired standards. After they finish laying the bricks, blocks or stone, the workers clean the finished product with a variety of cleaning agents.
Brickmasons and blockmasons ? who often are called simply bricklayers ? build and repair walls, floors, partitions, fireplaces, chimneys and other structures with brick, precast masonry panels, concrete block and other masonry materials. Some brickmasons specialize in installing firebrick linings in industrial furnaces.
When building a structure, brickmasons usually start in the corners. Because of the precision needed, corners are time-consuming to erect and require the skills of experienced bricklayers. To lay the brick, brickmasons spread a bed of mortar (a mixture of cement, lime, sand and water) with a trowel (a flat, bladed metal tool with a handle), place the brick on the mortar bed and press and tap the brick into place. Depending on blueprint specifications, brickmasons either cut bricks with a hammer and chisel or saw them to fit around windows, doors and other openings. Mortar joints are then finished with jointing tools for a sealed, neat, uniform appearance. Although brickmasons typically use steel supports, or lintels, at window and door openings, they sometimes build brick arches, which support and enhance the beauty of the brickwork.
Refractory masons are brickmasons who specialize in installing firebrick and refractory tile in high-temperature boilers, furnaces, cupolas, ladles and soaking pits in industrial establishments. Most of these workers are employed in steel mills, where molten materials flow on refractory beds from furnaces to rolling machines. They also are employed at oil refineries, glass furnaces, incinerators and other locations requiring high temperatures during the manufacturing process.
After a structure is completed, there is often work that still needs to be done. Pointing, cleaning and caulking workers can be the final workers on a job or the primary workers on a restoration project. These workers usually replace bricks or make repairs to brickwork on older structures where mortar has come loose. Special care is taken not to damage the main structural integrity or the bricks, blocks or stone. Depending on how much mortar is being replaced, it may take several applications to allow the new mortar to cure properly. After laying the new bricks, the workers use chemicals to clean the brick and stone to give the structure a finished appearance.
Stonemasons build stone walls, as well as set stone exteriors and floors. They work with two types of stone ? natural-cut stone, such as marble, granite and limestone; and artificial stone, made from concrete, marble chips or other masonry materials. Masons use a special hammer and chisel to cut stone. They cut stone along the grain to make various shapes and sizes, and valuable pieces are often cut with a saw that has a diamond blade. Stonemasons often work from a set of drawings in which each stone has been numbered for identification. Helpers may locate and carry these prenumbered stones to the masons. A derrick operator using a hoist may be needed to lift large stone pieces into place.
When building a stone wall, masons set the first course of stones into a shallow bed of mortar. They then align the stones with wedges, plumb lines and levels, and work them into position with various tools. Masons continue to build the wall by alternating layers of mortar and courses of stone. As the work progresses, masons remove the wedges, fill the joints between stones and use a pointed metal tool, called a tuck pointer, to smooth the mortar to an attractive finish. To hold large stones in place, stonemasons attach brackets to the stones and weld or bolt these brackets to anchors in the wall. Finally, masons wash the stones with a cleansing solution to remove stains and dry the mortar.
When setting stone floors, which often consist of large and heavy pieces of stone, masons first use a trowel to spread a layer of damp mortar over the surface to be covered. They then use crowbars and hard rubber mallets for aligning and leveling to set the stone in the mortar bed. To finish, workers fill the joints and clean the stone slabs.
Some masons specialize in setting marble, which, in many respects, is similar to setting large pieces of stone. Brickmasons and stonemasons also repair imperfections and cracks and replace broken or missing masonry units in walls and floors.
Most nonresidential buildings are now built with walls made of some combination of any of the following: concrete block, brick veneer, stone, granite, marble, tile and glass. In the past, masons doing nonresidential interior work mainly built block partition walls and elevator shafts, but because many types of masonry and stone are used in the interiors of today's nonresidential structures, these workers now must be more versatile. For example, some brickmasons and blockmasons now install structural insulated concrete units and wall panels. They also install a variety of masonry anchors and other masonry-associated accessories used in many highrise buildings.