Stone cutters process or shape crude and rough pieces of rocks into desirable shape, sizes and patterns for the purpose of building and creating structures. An occupation that existed since the dawn of civilization, stone masonry was born when people began fashioning homes for themselves built with mud, straw or stone. During the Neolithic Age, people learned how to use fire and subsequently created quicklime, mortars and plasters. By using these to cement stones together, they went on to create buildings, structures and sculptures. Some of these structures are still wholly or partly standing today. It is a fact that stone masonry is as ancient as civilization itself. Throughout the ages, these impressive works of architecture and engineering of the ancient world were heavily dependent upon the work of stone masons. From the Egyptian and Mayan pyramids, to the Persian palaces and Greek temples and down to the Roman Colosseum, the significant contribution of stone masonry to these engineering marvels is plainly evident.
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Stone cutters or stone masons build stone walls, floors, interiors and exteriors of private homes, buildings and other structures, such as stone piers, arches, sills, steps and hearths. They work with both natural and artificial stones. The natural stones are marble, granite, sandstone and limestone while the artificial stones are made of cement and cement mixed with marble chips and other masonry materials. Masons are highly skilled worker who meticulously follow the blueprint of an architectural or engineering design of a building or other structures in construction.
A stone cutter is a broad term that includes any or all of the following: stone mason, brick mason, block mason or simply mason. Stone masonry workers are further subdivided into several specialized area of expertise, including:
Quarrymen split masses of rocks underground and haul it to the surface.
Stone sawyers cuts rough blocks of rocks into cubes for futher processing.
Banker masons carve stones into intricate geometrical pattern for use in a building's architectural design.
Stone carvers sculp stones into artistic forms such as figurines or abstract designs.
Fixer masons are specialists who fix stone unto buildings using a lifting tackle and cement it in place using mortars, grout, cements, etc.
Memorial masons carve tombstones and inscriptions.
Available training for aspiring masons included college-level diploma programs, associate degree programs, formal apprenticeship, and informal training on the job. Informal learning however, cannot be awarded with a diploma or certification since it usually takes place outside educational institutions and does not follow any specified curriculum.
Diploma Programs - These programs are offered by technical colleges and lasts for about a year. Students are awarded with a diploma upon completion. Courses include college work where students learn building, hewing and theory work involved in masonry with on-site learning experience and hands on workshop. May also include estimating, applied communication and specialized masonry.
Associate Degree Programs - Masonry is either offered as an associate of applied science degree or as an associate in occupational studies. The former requires the student to take general education courses while the latter only include courses in masonry and construction. May also emphasizes managerial skills to prepare students for advance position in the field. Diploma and associate degree programs are intended for unemployed masons as well as professionals seeking additional training and experience.
Formal Apprenticeship - Formal apprenticeship is sponsored by labor unions or industry groups consists of three years of on-the-job training with four hundred hours of classroom instructions, after which, they will be awarded a certification upon completion. This requires working full-time at a contract company, where apprentices work in the field during the day and take courses at night in a classroom setting. Applicants for this program should be at least seventeen years of age and in good physical condition.
Masons with informal training learn their skills on the job. They start out by working as helpers for experienced craft workers. These are mostly self-employed and own their own business. Since they still need more training to earn a diploma or certification, they must weigh their options carefully when deciding which training program to choose. They should opt for the practical, industry-related skills covered in the curriculum offered. They could also opt for training programs that offer drafting and blueprint reading should they aspire to advance to a supervisory or managerial positions.
Masons usually work in and around construction sites. Being outdoors most of the time, they are often prey to poor weather and climate condition. Generally, they work forty hours a week and earn extra pay for overtime, holidays and weekend work. Their task is physically taxing and demanding as they often lift heavy materials, and stand, bend or kneel for long periods of time. The workplace is also hazardous as they usually work from an elevated position, and falling from heights or scaffolding is not uncommon. Even lifting and moving heavy objects could cause back pains and other musculoskeletal problems.
The average annual income is $46,930 for brick masons and block masons and $37,180 for stone masons (as of May, 2010). Employment is estimated to increase by 40% beginning from 2010 and all the way to 2020. As populations increase, so does the need for apartments, schools and hospitals and other structures.