A stonemason is an individual who takes rough pieces of rock or stone, and shapes it into geometric shapes as dictated by the builder, and then, using these shaped stones together with cement or lime stone mortar, creates structures and/or works of art. These structures include monuments, buildings, cathedrals, tombstones, etc.
Brilliant, beautifully crafted, exquisite and magnificent are just some of the words used to describe the work done by those who have successfully mastered the art of stonemasonry. Masons take great pride in being able to produce beautiful yet functional work that is uniquely suited for each individual client.
Some of the greatest pieces of art and most notable structures were created by stonemasonry workers. Some of the more popular stonemasonry works include the Easter Island statues, Taj Mahal, Stonehenge, the Egyptian Pyramids, and Chartres Cathedral.
There are several types of masonry jobs available, so what one does as a mason will depend on the interests of that individual. 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 saws that are diamond-tipped. Banker masons take these stones into their workshop and further shape the stones into to 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.
Carver masons use 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 to building structures using various forms of epoxy resins and/or cement. This is a highly dangerous and skilled position requiring precise tolerances and work at high altitudes, all while manipulating very heavy pieces of stone using tackle lift systems. The last masonry job is the memorial mason. Their job is to create tombs or gravestones and inscribe on them.
Masons also set the horizontal and vertical alignment of the structures they are working on using gauge lines, levels, and plumb bob. With the help of staked lines, rules and a straight edge they lay out the foundation and wall patterns. Smoothing out defective or rough spots by using a hammer, chisel and power grinder, and repairing chipped or cracked stone using a blowtorch, are also the job of a mason. When working on monuments, a mason will sometimes have to see to the removal of parts of the monument from the bed of trucks carrying them, and then guide it to the foundation using cranes, hoists, or even skids. Masons will also make parts of the structure by filling molds with a stone composition mixture.
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In order to excel at a career in stonemasonry, one must be able to work with a wide variety of stone, from the soft brittle limestone to the tough, hard granite. Even though it is not required, a love of stone and art would be helpful as well. A person seeking a career as a mason must be able to work long periods in the heat of the sun while lifting heavy objects and using heavy machinery.
Basic math skills, being reasonably physically fit, and decent hand-eye coordination are also requirements of someone wanting to be a mason. Being able to work for extended periods of time while high up in the air is a must as well. A mason must undergo very detailed training both in the field and in the classroom, gaining intricate knowledge of each type of stone, what each stone is best used for, and how to work with and place, each type of stone.
A typical mason will have a four-year apprenticeship with an experienced tradesman. The apprenticeship includes on-site hands-on training, and college work where the overall experience of hewing, theoretical, and building work involved in becoming a mason is given to the apprentices. Some colleges offer courses in drafting and reading blueprints, which can be a nice plus for a would-be mason. Schools like Tallahassee Community College in Tallahassee, Florida, Orange Coast Community College in Costa Mesa, California, and Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa all offer courses in masonry.
A mason’s workplace is generally outdoors and relatively hazardous, making hard hats and caution extremely important, although some masons do spend sometime in a mason’s shop. Various advancements in masonry technology allow modern-day masons to work outside in varying weather conditions. Masons often work on scaffolds high in the air for extended periods of time. Carrying heavy materials over rough terrain is also part of the mason’s environment.