Brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons work in closely related trades creating attractive, durable surfaces and structures. The work varies in complexity, from laying a simple masonry walkway to installing an ornate exterior on a highrise building. Brickmasons and blockmasonswho often are called simply bricklayersbuild 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. Stonemasons build stone walls, as well as set stone exteriors and floors. They work with two types of stonenatural cut stone, such as marble, granite, and limestone; and artificial stone made from concrete, marble chips, or other masonry materials. Stonemasons usually work on nonresidential structures, such as houses of worship, hotels, and office buildings, but they also work on residences.
When building a structure, brickmasons use 1 of 2 methods, either the corner lead or the corner pole. Using the corner lead method, they begin by constructing a pyramid of bricks at each cornercalled a lead. After the corner leads are complete, less experienced brickmasons fill in the wall between the corners using a line from corner to corner to guide each course, or layer, of brick. Due to the precision needed, corner leads are time-consuming to erect and require the skills of experienced bricklayers.
Because of the expense associated with building corner leads, some brickmasons use corner poles, also called masonry guides, that enable them to build an entire wall at the same time. They fasten the corner poles (posts) in a plumb position to define the wall line and stretch a line between them. This line serves as a guide for each course of brick. Brickmasons then spread a bed of mortar (a cement, lime, sand, and water mixture) 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.
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, plumblines, and levels, and work them into position with a hard rubber mallet. 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 stone and weld or bolt these brackets to anchors in the wall. Finally, masons wash the stone with a cleansing solution to remove stains and dry 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. Using crowbars and hard rubber mallets for aligning and leveling, they then set the stone in the mortar bed. To finish, workers fill the joints and clean the stone slabs.
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 often are cut with a saw that has a diamond blade. 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 now are built with walls made of concrete block, brick veneer, stone, granite, marble, tile, or 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 wall panels and masonry accessories used in many highrise buildings.
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.
Brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons usually work outdoors, but in contrast to the past when work slowed down in the winter months, new processes and materials are allowing these masons to work in a greater variety of weather conditions. Masons stand, kneel, and bend for long periods and often have to lift heavy materials. Common hazards include injuries from tools and falls from scaffolds, but these can often be avoided when proper safety equipment is used and safety practices are followed.
Most brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons pick up their skills informally, observing and learning from experienced workers. Many others receive training in vocational education schools or from industry-based programs that are common throughout the country. Another way to learn these skills is through an apprenticeship program, which generally provides the most thorough training. Knowledge of algebra, geometry, and mechanical drawing are important in this trade.
Individuals who learn the trade on the job usually start as helpers, laborers, or mason tenders. These workers carry materials, move scaffolds, and mix mortar. When the opportunity arises, they learn from experienced craftworkers how to spread mortar, lay brick and block, or set stone. As they gain experience, they make the transition to full-fledged craftworkers. The learning period on the job may last longer than if trained in an apprenticeship program. Industry-based training programs offered through construction companies usually last between 2 and 4 years.
Apprenticeships for brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons usually are sponsored by local contractors, trade associations, or by local union-management committees. The apprenticeship program requires 3 years of on-the-job training, in addition to a minimum 144 hours of classroom instruction each year in subjects such as blueprint reading, mathematics, layout work, and sketching. Applicants for apprenticeships must be at least 17 years old and in good physical condition. A high school education is preferable with courses in mathematics, mechanical drawing, and shop helpful.
Apprentices often start by working with laborers, carrying materials, mixing mortar, and building scaffolds. This period generally lasts about a month and familiarizes the apprentice with job routines and materials. Next, apprentices learn to lay, align, and join brick and block. They may also learn on the job or before they are hired to work with stone and concrete, which enables them to work with more than one masonry material.
Bricklayers who work in nonresidential construction usually work for large contractors and receive well-rounded trainingnormally through apprenticeship in all phases of brick or stone work. Those who work in residential construction usually work primarily for small contractors and specialize in only one or two aspects of the job.
With additional training and experience, brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons may become supervisors for masonry contractors. Some eventually become owners of businesses employing many workers and may spend most of their time as managers rather than as brickmasons, blockmasons, or stonemasons. Others move into closely related areas such as construction management or building inspection.
Brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons held 177,000 jobs in 2004. The vast majority were brickmasons. Workers in these crafts are employed primarily by building, specialty trade, or general contractors. Brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons work throughout the country but, like the general population, are concentrated in metropolitan areas.
Nearly 1 out of 3 brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons are self-employed. Many of the self-employed are contractors that work on small jobs, such as patios, walkways, and fireplaces.
Job opportunities for brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons are expected to be very good through 2014. A large number of masons are expected to retire over the next decade and in some areas there are not enough applicants for the skilled masonry jobs to replace those that are leaving.
Jobs for brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons are also expected to increase about as fast as average for all occupations over the 2004-14 period, as population and business growth create a need for new houses, industrial facilities, schools, hospitals, offices, and other structures. Also stimulating demand will be the need to restore a growing stock of old masonry buildings, as well as the increasing use of brick and stone for decorative work on building fronts and in lobbies and foyers. Brick exteriors should remain very popular, reflecting a growing preference for durable exterior materials requiring little maintenance.
Employment of brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons, like that of many other construction workers, is sensitive to changes in the economy. When the level of construction activity falls, workers in these trades can experience periods of unemployment.
Median hourly earnings of brickmasons and blockmasons in May 2004 were $20.07. The middle 50 percent earned between $15.34 and $25.20. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.68, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $30.43. Median hourly earnings in the two industries employing the largest number of brickmasons in 2004 were $22.98 in the nonresidential building construction industry and $19.95 in the foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors industry.
Median hourly earnings of stonemasons in 2004 were $16.82. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.74 and $21.45. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.97, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27.23.
Earnings for workers in these trades can be reduced on occasion because poor weather and slowdowns in construction activity limit the time they can work. Apprentices or helpers usually start at about 50 percent of the wage rate paid to experienced workers. Pay increases as apprentices gain experience and learn new skills.
Some brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons are members of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsworkers.
For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities in these trades, contact local bricklaying, stonemasonry, or marble-setting contractors; the Associated Builders and Contractors; a local office of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsworkers; a local joint union-management apprenticeship committee; or the nearest office of the State employment service or apprenticeship agency. For overall information on apprenticeship programs registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, including links to State apprenticeship sites, see Internet: http://www.doleta.gov/atels_bat
For information on training for brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons, contact:
Associated Builders and Contractors, Workforce Development Division, 4250 North Fairfax Dr., 9th Floor, Arlington, VA 22203. Internet: http://www.trytools.org
International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, International Masonry Institute, The James Brice House, 42 East St., Annapolis, MD 21401. Internet: http://www.imiweb.org
National Association of Home Builders, Home Builders Institute, 1201 15th St. NW., Washington, DC 20005. Internet: http://www.hbi.org
National Center for Construction Education and Research, P.O. Box 141104, Gainesville FL 32614-1104. Internet: http://www.nccer.org
For general information about the work of bricklayers, contact:
Associated General Contractors of America, Inc., 2300 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 400, Arlington, VA 22201. Internet: http://www.agc.org
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,
Brickmasons, Blockmasons, and Stonemasons , on the Internet at
(visited June 21, 2006).