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Bricklayers and stonemasons work in closely related trades that produce attractive, durable surfaces and structures. The work they perform varies in complexity, from laying a simple masonry walkway to installing the ornate exterior of a high-rise building. Bricklayers build walls, floors, partitions, fireplaces, chimneys, and other structures with brick, precast masonry panels, concrete block, and other masonry materials. Some 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, such as marble, granite, and limestone, and artificial stone made from concrete, marble chips, or other masonry materials. Stonemasons usually work on structures such as houses of worship, hotels, and office buildings.
In putting up a wall, bricklayers build the corners of the structure first. Because of the necessary precision, these corner leads are very time consuming to erect and require the skills of the most experienced bricklayers on the job. After the corner leads are complete, less experienced bricklayers fill in the wall between the corners, using a line from corner to corner to guide each course or layer of brick. Because of the expense associated with building corner leads, an increasing number of bricklayers are using corner poles, also called masonry guides, that enable them to build the entire wall at the same time. They fasten the corner posts or poles in a plumb position to define the wall line and stretch a line between them. The line serves as a guide for each course of brick. Bricklayers then spread a bed of mortar (a cement, sand, and water mixture) with a trowel (a flat, bladed metal tool with a handle), place the brick on the mortar bed, and then press and tap it into place. As blueprints specify, they either cut brick with a hammer and chisel or saw them to fit around windows, doors, and other openings. Mortar joints are finished with jointing tools for a sealed, neat, and uniform appearance. Although bricklayers generally use steel supports or "lintels" at window and door openings, they sometimes build brick arches that support and enhance the beauty of the brickwork.
Bricklayers are assisted by hod carriers, or helpers, who bring brick and other materials, mix mortar, and set up and move the scaffolding.
Stonemasons often work from a set of drawings in which each stone has been numbered for identification. Helpers may locate and bring the prenumbered stones to the masons. A derrick operator using a hoist may be needed to lift large pieces into place.
When building a stone wall, masons set the first course of stones into a shallow bed of mortar. They align the stones with wedges, plumblines, and levels, and adjust them into position with a hard rubber mallet. Masons build the wall by alternating layers of mortar and courses of stone. As the work progresses, they remove the wedges and 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 them 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 trowel 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 wash the stone slabs.
Masons use a special hammer and chisel to cut stone. They cut it along the grain to make various shapes and sizes. 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. Bricklayers and stonemasons also repair imperfections and cracks or replace broken or missing masonry units in walls and floors.
Most nonresidential buildings are now built with prefabricated panels made of concrete block, brick veneer, stone, granite, marble, tile, or glass. In the past, bricklayers did mostly interior work, such as block partition walls and elevator shafts. Now they must be more versatile and work with many materials. For example, bricklayers now install lighter-weight insulated panels used in new skyscraper construction.
Refractory masons are bricklayers who specialize in installing firebrick and refractory tile in high-temperature boilers, furnaces, cupolas, ladles, and soaking pits in industrial establishments. Most work in steel mills, where molten materials flow on refractory beds from furnaces to rolling machines.
Bricklayers and stonemasons usually work outdoors. They 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 be avoided when proper safety practices are followed.
Bricklayers and stonemasons held about 147,000 jobs in 1994. The vast majority were bricklayers. Workers in these crafts are employed primarily by special trade, building, or general contractors. They work throughout the country but, like the general population, are concentrated in metropolitan areas.
Nearly three of every 10 bricklayers and stonemasons are self-employed. Many of the self-employed specialize in contracting on small jobs such as patios, walks, and fireplaces.
Most bricklayers and stonemasons pick up their skills informally by observing and learning from experienced workers. Many get training in vocational education schools. The best way to learn these skills, however, is through an apprenticeship program, which generally provides the most thorough training.
Individuals who learn the trade on the job usually start as helpers, laborers, or mason tenders. They carry materials, move scaffolds, and mix mortar. When the opportunity arises, they are taught to spread mortar, lay brick and block, or set stone. As they gain experience, they make the transition to full-fledged craft workers. The learning period generally lasts much longer than an apprenticeship program, however.
Apprenticeships for bricklayers and stonemasons usually are sponsored by local contractors 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.
Apprentices often start by working with laborers, carrying materials, mixing mortar, and building scaffolds. This period generally lasts about a month and familiarizes them with job routines and materials. Next, they learn to lay, align, and join brick and block. Apprentices also learn to work with stone and concrete. This enables them to be certified to work with more than one masonry material.
Applicants for apprenticeships must be at least 17 years old and in good physical condition. A high school education is preferable, and courses in mathematics, mechanical drawing, and shop are help- ful. The International Masonry Institute, a division of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen, operates training centers in several large cities that help job seekers develop the skills they will need to successfully complete the formal apprenticeship program.
Experienced workers can advance to supervisory positions or become estimators. They also can open contracting businesses of their own.
Job opportunities for skilled bricklayers and stonemasons are expected to be good as the growth in demand outpaces the supply of workers trained in this craft. Employment of bricklayers and stonemasons is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005, and additional openings will result from the need to replace bricklayers and stonemasons who retire, transfer to other occupations, or leave the trades for other reasons. However, the pool of young workers available to enter training programs will also be increasing slowly and many in that group are reluctant to seek training for jobs that may be strenuous and have uncomfortable working conditions.
Population and business growth will create a need for new factories, schools, hospitals, offices, and other structures, increasing the demand for bricklayers and stonemasons. Also stimulating demand will be the need to restore a growing stock of old masonry buildings, as well as the increasing use of brick for decorative work on building fronts and in lobbies and foyers. Brick exteriors should continue to be very popular as the trend continues toward more durable exterior materials requiring less maintenance. Employment of bricklayers who specialize in refractory repair will decline, along with employment in other occupations in the primary metal industries.
Employment of bricklayers 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 weekly earnings for bricklayers and stonemasons were about $486 in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $338 and $648 weekly. The highest 10 percent earned more than $830 weekly; the lowest 10 percent, less than $261. Earnings for workers in these trades may be reduced on occasion because poor weather and downturns in construction activity limit the time they can work.
In each trade, apprentices or helpers usually start at about 50 percent of the wage rate paid to experienced workers. This increases as they gain experience.
Some bricklayers and stonemasons are members of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen.
Bricklayers and stonemasons combine a thorough knowledge of brick, concrete block, stone, and marble with manual skill to erect very attractive yet highly durable structures. Workers in other occupations with similar skills include concrete masons, plasterers, terrazzo workers, and tilesetters.
For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities in these trades, contact local bricklaying, stonemasonry, or marble setting contractors; a local of the union listed above; a local joint union- management apprenticeship committee; or the nearest office of the State employment service or State apprenticeship agency.
For general information about the work of either bricklayers or stonemasons, contact:
International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen, International Masonry Institute Apprenticeship and Training, 815 15th St. NW., Suite 1001, Washington, DC 20005.
Information about the work of bricklayers also may be obtained from:
Associated General Contractors of America, Inc., 1957 E St. NW., Washington, DC 20006.
Brick Institute of America, 11490 Commerce Park Dr., Reston, VA 22091-1525.
Home Builders Institute, National Association of Home Builders, 1201 15th St. NW., Washington, DC 20005.
National Concrete Masonry Association, 2302 Horse Pen Rd., Herndon, VA 22071.
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