The three key types of stonemasonry are:
Banker Mason: These masons are generally based in workshops and cut, carve and shape stone, using a variety of hand and power tools. They work to briefs, from builders or other designers, to make stones the correct size and shape for use elsewhere.
Fixer Mason: Fixers travel to jobs to fit and lay pre-prepared stone or cladding for buildings, following blueprints. They also repair, replace and restore existing stonework. Specialising in fixing often heavy stone permanently onto building structures with mortar or specialist fittings is highly dangerous and skilled work.
Memorial Mason: Memorial masons carve into stone, notably for things like gravestones, headstones, statues, plaques and memorials. They are used by councils and local government, funeral parlours, crematoriums and suchlike to fashion intricate words and messages.
Being good with your hands is the key skill of any stonemason. You will be using a range of different tools each with their own power levels, on a number of different rocks and materials, each with their own properties. Stonemasonry requires strength and dexterity, excellent co-ordination and a delicate touch.
An artistic eye and a creative mind are important, which can be developed during the course. You will often need to draw complex designs to scale, as well as read, understand and follow accurately technical blueprints and instructions from builders and architects.
You will also want to develop your own style of work. In exactly the same way that if you gave two painters the exact same brushes, paints and canvases and told them to paint the exact same image, the work will be different with distinguishing features unique to each painter. Give two masons the same tools, stone, and brief, and the work will have subtle differences. These are prized and being able to specialise in certain work, with a particular style, is important and will help see you ‘carve’ out a good career.
While fixer masons, banker masons and memorial masons are the three main types of stonemason, there are a number of other forms of masonry which you can read about below. In many cases, work between the different types can overlap.
Quarryman: a stonemason in the most basic sense of the word. They work in a quarry to extract rough chunks of stone which are then moved on to be refined for use elsewhere. This could be granite, marble, limestone or flint, or for more basic materials commonly used like sand and gravel. Heavy machinery and even explosives are often used to split sheets of rock in order to get at it. The industry employs 30,000 people across the UK in a huge variety of roles and support. It is even more, indirectly, through the industry’s spending on related services. There are over 2000 quarries and associated manufacturing sites in the UK, as well as marine wharves and recycling operations. Careers in Quarrying has an extensive career map to jobs in this sector for school leavers, post-college students, graduates and those considering a career change.
Sawyer Mason: like banker masons, sawyers take rough chunks of stone and refine them to meet required shapes. Generally, they will deal with larger chunks than banker masons, using diamond-tipped tools. Often working in quarries and in flooring and tile shops, they will have the skills to determine where stones will cleave by examining grain patterns; know how to remove smaller pieces from large masses; be able to carve precise outlines; drill holes into them; and use chisels to fashion the thinner sheets used to make floors and tops in kitchens, as an example.
Carver Mason: in demand for their artistic abilities, carver masons are employed to create patterns and designs on or from stones. This could be stone sculptures like animals, figures or other similar projects. Throughout time, carver masons have been renowned for their skills.
Individuals hire stonemasons for masonry on their private properties or for the building of new homes. Cathedrals, castles and nationwide organisations like the National Trust regularly employ stonemasons for projects. Self-employed masons will have their own workshops and tools, and will have to actively advertise, look and compete for jobs with others. Larger construction or specialist companies may employ or sub-contract stonemasons.
Construction in the UK is forecast to need one million more people by 2020, and those in the business have long warned of a skills shortage in the sector. Hungry, passionate and skilled people are in demand and experienced stonemasons can put their skills to good use. Larger companies will look to promote masons they know well.
You could progress up the ladder to supervisory roles, managing a team of masons, or right the way up to site supervisor or clerk of works where you would be responsible for the whole site. Masons can work in related fields like becoming a construction manager responsible for planning, coordinating, budgeting, and supervising whole building projects from development to completion. Likewise, masons can move into building estimating where you would quantify the materials, labour, and equipment needed to complete a project. Building estimating is diverse and could mean anything from big restoration works to the construction of large residential properties to civil engineering works.
With a construction boom across major cities in the UK, not to mention huge restoration projects costing over £5.5 billion being touted, these are a few examples of the fantastic career opportunities that exist for masons. It is also not uncommon to see masons give up their work and, with further training, return to colleges or training centres to teach the next generation, depending on aptitude and ambitions.
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