The question “what is masonry?” may not be something you’ve asked yourself. But the answer to the question opens the door to a pretty cool occupation.
Masons build stuff out of stones, blocks and bricks. These skilled craftspeople go by a variety of names — brick mason, bricklayer, block mason or stone mason, to name a few.
Masons build structural elements such as walls, chimneys, pathways and patios. When you think about it, they have a lot to do with creating a sense of place. They help define space.
Masonry is one of the world’s oldest skilled trades. Think of the pyramids. Humanity has marveled at these ancient structures for more than 4,000 years. The pyramids were constructed using masonry techniques, and they’re still around. And the ruins of stone walls that were built by masons thousands of years ago are all that’s left of ancient civilizations.
So as a masonry worker, you can be extremely proud of the history of your trade. You can also count on the fact that the stuff you build will stick around for a long, long time. (Motivation to do your best on the job!)
Some brick masons specialize in “refractory masonry.” These masons work with brick and tile that are specially made to withstand very high temperatures. Refractory masons install these materials in high-temp environments like furnaces and boilers. Refractory masons are in great demand to help build out industrial structures such as factories and mills.
Other brick masons specialize in repairing and restoring old brick buildings, maintaining and beautifying the original structure while repairing any missing mortar or loose bricks. With so many cities and towns across Georgia reclaiming historic brick buildings and rebuilding downtown areas, these craftspeople play an important role in preserving Georgia’s architectural and cultural history.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A MASONRY WORKER IN GEORGIA
It’s a lot more than mixing up some mortar! You will:
- Read architectural drawings and blueprints to determine what materials are needed
- Cut or break bricks that need to be a smaller size (sometimes using cool power tools)
- Mix grout or mortar (the “glue” that holds bricks and blocks together)
- Work with a straight edge to create a foundation or decorative patterns
- Apply grout and mortar, then remove the excess with a trowel
- Use levels and bobs to make sure lines and corners are straight and even
- Clean and polish finished surfaces
- Make adjustments to joints as they settle or expand, so they still look nice and straight
- Keep your equipment clean and in good condition
WHAT IT TAKES TO BECOME A MASONRY WORKER
This is what experienced pros in the trade say you’ll need to be:
- Creative. With masonry work, it’s especially important that your finished work is attractive and pleasing to the eye. The final look of the stonework or brickwork really depends on the skill and judgment of the craftsperson. So it helps to think of yourself as an artisan, someone who enjoys the challenge of building something that’s visually appealing.
- Strong. As a stone mason, you need to lift at least 50 pounds, because you have to carry heavy tools, bags of mortar, grout and large stones or concrete slabs. The good news: You’ll build up plenty of upper-body strength carting around piles of bricks. (Masons only need to hit the gym on leg day!) Masonry is an active, physical job where you need to work at a steady pace all day long.
- Able to see colors. To create decorative patterns with stones or bricks, you need to notice even minor variations in shades of color.
- Math-friendly. Mixing the grout and mortar is kind of like using a recipe. You have to calculate – sometimes on the fly – to ensure proper proportions. You also must figure out how many bricks, stones or blocks you need. And what size a brick or block should be, so you can cut or break it to the right size.
IS THIS YOU?
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you decide whether masonry work is right for you.
- Masons bring their own set of skills and talents to the construction site. As the experts in this particular aspect of the project, they get to manage the job the way they think is best. You can work independently and make your own decisions.
- Masonry can be a creative outlet. You get to work with different natural materials and many shades and colors to contribute to one of the most aesthetically pleasing parts of a building, structure or park. You are always learning new techniques and improving your craft.
- As a mason, you usually work outside. You’ll have to deal with days that are too hot or too cold for most people. Construction sites tend to be dirty places — and muddy when it rains.
- Masons get injured more than the average worker, usually muscle strains or cuts from tools. Protective gear will improve your health and safety.
A FEW DETAILS OF INTEREST
How much do brick masons and block masons make?
The average annual salary for brick masons and block masons in Georgia is $36,530 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2016).
How do you become a brick or block mason?
Most masonry workers learn through an apprenticeship program. The apprenticeship lasts three to four years. Each year you’ll get at least 144 hours of book learning and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. Instead of taking on student loans, you can get paid to learn your trade. That’s a pretty good deal!
During the apprenticeship, you’ll learn stuff like how to read blueprints, follow building codes, “math for masons” and more.
You need to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. And as mentioned above, you need to be strong enough to haul those bricks.
Some masons also study the trade at a technical college, which is usually a one-year or two-year program (see below!).
FIND A MASONRY SCHOOL OR APPRENTICESHIP
APPLY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP
If you’re a high school senior and want to study masonry work at one of Georgia’s technical colleges, why not apply for a Trade Five Scholarship? OK! Bring on the application >
OUTLOOK FOR MASONRY WORKERS
Masonry work is expected to be in high demand, with job growth of 15% from 2014 to 2024. Employment in this trade is growing much faster than other occupations.
DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME
Want to see a master stonemason split a huge block in half, using just a hammer and a set of chisels? We did. (It was awesome.)
LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
Download this handy PDF for some facts on-the-go.