Masons are craftspeople who create long-lasting interior and exterior structures made with mortar and bricks, concrete blocks, cinder blocks, glass blocks, terra cotta blocks, marble, granite, and/or stone. Their work varies in complexity, from the straightforward task of laying a simple masonry walkway to the intricate task of installing an ornate interior or exterior on a high rise building. There are two main types of masons. Brick and blockmasons are one type, and stonemasons are the other.
- Brickmasons and blockmasons are often called bricklayers because they frequently spend much of their time building or repairing walls, floors, partitions, fireplaces, chimneys, and other structures with brick, precast masonry panels, concrete block, and other masonry materials.
- Many brickmasons choose to specialize in a particular type of masonry work, such as residential projects or large-scale projects involving public buildings. Some brickmasons specialize in installing firebrick and refractory tile in high temperature boilers or industrial furnaces.
- These workers are called refractory masons, and generally work in steel mills, oil refineries, incinerators, and other high-temperature locations.
Brickmasons must be skilled at measuring distances from reference points, marking guidelines to lay out work, using plumb bobs and levels, calculating angles and determining the horizontal alignment of each course of bricks or blocks, and, most importantly, creating corner leads. Lines are drawn connecting the corner leads to show where each line of brick will be placed. The bricks are placed in a bed of mortar, which is a mixture of water and sand that hardens when it dries. Masons may use chisels or saws to cut a brick so it will fit neatly.
Stonemasons build stone walls and set stone exteriors and floors. They use many types of stone, including natural cut stone such as granite, limestone, and marble, as well as man-made stone constructed from materials such as concrete, bits of marble, etc. Working with both natural and artificial stones, stonemasons use special hammers and chisels to cut the stones into specific shapes and sizes. Then, stonemasons use drawings to direct the placement of the stones into a mortar bed. Wedges hold the stones in place, plumb lines and levelers are used to set the stones in a straight line, and rubber mallets are used to hammer them into place. Some large stones may have to be bolted into place as well.
Most masons receive their training on the job. Some attend vocational schools or courses and others become apprentices. Those who start with on-the-job training will usually begin as a laborer, a mason tender, or an assistant to an experienced worker. They carry workers’ materials, move or assemble scaffolds, and mix mortar. As they gain experience they learn how to spread the mortar, lay brick and block, or set stone, eventually graduating to more difficult tasks and finally becoming a craftworker. The learning period usually lasts longer for workers who learn the trade on the job than for those who have already been trained in an apprenticeship program.
- Apprenticeships lasting up to three years are offered by local contractors, unions, or trade associations. In addition to on-the-job training, apprentices are required to complete 144 hours of classroom instruction each year in blueprint reading, mathematics, layout work, sketching, and other subjects. To allow apprentices to become certified in multiple areas, training includes learning how to lay block; lay mortar; cut, align, and connect brick or block; and use stone and concrete.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook expects average employment growth for masons of about 12 percent over the next 10 years. While all jobs in the construction industry are sensitive to economic fluctuations, job opportunities for brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons will likely increase because the growing population will create a need for schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, and other structures. Additional demand will be created as people begin to build more energy-efficient industrial and commercial buildings and restore a growing number of older brick buildings. As the residential housing market picks up, the durability of brick and stone exteriors will make them popular.
Approximately one in three masons is self-employed. Salaries vary depending upon experience and specialty. The median hourly wage for brickmasons and blockmasons is $21.94. The middle 50 percent earn between $16.77 and $28.46 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $13.26 per hour and the highest 10 percent earn more than $35.63 an hour. The median hourly wage for stonemasons is $18.17. The middle 50 percent earn between $14.31 and $23.72 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $11.63 and the highest 10 percent earn more than $31.87. Apprentices or helpers usually start at about 50 percent of the rate paid to experienced workers. As they gain experience and learn new skills, their wages generally increase.