Brickmasons, Blockmasons, and Stonemasons
- Job prospects are expected to be very good.
- Most entrants learn informally on the job, but apprenticeship
programs provide the most thorough training.
- The work is usually outdoors and involves lifting heavy materials
and working on scaffolds.
- Nearly 1 out of 3 are self-employed.
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 blockmasons—who often are called simply bricklayers—build
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 stone—natural 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 corner—called
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
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.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
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 training—normally
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
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.
Brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons combine a thorough
knowledge of brick, concrete block, stone, and marble with manual
skill to erect attractive, yet highly durable, structures. Workers
in other occupations with similar skills include carpet, floor,
and tile installers and finishers; cement masons, concrete finishers,
segmental pavers, and terrazzo workers; and plasterers and stucco
|Sources of Additional Information
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
- Associated Builders and Contractors, Workforce Development
Division, 4250 North Fairfax Dr., 9th Floor, Arlington, VA 22203.
- 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/
- Brick Industry Association, 11490 Commerce Park Dr., Reston,
VA 22091-1525. Internet: http://www.brickinfo.org/
- National Concrete Masonry Association, 13750 Sunrise Valley
Dr., Herndon, VA 20171-3499. Internet: http://www.ncma.org/
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition