All in the Blue Collar Family: Mason


Many of the world’s oldest structures still in existence have at least one thing in common – they are mostly made from some variation of stone. Masons have been harnessing the strength of this material for millenia, constructing beautiful and durable buildings, monuments, and infrastructure using their unique knowledge and skills.

When you look at iconic structures such as the Egyptian Pyramids, the Colosseum in Rome, the Taj Mahal in India, and the Great Wall of China that were first constructed thousands of years ago, you probably can’t help but wonder how they are possibly still standing strong after all this time.

Their impressive sturdiness is thanks to masonry, which combines the durability of some of nature’s toughest materials and the talents of skilled artisans to create some of the world’s longest-lasting structures.

History of Masonry

Thousands of years ago, as humans began settling into more permanent man-made shelters, they experimented with ways to build residences that were as protective and durable as the rare natural caves they sometimes lived in. Naturally, they first turned to using stone, strategically assembling piles into huts and developing some of the earliest stone masonry techniques. Soonthereafter, they started using clay mixed with straw and grass to create uniformly-shaped bricks that were initially baked in the sun, but eventually shifted to being fired in kilns to improve durability.

As building techniques continued to evolve, the art of masonry experienced a significant development with the invention of concrete by the Romans. By mixing cement made out of volcanic ash with water, lime, and stone fragments, they created a material that was faster and cheaper to make, and provided more flexibility in shapes, such as arches. Ever since, masonry has remained a valuable method of construction, as it offers unique aesthetic appeal with its colors, textures, and patterns, and also functional benefits such as sound control, fire resistance, and temperature regulation.

The Role of Masons

Masonry is generally considered to be the art of building different types of structures such as walls, sidewalks, and chimneys using brick, concrete, stone, or other similar materials. It is a skilled trade that requires knowledge of how to use proper tools and techniques to effectively arrange and bind pieces together for secure assembly.

What Masons Do

While all masons need to know the basics of reading blueprints, mixing and preparing materials, and using the proper tools, there are a variety of types of projects one may work on. A few common jobs masons perform are:

  1. Building Construction: A classic application for masonry work is in the construction of both residential and commercial properties, as most start with a concrete foundation in the walls and floors. Masons may also be tasked with assembling other features such as brick exteriors or stone fireplaces.
  1. Essential Infrastructure: Masons are often responsible for constructing pieces of critical infrastructure such as bridges, tunnels, and retaining walls, which require significant expertise to ensure they can be used safely and will hold up over a long period of time.
  1. Concrete Finishing: Masons that specialize in cement may take on a variety of commercial and residential projects that involve meticulous finishing work. They use specific tools and techniques to pour, level, and create decorative effects on surfaces such as sidewalks, driveways, patios, and other concrete surfaces.
  1. Restoration and Renovation: Older and historic buildings and monuments sometimes need extra care and attention to maintain their appearance and structural integrity. Masons who work on these types of projects must be familiar with older materials, techniques, and architecture and have a strong attention to detail.
  1. Maintenance and Repairs: Over time, structures can begin to deteriorate, and require cleaning and repairs. Masons are often in charge of conducting inspections and performing maintenance such as removing dirt and stains, reinforcing joints and weak spots, and applying sealants and protective coatings.

Becoming a Mason

To learn the masonry trade, it typically takes about three to four years to complete the required training to be eligible to begin working independently. The path to becoming a professional mason often includes:

  1. Education: In general, the only requirements for beginning training are being at least 18 years old and having a high school diploma or equivalent. While no other formal education is usually necessary, a prospective mason may be asked to complete an aptitude test to ensure the trade is a good fit.
  1. Apprenticeship: The most significant step is completing an apprenticeship, which combines classroom instruction and hands-on training with an experienced mason. These programs are typically sponsored by an employer or union and include lessons about topics such as reading blueprints, construction math, and the history of the trade.
  1. Licensing and Certifications: In some states, masons may be required to have a license to work professionally, which might include passing an exam and providing references. More experienced masons sometimes also choose to earn additional certifications to enhance their reputation with customers by providing proof of their high levels of knowledge and experience.
  1. Beginning Work: Once an individual has achieved the necessary qualifications, they can begin working as a journeyman mason. They may sometimes continue with the employer from their apprenticeship or find new jobs through the union and other postings.
  1. Continued Experience: After a few years on the job, a mason can become a master tradesman once they have gained enough experience, allowing them to train apprentices. They may also choose to specialize in a specific type of work or start their own business.

An essential part of the construction trade, masonry has remained a vital component of building durable structures throughout the course of history. Masons use their unique knowledge and skills to build the lasting foundations of our society, and their work will continue to be around for many generations to come.

To learn about other jobs in the blue-collar family, check out these articles about plumbers, electricians, and welders.

For more articles From the Plant, check out our blog.

More From The Plant: