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Bull of the Woods

'Tis the season for making promises to be A) kept or B) ignored. It's also the season for planning the business moves that will, we hope, keep the profits up and the costs down. As we have heard repeatedly in the news, there are changes coming in a variety of regulations and laws in 2005 and beyond — so many that even the smallest companies should consider getting professional assistance in meeting the new requirements. We are, after all, not all experts in everything.

What we are experts in is the work we do for a living. And even then, there is a constant need for training, learning and reviewing of our knowledge base so we can keep up with changes in our profession. Where the tax guy uses volumes of book on law and regulation, a computer and software designed to find every advantage for the client, and stacks of paper and files to do his or her job, masons and mason contractors depend on harder tools. And while the requirements those tools must meet are "fixed in stone" after hundreds of years of development, new technology and manufacturing methods can often make subtle changes in how the tools are designed and made.

One long-standing tradition in any craft field has been that the person using the tool knows more about what is needed than someone sitting in an office or studio thinking about what is needed. The bruised knuckles and skinned shins of the daily user often paint a different picture of how to use a tool than the sophisticated design software residing on a computer somewhere.

The aesthetic approach to design can make a tool that looks so pretty it belongs in an art gallery. The frustrated user who can't get a grip on that tool in cold weather because of a fancy surface will probably agree that a gallery is the only place it should be seen.

Some contractors have met this challenge by designing and even building their own equipment and tools. A near legend in the masonry business is Damian Lang of Lang Masonry Contractors, Inc., and EZ Grout Corporation. But many others have contributed to the usability of daily tools with less visibility. After the centuries that masonry has been around, and the high standards that have come about for the tools of the trade, big changes are unlikely. Even some that have come about from the introduction of new technology — the laser level comes to mind — are not really changing the way we work as much as changing the tools with which we do our jobs. Is it better to spend hundreds of dollars on a laser to do what has been done with a chalk line for hundreds of years?

Where we most often see the changes today are in the details. These are the little things that make the job easier, the tools more durable, the work more accurate or faster. And the big challenge might be in finding out about these small, incremental and yet important advances. Obviously, Masonry can help by bringing new products to your attention, but frankly, there are so many things going on in the business that our magazine would have to be the size of a telephone book to cover everything.

Another venue for information is the classic trade show route. January brings one of the two major masonry shows, World of Masonry, to Las Vegas; in April, MCAA's Masonry Showcase will be co-located in Chicago with the huge Construct America show. And in between is a show that comes but once every three years, Con/Agg. If you do concrete and infrastructure work as well as masonry, Con/Agg in Las Vegas is a must-do show. Masonry, of course, will be at all three so while you are traveling the aisles, look for our banner.

And even while you are complaining about your sore feet, be on the lookout for some of the new innovative tools that, perhaps not world shaking, will make your job, and that of your masons, easier in 2005. A little bit better might be all you need to be a lot better at what you do.






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