You've heard the saying "Don't sweat the small stuff." But as mason contractors and their crews do everything necessary to maintain their heavy machinery, the small stuff needs attention as well. Usually, washing tools and equipment with water after they're used keeps them looking and performing like new.
"The best way to keep the tools in top condition is to just clean them," says Steve Cook, sales and marketing manager for Kraft Tool Co. in Shawnee, Kan. "If you take care of your tools, they last longer, bringing value to the masons."
If mortar builds up on the tools and isn't cleaned off in a timely manner, special cleaners may be needed to get them clean again.
"Masonry contractors take great pride in the type of tools they use and how they care for them," he says. "The best way to care and clean masonry tools is to thoroughly clean them at the end of the day. When this care doesn't take place, the tools get caked with mortar and corrosion."
Most handheld masonry tools simply clean with water. "In most cases, nothing more than water is required to keep the tools in top condition," says John Wight, VP of sales for Bon Tool Co. in Gibsonia, Pa.
As mason contractors well know, sometimes water isn't enough. Wight says in those cases, masons should ask their local tool distributors about chemicals designed specifically to prevent mortar from sticking as well as to help with mortar removal.
"If mortar has hardened on the tools, and water is not sufficient to remove it, muriatic acid can be used to clean the tools," he says. "This acid can cause damage, so it should be used sparingly and rinsed off thoroughly. Muriatic acid is not safe on aluminum, zinc or stainless steel."
Shelly Carney, VP of Gatorback Mortarboards in Lakeville, Minn., says her company's mortarboards clean easily with water, which is usually all that is needed.
|Gator Mortarboard and Pan
"The mortarboard is designed to be maintenance free, other than a cleaning at the end of the day," Carney says. "If the mortar sits too long and builds up on the mortarboard, any kind of concrete dissolver will work to clean it."
A non-porous, smooth surface with a concave middle helps the mortarboard keep water in the mortar for greater workability, and the surface also simplifies cleaning, she says.
"Masonry mortar does not bond to the working surface," she says. "You might get a 1/8-inch thick skim coat, but it is easily removed by knocking the mortarboard on the ground or hitting it with a hammer," Carney says, noting that if water doesn't completely clean the surface, a heavy-duty cleaner will.
"Basically, you can use anything to clean our mortarboards. They're made from a special blend of polymer-based plastic materials, so it's not affected by muriatic acid or other cleaners."
Water is also the cleaning solution for larger tools, such as the "Hog" line of equipment from EZ Grout Corp. in Waterford, Ohio.
|EZ Grout Hog Trough and Cart
"Typically, all that is needed to clean the Hog Slopper, Hog Cart, Hog Trough, and the Booger Hog is water," says Damian Lang, company owner and president. "In regards to the Hog Slopper or Hog Cart, if there is dried-on material, then some scraping would be necessary."
Any dried material should fall out of the Hog Trough when the tub is turned over and tapped with the flat side of a hammer, he says.
"The Hog Trough is made from a special virgin polyethylene that has a nonstick surface," he says. "No scrapping is necessary. We recommend that the equipment is properly cleaned at the end of each day's use."
EZ Grout Hog Slopper
A few minutes of preventative maintenance with preservatives can keep wooden tools in top shape by preventing the wood from splitting.
"Linseed oil is recommended for wooden levels and wooden handles," Bon Tools' Wight says.Ê"Apply small amounts of the oil by hand with a cloth. The oil can be applied as often as the mason feels is necessary, based on the look of the wood."
Cook agrees, saying that a wood preservative like linseed oil will protect against splitting when the wood repeatedly gets wet from use on the masonry walls, and then dries out in the sun.
Although metal tools, such as trowels, are prone to rust, Cook says applying lubrication to the tools isn't necessary, since the rust will naturally wear off when the tools are used.
"When you're using a tool every day, that will keep the tool clean," he says.
Manheim, Penn.-based SLIP Industries manufacturers masonry joint cleaners for vertical, horizontal and V joints with virtually nothing to clean or service, so it's one less thing for contractors to worry about, says Charyl Dommel, owner of the company.
"There are no mechanical parts to it," Dommel says, adding that the carbide cutting slots are extremely tough and have lasted more than six years. "Carbide is one of the hardest materials. You don't wear it down very quickly."
The company's masonry wallscraper, used to remove excess mortar from block, has a seven-inch abrasive pad that needs to be replaced after cleaning about 3,500 to 5,000 square feet of block, she says. The pad costs $7 and is replaced by simply removing a wing nut.
Even the powder-coated aluminum handles on the joint cleaners and wallscrapers are easy to replace if they're accidentally run over on the jobsite by removing a couple of lag bolts and changing out the handle.
Routine service for handhelds
Tools that don't need regular cleaning still need routine service, especially if worn parts make the tools unusable or dangerous to workers. Particular care should be taken with striking tools, Bon Tools' Wight says.
"If a handle of a hammer becomes loose, it should be replaced immediately," he says. "Ideally, hammers should be sharpened by a blacksmith, since the temper of the hammer could be lost if it is ground on a wheel."
According to Barre, Vt.-based Trow & Holden Inc., masons should leave corners of carbide tools slightly beveled when grinding, since sharp or pointed carbide can break when used on harder stones.
|Trow and Holden Carbide Hammer Point
"Good maintenance of your carbide chisels lets you cut faster and more accurately. However, improper grinding can damage the carbide and cause tool failure," says the company. "Don't forget to grind the shank end or striking head frequently to maintain the correct 'as-new' shape for safe performance."
The company recommends sharpening chisel blades once masons need to work harder to achieve results; using bushing tools gently when they're new or newly sharpened; and allowing bushing tools to dull slightly before subjecting them to hard use. The company also advises masons to frequently check hammers for signs of chipping, cracking or unusual signs of wear to assure they're in safe working condition.
"If you need to tighten up a wooden handle, either insert another wedge into the end of the handle, or immerse the hammer head into a bucket of water overnight to expand the wood," says Trow & Holden.
|Trow and Holden Rock Pick
Transporting and storing tools is also important, especially for striking tools and tools with carbide tips, Wight says. Carbide can break when struck by another carbide tool.
"The best way to handle rusting is to prevent it," he says.Ê"Tools need to be kept clean and dry. It is best to store tools in an area that is not too humid [and avoid] where moisture tends to build up. For example, be careful if storing tools in a damp garage."
Maintain and service motorized products
Most of EZ Grout's masonry products don't need routine maintenance, but the Booger Hog is an exception. "We recommend two pumps of grease each week for the driveshaft to make sure that it is properly lubricated, and the motor will need brushes periodically," Lang says. "The only part that would need to be replaced regularly would be the diamond blades on the Booger Hog. How often would depend on the usage."
Other frequently used equipment also needs a squirt of grease, he says. "With a piece of equipment like the Mud Hog mixer, something that is used quite a bit, I would hose it, brush it down, and grease it at the end of the day, so it's ready to use the next day," he says.
On Lang's jobsites, the equipment operators are responsible for cleaning and servicing the equipment.
"It's their job at the end of the day to make sure that everything is clean, greased and ready to use when needed," Lang says. "It doesn't do anyone on the job any good if the tools aren't well cared for. In my 23 years of experience as a mason, I find that the best way to care for masonry tools is to make sure that they are properly cleaned at the end of the day. If time permits, I would try to clean the equipment after each use."
The BMD Minidumper, a four-wheel drive hauling machine powered by a 5.5-horsepower gasoline engine, from the Belle Group Inc. in Roanoke, Va., requires minimum, but periodic, maintenance.
"You have to change the engine oil about every 100 hours," says Nicholas Taylor, general manager for the company. "The rest of the engine basically just needs occasional maintenance."
The tires, which will last for several hundred hours, need to have the air pressure maintained, which requires regularly checking the pressure, Taylor says. A mason can change the Minidumper's flat bed to a bucket in a matter of minutes. The bucket and machine are also easy to clean.
"To clean it, tilt it forward and wash it out," he says. "It's very simple; very easy." Taylor says the equipment is designed for the rental market, so toughness and minimal maintenance are crucial.
"Basically, we manufacture our tools to survive rental," he says. "If they can survive rental, they can survive anything."
Taylor points out that equipment, as a whole, is getting more compact, so contractors can more easily use it on jobsites where they're pressed for space.
"Equipment is getting smaller to make it easier as cities are getting more congested," he says. "Contractors need products that are reliable and can do what used to be done by hand. The products have to be reliable, and they can't be less reliable than a big machine."
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