Good quality tools that are developed specifically for stone masonry are much more expensive than similar brick-working tools. David Rael, president of Rael Inc., distributors of the Rhino Tool line, explains, "Chisels with carbide bits are the best for working with hard stone. Our customers tell us that using our carbide tip chisels saves 50 percent in labor compared to using standard steel chisels."
Carbide-tipped chisels are constructed in two different ways. The carbide bit can be braised or butt-welded directly to the tip of the chisel often resulting in tool failure because the carbide bit has little support when being struck against a stone. Tools with the carbide tip recessed into a groove at the tip of the chisel are of better quality because the sides of the carbide bit are protected, and the bit is less likely to break off or fracture.
Rael notes another difference: "We make the part of the chisel that you hold on to, called the body, in two styles: a round body for most average sized hands our best seller and an oval body more suitable for large or extra large hands."
A common problem that stonemasons face is injury from missing the chisel when striking it with a hammer, and instead striking their hand. Chisel manufactures have developed rubber guards that are mounted to the back of their chisels to eliminate this problem, but carbide tip chisels do not have this guard added; the rubber guard is very awkward and gets in the way of the user's view of the work.
Rael comments, "We sell a round hammer, which greatly decreases the problem of the mason striking his own hand. It is very similar to a wood carvers hammer but developed for stone. The head is bell-shaped and gives a much larger striking area for contacting the chisel. This hammer design also reduces fatigue on the user's arm because of its design: the weight of the hammer head is central to the handle versus a double ended hammer that has weight placed on both sides of the handle, a style that creates a 'wobbling' effect and an excessive amount of fatigue to the user's forearm."
Like stone working chisels, stone working hammers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most stonemasons who use a hammer all day to shape stone prefer a three or four pound hammer. Larger hammers up to 24 pounds are used to do initial splitting and shaping of large boulders. Once they are reduced to smaller, more manageable sized pieces, hammers and chisels come into play for the finished product.
"Rhino stone hammers are made in very small batches, usually 25 to 50 at a time," claims Rael. "Our hammers are fired in a small oven, which evenly distributes and concentrates the proper heat to a smaller area. We 'Thru-Harden' each head the same hardness is through the entire thickness of the hammer's head. Our hammers can be sharpened on a bench grinder for maintenance, and as long as the user does not overheat the steel, the hardness is not damaged and the hammer will continue to keep a very strong sharpened edge. We suggest to have a bucket of water close by and dip the hammer head to keep the steel cool while it is being sharpened."
Bricklayers use a jointer to finish the mortar "joint" between bricks or concrete blocks as they lay up a wall. The curved surface of the blade is run along the still damp, pliable mortar to press a smooth concave finish into the joint. A smooth finished joint is important for a consistent, architecturally pleasing appearance and also to help prevent water from penetrating the mortar and deteriorating the integrity of the finished masonry wall.
The jointer from Hubbard Jointers, Inc., Cheney, Wash., is a professional tool that helps accomplish professional results. The tools fit the hand comfortably and are angled to help keep the mason's knuckles above the work. The wear surfaces of the jointer are tubular steel blades heat-treated to careful specifications. The blades are very hard and wear far longer than most other jointers. Wear is distributed during use by giving the blade an occasional turn. A worn blade is replaced by removing it and screwing on a replacement.
Replacement blades are available in four sizes, a variety that allows the mason to adjust his Hubbard Jointer to jobsite conditions that require various joint depths without having to purchase different tools for each application. The four replacement blade sizes are fully interchangeable, allowing for complete versatility on the job. Each Hubbard Jointer is assembled with a 7/8" and a 3/4" diameter blade. There is an extra 1/2" and 5/8" diameter blade included with each packaged Jointer.
Hubbard Jointers Inc. also provides a tool masons refer to as a sled runner. The sled runner is used in the same manner as the jointer. The difference is the length of the blade. The blades are longer than each individual masonry unit (brick). The sled runner is used on the long horizontal mortar joint and helps produce a more uniform finish on the joint by overlapping the individual brick correcting any slight variations in the horizontal joint.
Mason's Grade Pole
Tom Black, a third-generation mason contractor, remembers the days before the laser came along when he and his father set the grades for masonry walls in Las Vegas, Nev. "I was always the one who had to stand at the staking point and hold the tape measure while dad looked through the old transit level and read the numbers on the tape," he recalls. "That number became the starting point for establishing the height of the first course of blocks. Most of the walls were built with standard eight-inch high blocks. The problem came about if we had to step the wall up or down because then we had to add or subtract in eight-inch multiples. A story pole would have been nice but impossible to use over and over again because the elevation of the first row of blocks in the foundation and the elevation of the transit level never matched from job to job. So we just used the tape and transit system."
Setting the level lines for the wall was always exasperating to Black. "Using the old transit system on some of the 1000 foot long walls we were doing, we would have to move the level every 200 feet. When you are trying to hold the tape measure securely to the metal stake and extend it high enough for the person looking through the level to see the numbers, it can get difficult. This is especially true when the wind is blowing and you are down in a ditch and unable to look at the grade stake and the person shooting the grade at the same time. Exasperating to say the least especially when it is nine in the morning and 105 degrees and the concrete truck just pulled up with a 12-yard load."
Then the laser system came along. "It was like a miracle, we could actually leave the laser at the same location for almost the entire length of the wall," Black says. "The laser did make things a lot easier, but not easy enough. Two years ago I had enough of the old way of setting the grades. The typical 1x2x72 inch wood stick with our story marks on it, and the Rod-Eye attached, was no longer working for us. It still had to be held tightly to the metal stake with the Rod-Eye placed on the stick and story points established in increments of eight, six or four inches from that laser point in order to establish the height and the steps for the first course of blocks. These marks always have to be erased and remarked each time we moved the laser. Now, that problem has forever been eliminated."
Black's response was to invent a new way to do this old job. "The grade rod I invented eliminates this problem because it supports itself on the stake and the braking system locks your grade point into position, allowing you to place your mark whenever you decide to and never loose your beginning point. My new story pole can be quickly re-adjusted to get you back on track for either eight, six or four inch blocks of any type. It is built of sturdy aluminum and can be used in all types of weather."
Black says he is proud to have made the mason's life a little easier especially for his three sons and daughter-in-law as they carry on as the forth generation of masons in the family business.
New Stainless Steel Trowel Line
Bon Tool Co. has expanded its line of stainless steel brick trowels with the addition of four new margin trowels and two new pointing trowels.
The production of this first-ever stainless steel brick trowel has set a new performance standard for today's contractor. The blade is made from a modified stainless steel with a high chrome content. This formula makes these trowels stronger and more durable than carbon steel trowels.
"What we've really done is we have improved the longevity of the trowel," says John Wight, vice president of sales and marketing for Bon Tool. "So we've taken quite a bit of time to develop a trowel that would be more wear resistant, but offer the same feel and weight of your standard brick trowel."
Also, unlike carbon trowels, the stainless trowels do not rust so there is no risk of dark, rusty spots on finished mortar joints.
The modified stainless formula is resistant to additives and provides constant elasticity over the whole blade. It is this elasticity and flexibility of the trowel that protects workers' joints and reduces fatigue.
"We've had a lot of masons call to congratulate us on this trowel," adds Wight. "They're telling me that there's less fatigue on their wrist, arm and elbow, the way the blade handles the mortar that's on it. From a comfort standpoint, a lot of masons have told us that they like what we're doing.
"We're so confident in the trowel that we offer a 100 percent guarantee. A lot of folks are used to the old trowels, so we've offered that to get them to look at switching. Everyone who has looked at it has been pretty impressed."
The Bon Stainless Steel Trowels are available in a variety of sizes and handle styles in Narrow London, Wide London and Philadelphia patterns. With the addition of the new pointing and margin trowels, there are now more than 45 trowels in the line.
Brick Spacing Rules
Brick masons use a folding ruler with special markings for layout of brick courses. Until three years ago, the only folding rulers with brick spacing scales available were made of wood and would last a very short time due to breakage. And if they didn't break, the numbers would wear off from rugged outdoor use. Then a bricklayer in Oregon decided that he had shelled out his last twenty bucks for a "disposable" tool and set out to improve it. After two years of research and personal field-testing, he introduced "Rhino Rulers." These are waterproof folding rulers made of fiberglass with a typical lifespan of about one year.
According to David Rael, that Oregon mason who now heads Rhino Tools, "Rhino Rulers have caught the attention of masonry tool distributors nationwide and are quickly becoming the new standard for brick spacing rulers. You can now find other versions of fiberglass rulers, but masons prefer going with the ruler from the guy with mortar on his boots."
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