Subject: Is Masonry Ever Perfect?

Jerry Painter  

The definition of perfect is to be complete, flawless, faultless or exact. Soooo, is masonry ever perfect? The short answer is yes. Whenever you can put together the perfect design, the perfect material and perfect installation you will then have perfect masonry. The only problem is that perfection is an imperfect expectation. Most construction neophytes may believe that since the production of construction drawings has moved into the electronic arena all is well. What I was told in my first computer class still rings true today. Garbage in garbage out or GIGO. Somehow the computer believes that all materials and all combinations of material can match those crisp fine lines, angles and interconnections printed by a printer. You should never stop checking and verifying details and dimensions.

Even though some people believe that masonry materials that are exact in size, shape, color and dimensions can be obtained, everyone else knows that is no correct. All material has some variations allowed by their standards. An FBX brick, dimensioned stone, architectural precast or SGFT. Has allowable variations. A CMU made on a new or rebuilt machine has allowable variations. Whether designers believe it or not natural stone will have slight variations in color, shade or grain. Whenever they would point out what they didn’t like I would tell them to call God and take it up with him. Because of all of the allowable variations in the material it creates variations in the installation even with the best of masons.

This brings us to the most valuable if not variable part of the combination. As I have said many time and will continue to say until my last breath. Laying masonry units into a three dimensional object or building is an art form and as such relies on the mason’s ability to be attentive to a multitude of details. This ability takes a serious long term effort. In spite of what some people say you learn it all in a 4 year apprentice program. It is a lifetime commitment to learning repetition, consistency and instantaneous decision making. The mason should be able to make sure the mortar is correct, the masonry units are stocked correctly, the accessories are available and the moisture of the masonry units is within the range for proper installation. I could go on and on and we haven’t even start the installation process.

Many times we have asked our employees if they need to go back home and get their brain. While you can get by with just the laying of the units in a brain dead state there is so much more to quality work. A mason cannot spend seconds on each decision they must make as they do their job. Let me give you just a partial sample of what must go thru a mason’s mind as they lay brick. It will start with is the mortar fluid and consistent? Which brick do I pick? This is not important if the brick are a single color with no range. If the brick have a range or have a variation of colors the instantaneous selection is critical to the finish look. They have to consider the buttering (placing of the head joint) of the brick, the size of the head joint, the plumbness of the head joints, height of the brick to the line and the closeness to the line. This and much more should be going thru their minds as second nature. Just like riding a bike. If you spend too much time thinking about it you will fall.

Now let me ask the question again. Is there such a thing as perfect masonry? Not if you use the dictionary definition. But if the masonry functions as designed, is durable for the ages and is pleasant to the eye then it is QUALITYmasonry and that is as close as you can get.

Be Safe and remember to “Raise the line and come on around the corner”.