Painter’s Corner: MCAA Magazine

Subject: Bricklayers  

Jerry Painter  

A few weeks ago, the program at my Rotary was about A.I. (artificial intelligence) and robotics. This was a scary program as the speaker explained what was already being done and what wasn’t far away. Manufacturing has long been the leader in robotics for many years. Medicine has been gaining momentum combining robotics and A.I. Where specialized doctors have studied and compared X-rays for hours and even days at a time, there is a time coming when hundreds of thousands of X-ays in a database can be reviewed in seconds, and a prognosis delivered in minutes. All types of surgeons could be replaced. Automobiles, tractor trailers and air freight planes are already operating with limited human support. 

You can imagine the concept of construction never being automated. In the material manufacturing for construction there are a multitude of robotics being used. I remember visiting a concrete block plant back in maybe the 80s that was fully automated. The only human hands that touched it, started it and cleaned up at the end of the shift. There are also brick plants that are fully automated. One of my friends made the statement that masons could never be replaced. I took out my cell phone, pulled up the internet, and introduced them to SAM, the Semi-Automated Mason. I’m sure all of you have watched SAM operate at the MCAA World of Masonry, on YouTube or a jobsite close by. 

A GOOD bricklayer is very similar to SAM in the “Art of Bricklaying.” While the bricklayer is not a machine or computer with all the databases and robotics loaded into it, the bricklayer can be very close. If you are not a bricklayer, find a jobsite where masonry is being installed and spend some time just watching the crew work. A well-trained crew is just like a well-oiled machine. It works smoothly with each person doing their part. The programing of the bricklayer started when he first became a tender and learned how properly support the bricklayers. The programing continued thru apprenticeship with the ability to properly lay the masonry unit in its final place. That sounds so objective and easy. Let’s talk about some of the individual things a GOOD bricklayer does as they work. 

As the bricklayer approaches their work station, they are visually making sure their area is safe and easily accessible. They will verify that all the accessories required are within reach. If they are starting a new wall, they will look for the layout marks or lay it out themselves. If the wall length is not based on a 4” module, they will need to know the unit size to cut or modify the bond within the given tolerances. The first dip of the trowel determines the moisture and fluffiness (air content) of the mortar. It must be correct if the bricklayers will have productivity and quality work.  

Now that was the easy part. They must now spread the right amount of mortar for the unit being laid as well as the distance so the bed joint will support the unit but achieve maximum bond. As the bricklayer picks up a unit to lay in the wall, they are making sure the face is turned outward, the unit has no unacceptable chips and the unit has the right amount of moisture in it. Also, if the units are a blend of colors, they must instantaneously make right color choice. Those are only a few of the decisions the bricklayer must make as the install masonry units. 

A GOOD bricklayer only wants to have fun installing masonry that they can be proud of. Take time to watch the closest thing to a human machine you will ever see. The BRICKLAYER. 

Raise the line and come on around the corner 

Jerry