The carving of stone for buildings, working with a square, a compass and a template. See the separate entry for stone carving.
|Historic area of significance
|Area currently practised
|Origin in the UK
There are two types of stone mason:
Banker mason: Carves the stone using drawings and templates into finished products for installation into buildings
Fixer mason: Installs the prepared stones into the building
The historic distinction between banker masons and stone fixers is becoming more blurred as people are required to be able to turn their hands to both. Traditional manual banker skills are being replaced by CNC machining and are more endangered than stone fixing.
There are six stonemasonry colleges in England offering different levels of qualifications, with each college probably having 100-200 apprentices at a time. The Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship is a consortium of approximately ten cathedrals which have their own masons yards who have set up a four year syllabus for apprenticeships common to all workshops and resulting in a qualification at the end.
Today, a high proportion of a stonemason’s work is repair and maintenance, rather than new-build. However, stone, marble and granite cladding for contemporary buildings is quite common in high-end construction, and is also used extensively in paving and hard landscaping.
Using stone and mortar is at the basis of the stone masonry techniques. The selection of the stone is in itself a very important part of the process and the common stones used are marble, laterite, granite, sandstone and limestone. The stone needs to be hard, free from cracks and cavities. Mortar is the binding material, created from mixing cement or lime with sand and water. The proportions and ingredients in the mixture depend on the strength required, and the type and colour of the structure being built. The most basic classification of stone masonry divides the constructions between rubble and ashlar masonry with each split into multiple subcategories.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Closure of UK quarries – although this has no direct impact on the skills, it does mean that materials have to be imported from abroad
Need for flexible workforce: There is a need for people to be able to turn their hands to more than one specialist skill. The workforce needs to be flexible and to be able to turn its hands to a number of tasks so that employers are able to take advantage of the maximum contract opportunities that come their way.
- Due to volume and weight, the costs of transportation are high and significantly boost the price of the whole process.
- Sandstone erosion and the high costs of anti erosion maintenance make the choice of limestone a less favoured option.
The need for traditional mallet and chisel banker masonry is in decline as CNC machining becomes more prevalent, especially where stones are being prepared for series production in new builds. As such, those traditional bench-based skills with mallet and chisel are much less in demand and the stone masonry colleges across the country are seeing falling numbers.
However, we can’t stand in the way of progress and employers are unlikely to commit to pure banker apprenticeships for which there are limited opportunities, and neither will young people commit to training that has limited job vacancies.
There will continue to be a demand for skilled bankers who can produce one-off pieces for repair and replacement, as heritage work is major part of the sector, and many companies will want to retain some banker skills – but bankers are unlikely to be needed in the volumes of the past. Supply will equal demand. We need to ensure these skills are protected and StoneTrain will continue to support the colleges with its annual UK Masonry Skills Competition and through CITB Skill Build.
Stone fixing is in a healthy state and has an optimistic future, particularly if StoneTrain is successful in dividing the apprenticeship it currently offers into two clear divisions: 1) interiors i.e. kitchens, bathrooms, wet rooms, flooring, walling, staircases etc. and 2) exteriors, including cladding.
Craftspeople currently known