Brick masons are responsible for building structures such as walls, partitions, arches, fireplaces, chimneys, and others. They use materials such as solid bricks, hollow concrete blocks, structural tiles, natural and artificial stone, and prefabricated masonry panels. Some install and repair firebrick linings in industrial kilns and furnaces. When brick masons begin a project, they first study the blueprints and then determine the brick layout by placing them in “dry course,” a process that involves no mortar. They must plan the layout so that, if multiple layers of brick are used, none of the joints overlap. Then they mix and spread mortar, a task that takes time to master.
Brick masons use a variety of tools, such as trowels, jointers, hammers, rules, chisels, squares, and mallets. Brick masons at the journey level can handle any type of masonry work and usually work in small groups which are directed by a supervisor. When masonry construction must be reinforced to resist stress such as earthquakes and architectural loads, brick masons insert steel bars between two vertical walls of bricks and pour cement into the space between the walls to bond the masonry units to the steel.
Those interested in a career as a brick mason should have good manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination. They need to be physically fit because the work is extremely physically demanding. They should enjoy working outdoors. Those who intend to become supervisors should have good leadership and communication skills.
In 2002, brick masons earned a median hourly wage of $20.11. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $11.55, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $30.66.
Training and Education
Most brick masons observe and learn from more experienced workers on an informal basis. Others are trained at vocational education schools or industry-based programs. Still others complete apprenticeship programs, which usually give workers the most comprehensive training. Those trained on the job begin working as helpers, laborers, or mason tenders. They carry materials, move scaffolds, and mix mortars, and eventually start learning how to spread mortar, lay brick, or set stone. On-the-job learning usually lasts longer than an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships are typically sponsored by local contractors, trade associations, or union-management committees. They last 3 years and include at least 144 hours of classroom instruction each year in blueprint reading, mathematics, layout work, and sketching. Applicants are required to be at least 17 years old and sometimes to have a high school education. As they gain training and experience, brick masons may be able to advance to positions such as supervisor or masonry contractor. Some start their own businesses and end up spending most of their time managing employees rather than actually completing masonry work. Some move into related fields such as construction management or building inspection. Visit this page about trade schools for more information on related careers.
In 2002, brick masons held about 165,000 jobs. About 25% were self-employed, specializing in small jobs such as patios, walkways, and fireplaces.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of brick masons is expected to increase about as fast as the average. Overall population and business growth will be a major factor, creating a demand for new houses, industrial facilities, schools, hospitals, offices, and other structures. The need to restore old masonry buildings will also create demand. It is expected that there will be fewer applicants than job openings in this profession, creating good employment opportunities.