Stonemason

The Job and What's Involved

StonemasonsStonemasons help to restore and repair old buildings, and also cut and shape stone for new buildings.

Stonemasonry is a traditional skill that is still very much in demand. The work of stonemasons throughout the centuries can be seen in castles, cathedrals, historic houses and ordinary homes.

Stonemasons cut and prepare stone using both hand and machine cutting tools. There are three main types of work:

Banker Masons - are based in workshops, crafting and shaping blocks of stone. They also texture and polish stone - a technique called dressing. Some advanced masons carve figures and patterns.

Fixer Masons - build the dressed stone on site, following plans drawn up by an architect. The stone is bedded onto mortar and may also be held in place with stainless steel fixings. Fixer masons usually work in a team with other construction workers.

Monumental or Memorial Masons - design and make memorials, such as headstones, for the funeral industry.

Masons can also specialise in letter cutting or working with a particular type of stone, such as marble or granite.

Stonemasons tend to work a five-day week. They may have to work late or at weekends to finish important jobs.

Banker masons mainly work in workshops, which can be noisy and dusty. They wear protective masks while cutting some types of stone. Fixer masons work outdoors on site, in all weathers. Restoration work often involves working in or on large ancient monuments or listed buildings, often at height.

The work involves lifting and carrying stone and equipment.

Although not essential, a driving licence is useful as some work involves travelling around the country.

Starting salaries may be around £160 to £260 a week (approximately £8,300 to £13,500 a year).

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Masons are employed by stonemasonry companies or larger building contractors. Many small firms are often family concerns where the traditional skills of stonemasonry have been passed down from generation to generation.

Some stonemasons work as self-employed contractors.

There is a shortage of traditional craft skills and there has been a recent increase in demand for stonemasons, particularly in large cities.

Vacancies may be advertised in local papers, but it is best to approach local employers directly and, if possible, arrange some work experience before leaving school.

Education and Training

There are no specific entry requirements to train as a stonemason, but an interest in art and design and GCSE's/S grades (A-D/1-4) in maths, English and technology may be helpful for the calculations, measurement and theory.

Entry is usually through an Apprenticeship or traineeship, lasting three to four years, and usually leading to NVQ's/SVQ's. However, the number of places throughout the UK is limited as many employers relying on contracts cannot guarantee continual work.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Trainees not on an Apprenticeship may have to organise their own work-based placement before they can work towards NVQ's/SVQ's. Some colleges also offer short introductory courses.

There is an accredited City & Guilds stonemasonry course available at several colleges, which combines on-site practical skills and college-based theory, training up to NVQ/SVQ Level 3.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most stonemasons train on the job, combined with day release at a college for a course leading to an NVQ/SVQ qualification. NVQ's/SVQ's in Stonemasonry are available at Levels 2 and 3, and cover the work of mason, banker mason, marble and granite mason fixer or memorial mason.

Courses cover estimating, planning and setting out projects, as well as calculating areas and volumes. Students learn how to interpret plans, to understand product information and lists of materials, and to use the tools of the trade. They also learn about the importance of following health and safety regulations. Some courses focus on conservation aspects of the work.

ConstructionSkills also offers a qualification called a Construction Award, for people who find it difficult to gain the workplace experience they need for an NVQ/SVQ. Once they have gained the award, trainees can convert it to a full NVQ/SVQ when they have had enough site experience.

Building Crafts College in London offers a one-year full-time City & Guilds Diploma in Advanced Stonemasonry, designed to give students the craft skills necessary to enable them to become self-employed stonemasons. The course is flexible to allow entry to students of all ages with varying levels of masonry skills, and it develops traditional stonemasonry techniques to NVQ/SVQ Level 3.

Other colleges offer full, part-time and short courses in areas such as memorial masonry, decorative stonework, architectural masonry and stone carving. The website, www.cotac.org.uk, has a useful list of courses.

A new NVQ/SVQ Level 3 in Heritage Skills has been created to enable craftspeople working in the heritage sector, or those transferring from mainstream construction, to gain a qualification that reflects the skills and knowledge needed for the protection of the historic built environment.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Stonemasons should:

  • Have hand skills for cutting, shaping and fixing stone.
  • Be able to follow drawings and written instructions.
  • Be physically fit.
  • Have artistic and drawing ability for the decorative aspects of stonemasonry.
  • Be aware of safety risks and know how to protect themselves and others.
  • Have a good head for heights (in the case of fixer masons).

Your Long Term Prospects

There may be opportunities for promotion to technical, supervisory and managerial roles, but many masons prefer to stick to their craft.

There are also opportunities for self-employment.

Get Further Information

ConstructionSkills,
Bircham Newton, King's Lynn,
Norfolk PE31 6RH
Tel: 01485 577577
Websites: www.cskills.org/curriculumcareers
and www.bconstructive.co.uk

COTAC, The Building Crafts College,
Kennard Road, Stratford,
London E15 1AH
Tel: 020 8522 1705
Website: www.cotac.org.uk

National Association of Memorial Masons,
1 Castle Mews, Rugby,
Warwickshire CV21 2XL
Tel: 01788 542264
Website: www.namm.org.uk

The National Heritage Training Group,
Carthusian Court, 12 Carthusian Street,
London EC1M 6EZ
Tel: 01509 282860
Website: www.nhtg.org.uk

Stone Federation Great Britain,
Channel Business Centre, Ingles Manor,
Castle Hill Avenue, Folkestone,
Kent CT20 2RD
Tel: 01303 856123
Website: www.stone-federationgb.org.uk

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