A stonemason doesn’t go at it hammer and tongs (or should that be hammer and chisel?), smashing away at bits of rock. Stonemasonry is actually a pretty skilled profession and it’s been around for thousands of years.
Stonemasonry is all about the conservation, reparation and restoration of stone buildings, statues and bridges, as well as the construction of new stone structures. Stonemasons develop a deep understanding of the different types of stone, the tools of their trade and how to shape and fix stone.
Work in this area can be really varied: a stonemason might spend days painstakingly chiselling beautiful carvings, or they might fire up the modern power tools to prepare and trim blocks of stone for the cladding of modern buildings.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that stonemasonry is all dinky chiselling: modern stonemason workshops are loud, noisy and dusty. Protective clothing, such as ear defenders, goggles and masks, are frequently used. It’s not a job for those who like their creature comforts, as it often involves outdoor work in all weathers and heavy lifting.
There are two types of stonemason: a banker mason and a fixer mason. Banker masons are largely workshop-based, using a mixture of tools to skilfully shape stones from new designs or replicate and replace an existing stone. They might produce intricate stone carvings for new and existing buildings or polish finish stone slabs.
Fixer masons work in the great outdoors and do the actually installing, putting the stones that have been shaped by the banking process into place. They are dab hands at using traditional lime mortars and have an expert understanding of specialist fixings.
More often than not, a stonemason will be expected to carry out both banker and fixer roles, particularly if they are working for a small company.
Salary & benefits
Starting salaries are around £15,000 to £18,000 a year for trainee stonemasons.
With more experience, masons can expect to receive over £20,000 a year, whilst those at the top of their game might earn over £30,000 a year.
By and large, most stonemasons work a typical 39-hour week, although overtime might occasionally be required to finish a particular project.
Stonemasonry is a mixture of the creative and practical. An artistic flair is required for the decorative part of the work, whilst overall stonemasons need to be very co-ordinated and good with their hands.
There are no formal academic qualifications required to become a stonemason, but GCSEs in subjects like English and maths are helpful, particularly as the job requires a basic understanding of maths for measuring areas accurately and following architectural plans and drawings.
Much of the work is on heritage buildings, so an interest in historical buildings is always a bonus. A head for heights is needed to work as a fixer, as is a decent level of physical fitness and the ability to work well in a team.
Training & progression
Stonemasonry is something that is pretty much learnt on the job. Hands-on practical experience is the name of the game, and trainee stonemasons spend much of their time on-site, with the rest of their time spent at college working towards NVQs in stonemasonry. For those aged 16-24, there may be funded stonemasonry apprenticeship places available.
Experienced stonemasons can go on to take up supervisory or construction management roles. Whilst many of these guys are employed by specialist firms, some are self-employed and subcontract their services to construction companies.