More Than Just a Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts


Brick Masonry

On apprenticing as a brick mason:

Demonstration of laying bricks at the 2002 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival as part of the New Orleans Building Arts demonstrations. Photo: Maida Owens.

When you are on the job, you are actually working. You are either putting marking cuts for the bricklayers, working with a bricklayer, laying bricks or striking them, or brushing it down-small things, not too much as a professional bricklayer, but you are learning what a bricklayer is. It is very important; it's not like you aren't supposed to know this. It's very important that a person that runs a saw can keep his cuts available to where the bricklayer is waiting for cuts, or he have to wait for a three-inch cut. If you need 500 two-inch cuts, you know you use these cuts all the time; you just have a bunch of them ready. That's what a saw man does. He makes special cuts for wall sockets and electrical fixtures, circles for maybe a pipe to go into that wall. That's what a saw man does. A wall-tie person goes and lays pop lines, 16 inches of support, and he screws the wall ties on. That's what holds walls together. When you get to a certain height, you bend the metal tie over on the brick, you lay the next brick on that tie, there is a row of them all the way down and you keep going up. Most of the time they are 16 inches apart. Everything I learned as an apprentice was important to me.

--Jerry Reynolds, Brick Mason and Instructor

We cover so many different things, just on this one job. If you look at this, with concrete block work, we built a fence which is the base. We did stone work. We have brick paving, stone paving. Let's just say I had to do an area of flagstone pavement. You've got units of a certain size. You have to lay out the job; that's number one. On paving you have to know, in addition to the perimeters of the work and the layout, you have to know where you are going to send the water. If you are going to send it to a drain, you have to make sure that the drain is set lower than point A, so that the water will flow to the drain. Then you have to make sure that, as you lay those individual units, that they are set in such a way that the top of one unit is lower than the bottom of the last unit and so on down the line, so that the water will continue to flow on down the line and you don't get a pocket. You have to lay out the work so that you start in the center of whatever piece of work you are working on, and work outward, so that when you get to this point and to that point, this piece over here will be the same as that piece. And when you get to that point and that point, that piece and that piece will ideally be the same.

--Teddy Pierre, Brick Mason

Good work is doing work straight and plumb. Plumb, straight, and level. You have to dress your work up. You have to strike it right. That's the joints, the mortar joints. They have to be dressed and they have to be straight. They can't be wavy, up and down.

--Desoto Jackson, Brick Mason

Most people with more experience would be foreman for a company, or maybe what they would call a "layout man" for a company. That's a person that goes and starts [the job]. For instance, if we are going to build two walls and we are going to start crossing these walls together. He would lay the first course of brick, or block, and then once that first course is down, it's already laid out. The other bricklayers come in and build this wall all the way out. It's already laid out. Whatever is required to get the wall prepared, the layout man can get that done. He just moves on to the next wall. I would consider a layout man a person that would determine problems before the bricklayers even get there. He's supposed to be able to determine what to do with this particular wall. He's preparing an area for a group of bricklayers.

--Jerry Reynolds, Brick Mason and Instructor

Brick masons were interviewed as part of the New Orleans Building Arts Project. Laura Westbrook edited More than Just A Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts in 2004 for publication online.