The craft of stonemasonry has existed since the dawn of civilization - creating buildings, structures, and sculpture using stone from the earth. These materials have been used to construct many of the long-lasting, ancient monuments, artifacts, cathedrals, and cities in a wide variety of cultures. Famous products of stonemasonry include the Taj Mahal, Easter Island's statues, the Egyptian Pyramids, Angkor Wat, Tihuanaco, Tenochtitlan the Iranian Persepolis, the Greek Parthenon, Stonehenge, and Chartres Cathedral.
The modern stonemason undergoes comprehensive training, both in the classroom and in the working enviroment, hands on skill is complimented by intimate knowlage of each stone type, its application and best uses, and how to work and fix each stone in place, he may be skilled and competent to carry out one or all of the various branches of stonemasonry. In some areas the trend is towards specialization, in other areas towards adaptability.
Granite is one of the hardest stones, and requires such different techniques to sedimentary stones that it is virtually a separate trade. With great persistence, simple mouldings can and have been carved into granite, for example in many Cornish churches and the city of Aberdeen. Generally, however, it is used for purposes that require its strength and durability, such as kerbstones and breakwaters.
Igneous stone ranges from very soft rocks such as Pumice and Scoria to somewhat harder rocks such as Tuff and hard rocks such as Obsidian, Granite and Basalt. Easter Island's Rapa Nui culture had a specialisation in Igneous stone working to make the tremendous Ahus on which its iconic Moai were set. Most Moai were made of Tuff from Rano Raraku but their Ahus (which were usually much larger) were made of local stone.
Some use was also made of Scoria, Basalt and Obsidian, in particular the Pukao were all made of light Scoria. But all the Rapa Nui people had to work with were stone tools, in particularly Basalt Toki.
Slate is a popular choice of stone for memorials and inscriptions, as its fine grain and hardness means it leaves details very sharp. Whilst its tendency to split into thin plates made it a popular roofing material.
A modern apprenticeship lasts four years. This combines on-site learning through personal experience, the experience of the tradesmen and college work where apprentices are given an overall experience of the building, hewing and theory work involved in masonry. In some areas colleges offer courses which teach not only the manual skills but also related fields such as drafting and blueprint reading or construction conservationism. Electronic Stonemasonry training resources enhance traditional delivery techniques 1 Hands-on workshops are a good way to learn about stonemasonry also 2 Those wishing to become stonemasons should have little problem working at heights, possess reasonable hand-eye co-ordination, be moderately physically fit, and have basic mathematical ability. Most of these things can be developed while learning.
Chisels come in a variety of sizes and shapes, dependent upon the function for which they are being used. There are different chisels for different materials and sizes of material being worked, for removing large amounts of material and for putting a fine finish on the stone.
Mixing mortar is normally done today with mortar mixers which usually use a rotating drum or rotating paddles to mix the mortar.
The masonry trowel is used for the application of the mortar between and around the stones as they are set into place. Filling in the gaps (joints) with mortar is referred to as pointing. Pointing in smaller joints can be accomplished using tuck pointers, pointing trowels, and margin trowels, among other tools.
At least one tool bears the name of the tradesmen that use it, and that is the Stonemason's hammer. This hammer can be used in place of a chisel in certain circumstances. The hammer can also be used to make shims and chinks while holding a small stone in one hand and striking it with the hammer.
Today power tools such as compressed-air chisels, abrasive spinners and angle grinders are much used: these save time and money, but are hazardous and require just as much skill as the hand tools that they augment. But many of the basic tools of stonemasonry have remained virtually the same throughout vast amounts of time, even thousands of years.
The Ancients heavily relied on the stonemason to build the most impressive and long lasting monuments to their civilisations. The Egyptians built their pyramids, the civilizations of Central American had their step pyramids, the Persians their palaces, the Greeks their temples, and the Romans their public works and wonders (See Roman Architecture). Among the famous ancient stonemasons is Sophroniscus, the father of Socrates, who was a stone-cutter.
When the Western Roman Empire fell, building in dressed stone decreased in much of Western Europe, and there was a resulting increase in timber-based construction. Stone work experienced a resurgence in the 9th and 10th centuries in Europe, and by the 12th century religious fervour resulted in the construction of thousands of impressive churches and cathedrals in stone across Western Europe.
Medieval stonemasons' skills were in high demand, and members of the guild, gave rise to three classes of stonemasons: apprentices, journeymen, and master masons. Apprentices were indentured to their masters as the price for their training, journeymen had a higher level of skill and could go on journeys to assist their masters, and master masons were considered freemen who could travel as they wished to work on the projects of the patrons. During the Renaissance, the stonemason's guild admitted members who were not stonemasons, and eventually evolved into the Society of Freemasonry; fraternal groups which observe the traditional culture of stonemasons, but are not typically involved in modern construction projects.
A medieval stonemason would often carve a personal symbol onto their block to differentiate their work from that of other stonemasons. This also provided a simple ‘quality assurance’ system.
The Renaissance saw stonemasonry return to the prominence and sophistication of the Classical age. The rise of the Humanist philosophy gave people the ambition to create marvelous works of art. The centre stage for the Renaissance would prove to be Italy, where city-states such as Florence erected great structures, including the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Fountain of Neptune, and the Laurentian Library which was planned and built by Michelangelo Buonarroti, a famous stonemason of the Renaissance.
When Europeans settled the Americas, they brought the stonemasonry techniques of their respective homelands with them. Settlers used what materials were available, and in some areas stone was the material of choice. In the first waves, building mimicked that of Europe, to eventually be replaced by unique architecture later on.
In the 20th century, stonemasonry saw its most radical changes in the way the work is accomplished. Prior to the first half of the century, most heavy work was executed by draft animals or human muscle power. With the arrival of the internal combustion engine, many of these hard aspects of the trade have been made simpler and easier. Cranes and forklifts have made moving and laying heavy stones relatively easy for the stonemasons. Motor powered mortar mixers have saved much in time and energy as well. Compressed-air powered tools have made working of stone less time-intensive. Petrol and electric powered abrasive saws can cut through stone much faster and with more precision than chiseling alone. Carbide-tipped chisels can stand up to much more abuse than the steel and iron chisels made by blacksmiths of old.
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