The History of Stone Masonry

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It is predicted that the art and craft of stone masonry is over 6000 years old. Man was using natural resources to build and use tools in order to create structures and sculpt beautiful monuments out of stone. Masonry was born when people learned that fire can create resources such as plasters, mortars and quicklime resulting in being able to create what they would then refer to, as their home.

Historically it is believed that stone masonry is the oldest trade of civilisation

and was considered to be a highly skilled and sought after trade.

Calligraphy may have been the starting point for stonemasons, which involves using tools to chip away at stone to make writing. This art form is believed to be the first known communication in our history, allowing people to use calligraphy as a form of communication between one another.

Masonry can be as simple, or complex as the stonemason decides upon. A stonemason uses their tools to craft pieces of rock into more appealing shapes, using mortar to form structures.

There are six types of stone masonry:

  • Ashlar masonry, where stones are cut.
  • Fixer masonry, where masons use mortars and grout to fix the stones onto the buildings.
  • Memorial masons, where masons carve inscriptions into headstones they have made.
  • Rubble masonry, where stones that have been roughly cut and laid in a mortar.
  • Slip-form stone masonry, where using form-work the mason creates stone walls.
  • Stone veneer, where decorative walls are created for structures, hiding the structural wall.

Medieval stonemasons traditionally performed a 7-year apprenticeship, using a hands-on approach and learning the tricks of the trade through practical learning. The stonemason apprenticeship is very similar today, however conventionally is 3 years rather than 7.

In medieval times, stonemason guilds had three classes, apprentices, journeymen and master masons. Apprentices were bound to their masters, in debt to them for the price of their training. Journeymen were considered of high skill, allowed to go on journeys with their masters to assist on projects. Master masons were free men, travelling around to work on projects.

As a form of ‘quality assurance’ Freemasons often carved personal symbols on their work so that it could be differentiated from other mason’s work, almost like a signature.

Traditionally, stonemasons use a variety of tools for shaping stones. These include, a mallet, a chisel, a hammer and a straight edge. Most stonemasons will have a variety of chisels ranging in shapes and sizes, some stones require different chisels and to get the perfect finish a stonemason must use a chisel of a particular size and shape. A mason’s hammer is different from a hammer as we know it. They have a longer, thinner head and are used alongside a chisel to chip away at the stone. Animals were used as muscle power to help move the stones, however in modern times stonemasons have access to tools such as cranes and forklifts to help make their job easier.

Once cultures met, stonemasons shared techniques and tricks with one another, learning from each other to create unique architecture and sculptures. A great example of this is Europeans settling in foreign lands, a lot of architecture outside of Europe has a massive European influence and can be very easy to spot in foreign countries.

That is Stone Masonry history all wrapped up…

Do you have any fun facts about stone masonry history? Share it below!

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