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A Brief History

Stonemasonry has existed as a craft since early civilization, where stone from the earth has been used to create buildings, structures and sculptures. Many of the ancient cities, monuments and cathedrals have been constructed using these long lasting natural materials. Stonemasonry is one of the earliest trades in civilizations history. The ancient stonemasons were relied heavily on to build the most impressive monuments such as the pyramids of Egypt to the Greek temples. Many of the splendid castles of the U.K and Europe were built by the medieval stonemasons. The stonemasons in this era would often carve a small personal symbol onto the stone they were working on to differentiate from that of others. This mason’s mark also provided a way of quality assurance.

Types of Stonemasons

The banker masons specialise in the shaping and carving of the stone into intricate geometrical shapes, usually based in the workshops but sometimes work on site if needed. These banker masons can shape the stone, producing a simple chamfer to a more detailed moulding such as the more classical architectural building masonry. The fixer masons specialise in fixing of the masoned and carved stone pieces such as stone window and door surrounds, corbels and more intricate pieces onto buildings. Traditional lime mortar and grout mixes are still often used today, especially if it is to match the existing mixes on the building. The stone carvers cross over the line from stone craft into fine stone art, using their artistic ability to mason the stone into very fine detailed carving such as figures, busts, foliage or abstract designs.

Stonemasons Tools

Stonemasons use a wide variety of tools to shape the stone into finished pieces. The basic traditional tools used for this work is a mallet and chisel. These chisels come in many shapes and sizes, for example - claw, pitcher, bolster, and punch chisels. These stone working chisels are used to take off large amounts of material and to give different tooled finishes to the stone. These days, power tools are commonly used by stonemasons to speed up the process of the work, saving time and money. Angle grinders, polishers and compressed air chisels are very popular amongst the modern day stonemason. Modern day technology has advanced as with every other trade, but many of the basic stonemasons tools have changed little over thousands of years.

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Types of Natural Stone

The three main types of natural stone which stone masons use are - sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic.

Sedimentary Stone

Sedimentary stone has been used to build many of the most famous buildings in the world, from St. Peters in Rome to the York Minster in the U.K . These are all built using the two main types of sedimentary stone used by stonemasons - Sandstone and Limestone. The most common limestones used in Britain include Portland stone and Bath stone. Yorkstone and Gritstone are among the most durable sandstones which have been a very popular choice for fireplaces for centuries.

Igneous Stone

Igneous stone ranges from Scoria and Pumice, which are very soft rocks, to Granite which is one of the hardest stones that exist. Due to its strength and durability, granite is often used for kitchen worktops, flooring and headstones.

Metamorphic Stone

Marble has traditionally been used for carving sculptures, statues and other fine detailed work, as well as facing many Italian buildings along with Travertine. The most commonly used marble is the white marble called Carrara from Italy, although marble does come in all colours. Slate is another popular metamorphic stone, especially for gravestones and inscriptions, due to its hardness and fine grain, giving a very sharp detailed finish. Welsh and Lakeland slates are the most commonly used in the U.K. at the present time.