A stonemason is an artisan who specializes in working with stone. The art of masonry includes everything from carving headstones to creating decorative finials for buildings. To become a stonemason, someone generally apprentices with another mason who can provide training. A love for art and stone will assist someone who wants to succeed at this career, although it is not required. Once someone has refined his or her skills as a stonemason, they can command a high price for their masonry services.
Masonry is a very old art form. Early humans started putting stones together to make homes thousands of years ago, and decorative work with stone soon followed. Masons pride themselves on creating functional, beautiful work which is precisely created for the needs of each client, whether it be the ornamental foundation stone of a new building, or a replacement for a worn door mantel. This craft profession is also unusual in that it cannot be entirely replaced with mechanization, although modern masons may use advanced tools like water jets and lasers for cutting.
There are a number of different types of stonemasons. Quarrymen work in quarries cutting raw stone which will be trimmed down to size and worked by other masons. Sawyers transform the rough blocks of stone cut in quarries into smaller chunks which meet specific size and composition requirements, while banker masons work in workshops to shape these pieces of stone as required for a job. A carver is a mason who specializes in creating patterns and designs, such as ornamental foliage on a building.
Fixer masons are more like contractors, focusing on fixing stones in place on a permanent structure. This job is highly skilled and also very dangerous, as the stonemason may work at high elevations with extremely heavy pieces of rock attached to block and tackle systems. Finally, memorial masons specialize in the construction and carving of memorials like stone plaques and headstones. It is not unusual for a mason to have experience and skills in several branches of the craft.
Some stonemasons talk about being able to read or listen to the rock that they work with. A good stonemason can look at a block of material and see how it will develop, with an eye to weak points and cracks which might damage the finished work. This skill is usually achieved through experience alone, as apprentices learn about how different rocks behave and feel. A fully qualified stonemason is also capable of working with a wide range of stone, from hard granite to soft limestone.