Stonemasons and a guide to Stonemasonry

One of the last favours you can do for a loved one is to commission a memorial of high quality, one which reflects their personality and provides that lasting reminder of their life. Well-made memorials can withstand the elements and a hand-crafted inscription can remain legible for years and years, meaning that their legacy, those important dates and that epitaph can endure.

This important task falls upon the stonemason, a trained expert who has learned how to work marble, granite and limestone into the smooth and fitting memorial of your choice; painstakingly plying their craft until they are satisfied that the stone’s transformation exceeds your expectations and is worthy as a monument to the deceased.

What is a stone mason?

The craft

Stonemasonry is one of only a few traditional, manual crafts which is still in use today. It has existed ever since early humans could fashion tools and was how they constructed domestic dwellings, significant structures and everyday artefacts. Some of our most striking, inspiring and mythical monuments are great examples of ancient stonemasonry: think Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Giza and the Taj Mahal. Each goes to prove that good stonemasonry skills can produce something that lasts across the centuries.

There are several roles within stonemasonry, from the quarrymen who extract the rock from the earth, to the sawyers who cut it into slabs or cubes to be then further carved by the masons. Next are the banker masons, who carve, polish and texture the stone and the fixer masons, who ensure that the stone is firmly fixed into place, be that into the ground, on a plinth or even on the side of a building.

To learn the craft today requires a lot of training, both in a classroom and in a workshop. Individuals must develop an innate knowledge of every type of stone, how to use it, how to carve ornate designs into the stone and how each should be fixed. Aspiring stonemasons usually need to have either experience on a construction site, to have undertaken a specific course or to start as an apprentice. The best will work for a business which is accredited with the National Association of Memorial Masons, working in accordance with its exacting standards.

What does a stonemason do?

When it comes to memorials, stone (banker) masons are usually required to do the following: cut the stone, carve it into the required shape, make the inscriptions, create the designs, gilt the lettering and polish/texture the stone to the desired finish. The fixer masons will erect the memorial, again in compliance with the NAMM guidance, following specific procedures.

As opposed to wider stonemasonry, memorial masons tend to work on a smaller scale, but produce far more highly-detailed pieces. Some can have many words, incorporate ornate images or form non-standard shapes. They may be asked to replicate a passage from the Bible or a poem, or to smooth the stone into typical ogee, oval or chiselled square finishes.

It’s a lot of hard, physical work. One mistake can ruin the entire memorial – there’s no room for a spelling error, so attention to detail is an absolute must – to say that it’s a highly-pressured profession might be an understatement. However, it’s a profession you go into because you love working with stone and creating a memorial which means so very much.

No question, this is a highly skilled job, but given the delicate and important nature of what a memorial stonemason has to produce, it needs to be.

If you would like to find more out about how our stonemasons work or would like a quote for one of our carefully crafted memorials, please get in touch.

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