A bricklayer’s job is to create and maintain structures, walls, chimneys, walkways and foundations using various types of blocks and tiles. He generally works on residential, commercial or industrial projects. Although he normally works with a team of construction workers, he may also work alone.
Although a bricklayer used to work only with traditional bricks and concrete cinder blocks, construction materials became more diverse as technology advanced. Today’s bricklayer also builds with structural tiles, chunks of marble and terracotta blocks. He may also work with blocks made of glass or gypsum. The most common material used to adhere these materials is still mortar, a substance that has been used as a binder for centuries.
Under the supervision of a general contractor or masonry contractor, a bricklayer usually begins a project by measuring and marking the area in which the construction will take place. He then calculates the amount of materials needed, which normally include only the building material of choice and the mortar. Once the materials and tools are in place, the building process begins.
Laying bricks is a precise skill that requires years of practice to master. The bond between the blocks or bricks that is secured by the mortar is one that needs to be consistent from top to bottom and side to side to make it stable. It is also commonly expected to be visually appealing.
The mortar must have the correct viscosity to make the layers of bricks properly stick together. It must also have the correct amount of moisture to prevent it from becoming too thick to work with during the construction session. If the consistency is not right, the structure will collapse upon being exposed to weight or environmental elements.
Another skill required by the bricklayer is to ensure the uniformity of the bricks or blocks. While factory-produced materials are fairly uniform on all sides, salvaged bricks, often used for their historical significance or weathered appearance, are often misshapen. In these cases, the bricklayer is commonly required to use a trowel, chisel, brick cutter or combination thereof to shape and carve the bricks to match the others.
As the project progresses, the bricklayer finishes each layer of his work by smoothing the mortar in between the layers of brick with the pointed tip of his trowel. This task is also commonly performed using a piece of copper tubing to smooth and create a glassy finish on the connecting mortar layers. Any stray pieces of mortar or brick chips are removed from the surface before the project is considered complete.
An apprentice bricklayer is normally required to have a high school diploma or equivalent to enter an apprenticeship program, often considered the best avenue to becoming a professional in this field. These three-year programs are frequently offered by trade unions or local contractors. They typically include around 144 classroom hours in addition to on-the-job training.