Archive for category Matching

It could be that stonemasons never see the art of the original craft, “tool making”

Your hands were blistered, your head dripping with sweat. It had taken a day, or two, maybe three, to create something you now hold in your hand to secure your short-term job-site future. You likely thought about its design and function in your head as long as it took to cut and weld it together with the best steel or iron you could find. A chisel. Not just any chisel, a stonemasons chisel.

Your chisel – its size, and weight to fit your hand – an extension of yourself.  Made for the specific work you were paid to perform. Created for a specific type of stone. The chisel shape, length, and sharpness all part of its design and intended purpose to birth a dimension stone of specified measurements and texture worthy of setting into a historic masonry wall. To become an important part of another historic stone masonry building of load bearing capacity, carrying the weight of each consecutive floor upon itself as it raises from the ground on the stout foundation we never see or appreciate.

The creation of stone chisels at the construction site by the very stonemasons that use them is centuries old. And it probably is most definitely on the road to oblivion. The art of the stone masonry craft is now changed. Making tools at the construction site, or in the stonemasons workshop, was part of the trade. It was what you were trained to do 100 years ago. There were no other options. And for good reason, no one else would know what you needed for a specific project as each individual set of chisels were designed specifically for each job. If you have the privileged of knowing a retired stonemason – just look in his tool bag and confirm for yourself – there are many many chisels of various sorts.

A masonry chisel made by someone in China. This chisel purchased at a local “big box” store.

Stone chisels; however, now are made by others. People that are not in the stone masonry trade. They can not appreciate the purpose of the chisel design or its intended purpose because they are not stonemasons.

Blame it on changes in architectural design: Veneer walls and thin stucco stone are in, old-fashion load-bearing walls are out. Blame it on changes in the father-son connection: handing down the trade skills to the next generation. Blame it on the fact that nothing lasts forever, not even tool making skills of the simple chisel lodged in the brain of almost every American stonemason over 80.

True American-made stone masonry chisels can not be found at Home Depot, Lowes, Menards or your local hardware stores. But don’t blame these companies they serve a different customer base – the “Do-it-Yourselfer.”

As a professional in your trade, part of your job is to research and look for those American companies that still do exist that make the custom tools you need – especially the all important chisel.

I have known Norm Akley, President of Trow & Holden Company, Inc., for nearly 20 years. He operates a company located in Barre, Vermont that makes old fashioned hand-made stone chisels among other items for the trade. Norm understands my trade and the challenges I face in difficult projects. I draw a picture of a special chisel design I need to have fabricated for a particular project to match a historic profile finish and fax it over to him, yes I said fax!

He makes the chisel from my sketch in the correct size and weight and the rest is history! Speaking of history, Trow & Holden Company has been making stoneworking tools since 1890.

Call and Request a free Catalog 800-451-4349 or 802-476-7221

Call and Request a free Catalog 800-451-4349 or 802-476-7221

Every chance I get I try to support American companies like Trow & Holden. The experience in tool making, as well as the companies appreciation and knowledge of my stone masonry trade, make Norm and his company a very valuable partner in our ability to offer the best Historic Stone Masonry Training Programs in the United States. In the end, I believe better workmanship is a direct result of better tools in the hands of craftspeople who know how to use them correctly.

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An Interview with Lauren McCroskey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Revised UFGS Historic Masonry Specification

I had the unique privilege to interview one of the leading historic preservation experts, Lauren McCroskey, Program Manager, for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at the Seattle District, on the recent revision to the UFGS for the Restoration and Cleaning of Masonry in Historic Structures.

USACE Official Announcement:

Technical Center of Expertise (TCX), Preservation of Historic Structures and Buildings Technology Update

As part of its mission to provide leadership in historic buildings technology, the TCX announces a major revision of its specification, “Restoration and Cleaning of Masonry in Historic Structures.” The spec now reflects state-of-the-industry guidance for the treatment of historic masonry and mortar, and surpasses existing preservation guidance provided by other federal agencies.

Property managers and cultural resource specialists are encouraged to use the spec in contract documents to ensure that masonry work is performed appropriately to prolong the life of historic buildings.  See Unified Facilities Guide Specification 04 01 00.91

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Speweik: What is the official title of the specification?

McCroskey: The title is the UNIFIED FACILITIES GUIDE SPECIFICATIONS

DIVISION 04 – MASONRY SECTION 04 01 00.91

RESTORATION AND CLEANING OF MASONRY IN HISTORIC STRUCTURES

Speweik: Who originally authored it?

McCroskey: The Corps was the preparing agent and performed the processing. The exact author(s) are unknown, though Corps staff would have prepared it.

Speweik: How long has it been in use/circulation?

McCroskey: It’s been available since 1991.

Speweik: Who is authorized to use it?

McCroskey: The Guide is to be used by the Military Departments (Army, Navy, Air Force, etc.), the Defense Agencies and the DoD Field Activities for planning, design, construction, sustainment, restoration and modernization of facilities, regardless of funding source. But anyone can use the guide to adapt to a particular masonry project.

Speweik: What government agency owns it?

McCroskey: The Architectural Discipline Working Group are the owners of the Section; Scott Wick is the Corps representative of that group.

Speweik: What is your position with the USACE and what specific responsibilities do you have regarding historic preservation?

McCroskey: I manage the Technical Center of Expertise for the Preservation of Historic Structures and Buildings, a program of nationwide service. The program provides technical assistance and preservation planning for Corps Districts, DoD, and other federal agencies to ensure facility and property managers apply the best practices to historic structures. We try to set the highest standards of preservation practice through quality project work, training, and by developing technical information.

Speweik: What prompted you to request an update to the Historic Masonry Division Section this past year?

McCroskey: For several years I’ve had an awareness that the Corps’ existing standards and guidance for the treatment of historic masonry has lagged behind newer developments and technological advancements for treating historic brick, stone, and mortar. I receive inquiries from Corps Districts and other agencies asking for specific guidance to address deteriorated stone or brick. Property managers rarely know how to approach these issues from a historic preservation perspective, and often have maintenance and field crews tackle masonry problems. While their intent is good, the methods, materials, and applications are often not appropriate for historic structures, and can lead to further harm and long-term costly repairs. That’s why it’s essential for us to be able to pass along the most appropriate, state-of-the-industry techniques and standards.

Speweik: What do you believe to be one of the most significant changes to the specification?

McCroskey: There are many improvements, but one of the most important is the depth of information, which is far more educational for the user than the old spec. There is much to be learned from this document. Another key improvement is that materials application is not just described, but preceded by a thoughtful examination of building and masonry conditions. There is extensive information about how to investigate existing conditions so that the best decisions can be made about materials, conditions, and methods.

Speweik: How do you see this change making a positive difference for the quality-level of Historic Preservation Projects in the United States?

McCroskey: I believe the TCX is obligated to provide the best guidance regarding the treatment of historic structures and buildings. By encouraging the use of this guide, the rehabilitation of historic masonry should be performed in a manner that is appropriate, efficient, and prolongs the life of historic materials.

Speweik: How do you envision the revised specification affecting the work you do at the USACE?

McCroskey: The spec will be the only guidance we provide to customers, or when advising others on the best standards for masonry. Since this spec now surpasses all other historic masonry guidance, we now consider this document the “gold standard.” Of course, there are sub categories of masonry, such as terra cotta and concrete, which may require other technical information. But where brick, stone, and mortar are concerned, this is our “go to” standard.

Speweik: Did you consider the possible additional costs to Historic Preservation Projects as a result of some of the changes? And, if so, do you believe the additional cost is a significant percentage of overall project costs?

McCroskey: When good preservation practices are used, the life and performance of historic materials is extended. When improper practices are applied, greater costs can be incurred when the wrong treatment or method causes damage that requires repair. Taking short cuts by using commercial products that are not suited to historic stone or brick, or using techniques that are not consistent with historic methods can cost more long-term, and rarely satisfy the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and treatment of historic structures that all federal agencies must follow.

Speweik: How do architects, owners, consultants and contractors find out more about this important specification document?

McCroskey: The guide is now available on-line at the TCX web page: http://www.nws.usace.army.mil/BusinessWithUs/HistoricPreservation.aspx

For additional information or clarification regarding the spec’s application, your readers may contact me at:

Lauren McCroskey

Program Manager

Technical Center of Expertise

Preservation of Historic Structures & Buildings

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Seattle District

206-764-3538

lauren.l.mccroskey@usace.army.mil

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Pre-construction Testing and Matching

Unlike new masonry construction, restoration masonry requires matching to existing surfaces. Whether it’s a brick, stone, or mortar, samples must be submitted and often tested to determine the original material components.  So what is the best way to specify a match? Well, first let’s talk about the way it is generally done now in the restoration business. An architect writes a specification that includes the details of matching the masonry; for instance, “match the brick in color, texture, size, and physical characteristics to that of the original historic brick”….nothing wrong with that, right?

Historic brick being removed for matching purposes

Well consider the brick match needing to be located (research, calling around to suppliers, submittal of samples) after the contract has been awarded and the construction schedule is starting. The pressure to find a good and acceptable brick match is now the responsibility of the contractor who is thinking about mobilizing the site, balancing manpower to get the project done on time, and the overall responsibilities for the entire project. Question:  Is this the best time and the right person to be carrying out the important responsibility of finding a successful brick match?

The same goes for the stone or mortar match as well. Question: Is placing these decisions on the back of the contractor at the start of the project in the best interest of the project? Under this pressure mistakes can be made and searching for the best most appropriate match compromises are often made (“that’s the best we can get, or, they don’t make that any longer”). So what might be a better strategy? A relatively new movement is occurring in the architectural design world in the restoration business.

Architects are working with building owners directly and sometimes with consultants to assist them in matching historic masonry materials – prior to bid….during the design development stage of the project (often 1-year in advance of the bidding process). The brick, stone and mortar testing work are accomplished and often times pre-approved in a pre-construction test panel installed by a local mason contractor or preservation consultant. This strategy helps to eliminate delays in the construction phase of the project and it gives more time, without the pressure, to find the best available match on the market.

So the next time you are considering specifying replacement masonry materials on a historic restoration project consider this new approach to an age old problem.  It takes a little more planning on your part, and yes, the owners need to pay up front for some pre-construction test panels, installed into the actual masonry for evaluation. But in the end, the surprises related to change orders are often minimized and the team approach to getting the project done on-time and under budget becomes a reality-not just a dream. And, its money the owners will be spending anyway with the contractor after the bid award….. something to consider.

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