Written by Steven Fechino

When you work long enough in masonry two things are going to occur: your body is going to be less tolerant of the physical abuse that the job can produce, and your thinking about doing it smarter and more economically will begin to become a normal mindset. Years ago, we did an article in MASONRY magazine on tooltips that were designed to make masonry life easier. Well, some of the old tips are still useful. I will describe several ideas that are not my original ideas, but an accumulation of some very intelligent folks I have had the opportunity to work with.

The rebar handled hammer:

Johnny O’Brian welded a piece of 2-inch round stock to a number 8 piece of rebar and created the hammer that nobody would ever break or steal. This hammer was heavy and without gloves it was mean to your hands. You never had to worry about it slipping out of your hands on a humid Tennessee day as the handle’s rebar pattern was about as thick as your fingers. I am sure this hammer is at the bottom of someone’s toolbox, and they are hoping to only need the hammer sporadically.

The gas can grout bag:

About 20 years ago, we did a paving job where the pavers needed to be grouted once they were laid. It was just easier that way. We began grouting, using a small pump that decided to quit after about a day and a half of work. The solution that allowed us to continue to grout was simple- we took several 2-gallon red plastic gas cans (yes, by the way, they were new) cut the back out of them, and cut the spout at about 1/2 inch. Wet the inside of the grout can, filled it with loose enough grout, and poured the grout into the joints. Clean up was simple, and the work went on like nothing ever happened. The resourceful people that I had on the crew made it happen.

Caulking slickers:

There are those who cannot keep up with their tools and must be trained daily- we all have them, and though we think we can do without them, we cannot. Once in awhile a cube or crate would be found on the jobsite with metal banding. We would cut the banding at 10-inch lengths, put two bends in the banding (similar to a thumb joiner), and round off one or both ends to make disposal caulking slickers for those who could not keep up with their stuff. A bit of grinder touch up and they were ready to go. They got us through when we needed them.

Tuck pointers Hawk:

Sometimes, we would have large tuckpointing jobs where our helpers and apprentices would put material back into the wall. We used the hawk method. Hawks can get expensive, especially when several are required all at once. My superintendent at the time, Rickey Jones, cut sheet metal that he got as scraps from the roofing sheet metal guy, cut them into 12-inch squares, and drilled a hole in the center where he placed an old grinder handle in from the bottom so the mortar could be supported. Yes, there was a small nut on the top of the hawk platform, but since we were training newer guys, the production loss was not measurable. Another great job by someone who was able to be creative with his thinking. By the way, Rickey was a pro at making money on the small jobs!

Mixer Wheel Bearing Saver:

Back before mortar silos, when sand piles were everywhere, our mortar mixers were right smack in the center of all that sand, just like a side job is today. We commonly took off one wheel as a method to prevent theft of our mixers and make it easier to fill our tubs. At that time, we immediately covered both the wheel that remained and the hub of the removed wheel on the opposite side with a large black trash bag, the bearing and hubs were spared the abuse of the constant sand, water, and dust that is part of mixing mortar. I will say it is better to put the lug nuts back on the mixer when you take the wheel off, than, to think that you will easily find them the “night” you finish up your job to pull it back to the shop. Yes, let’s just say it is a really good idea.

Our trade is filled with crazy intelligent craftsmen, great ideas often come from necessity and desire for profitability. This article is a way to say thanks to those who make it happen when the resources are low.

Timesheets are a pain in the bottom, daily reports seem to be unnecessary, but collecting money is mandatory, and to collect what you earned, you need these two reports. It is just good business practice.

So, let me rephrase my earlier comment, timesheets are great, and daily reports are even greater when it comes to getting the proper information recorded on a project, so timely and fair payments can be made to you the mason.

Timesheets and daily reports, well, we all know what they are and how they work, but an example of what they can prevent is as follows. Say you are working on a big project, the client you are working with has been a trusted colleague for many years. The project is budgeted and approved for construction. Construction begins and is running on a timely schedule. One day the architect comes in an does not like the material chosen (even though it was sampled and approved). The original schedule changes, the time for removal of work in place and replacement of work using a different material gets budgeted, bid, and for some reason, the change order does not get written in a timely fashion. You have overhead, burden, and a crew that is no longer making money.

What can you do?

importance of timesheets

You have many choices at this point, but here is an option, offer to start an intermediate time and materials change order with daily paper and digital tickets that are signed daily by the superintendent. If the superintendent is not present at the end of the work shift, set it up so he must have it signed or e-mail approved by 9:00 am the following morning. Or the cost of an employee to resend the report to the project manager is added to the daily report. Some office help moves slowly in the morning. Once the report is sent to the general contractor, it is considered approved. This detail is put in writing and signed off on before any work starts on the original contract.

In cases where work is not contractual and fits into the time and material category, it is important to realize that the trusted colleague will begin to have memory loss during the work process. The only thing to protect you is the timesheet and daily report, both on paper and digital in format. “No, I do not remember,” does not hold air when he has signed copies of the timesheet, approved e-mails, and daily reports. You can always prove what work took place, hours worked, materials purchased, and equipment rented when it is written down. I promise you cannot remember who worked where or when after a week has passed.

I have found that timesheets and daily reports still will draw an argument 80% of the time from the superintendent or project manager of the construction company when billing is submitted. One way to eliminate most of this is to discuss this possible situation as you sign the original contract because the general contractor does not have a problem at that time and typically will be more willing to look at “easy resolution options” when the pressure is off. If you can determine a contingency fund at the beginning of the project for just this situation and the process of getting signatures daily, most problems will be minor. The contingency fund should pay for the intermediate work until the architect can issue a change order.

Timesheets properly completed with daily reports accurately describing work performed is a critical tool to get what is owed to you because work needed to be complete when someone else has changed their mind or was not sure of the scope. Masons take plenty of risks, time and material should not be a risk.