The Fechino Files: Masonry tool modifications on a tight budget
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.
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.