GEN NXT: Mason Saunders


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Words: MASONRY Magazine
Photos: Mason Saunders

Editor’s Note: This month, MASONRY sat down with Mason Saunders, 2022 Second Year Skills Challenge winner, and Assistant Foreman with Huntley Brothers in Mint Hill, North Carolina. Mason has been surrounded by the trades for as long as he can remember. After picking up a trowel one summer in high school, he’s been interested in masonry ever since. We’d like to thank Mason for taking the time to talk with us, and Masonry Cosmetics for sponsoring this series.

MASONRY Magazine: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mason Saunders: Mason Saunders is my name, and I’m 21 years old. I work for Huntley Brothers. I'm just a mason right now, and my goal is to improve to be at an assistant level by the end of the year. Huntley Brothers is located in Mint Hill, and I currently live in Midland, NC, so it's not too far of a drive to my work— about 20 minutes. God is first no matter what the competition is in, and without him I wouldn’t be where I am today!

M.M.: How did you get into the masonry industry?

M.S.: It’s funny because my name is Mason. I've always grown up around construction. My dad is a carpenter, and he does small remodel jobs. He and his dad built houses for 20 years, then worked for the school system for 10 1/2, and then went back out on his own. So I've been around the construction industry for my whole life. 

So I was out there one day, thinking I was hot stuff having the name Mason and I was laying brick and it was a sight to see. When I stood back and looked at what I had accomplished, I really thought I was hot stuff. Ever since my first year of high school, when I took my first masonry class with Ryan Shaver. I fell in love with it, and I continued to build off of that since then and everything has just fallen into place.

M.M.: Do you have any family in the industry?

M.S.: My dad and grandpa, both know how to lay brick, but they never did it full time. 

M.M.: Tell me a little bit about your apprenticeship? 

M.S.: I was going to school, and I would lay bricks and just, it's a lot to handle. But it's good. It's something that helped me get started. I'm thinking about going to get my general contractor's license as well.

M.M.: Tell us about some of the masonry courses that you took during high school.

M.S.: When I was about like seven or eight years old. My dad had gotten together with a few guys to labor full time. They all came to our house and put our outdoor patio on. Well, one day, it was just me, my brother, and my dad. We were out there, and he was laying a rowlock and solids on top of the columns. I just thought it was a good idea to just pick up a trowel and see what I could do because it looked cool. I tried it and it didn't look the best, but I knew that it was something that I could probably grab on to in the future and take off with it. Ever since then, I've been just going with it in high school, but I got into it in high school my freshman year.

I wanted to take the class because Ryan Shaver was the teacher at the time and I know Ryan Shaver really well and he's a great man. I've always looked up to him and I've helped him on the jobsite before I even took a masonry class. I know that he has great talents and skills to lay bricks and everything. I just wanted to take the class, see how I could do it, and see if I could take advantage of the trade. Ever since my freshman year, I just always continued doing it and if I wasn't laying brick, I was always thinking about laying brick. This has been ongoing since my freshman year.

M.M.: You competed and won the Second Year Skills Challenge at World of Concrete. Do you plan to continue to compete? 

M.S.: I plan to compete as long as I'm eligible. I think I should have one more year because I won the second year this past time in Vegas, so I should have one more year to do that. But if not, then we'll move on to the bigger competition and see if we can win the SPEC MIX Bricklayer 500® in the future. I’m always going to be able to compete because I'm a very competitive person. I do it for fun, there are no challenges for me. Nothing but the competition itself. 

I always want to compete in any way, shape, or form that goes with anything. I just think it's a great opportunity to get people in the trade, get them excited. It’s a little nerve-wracking when you first start out, but once you do it for a little while, and you've been in a few competitions, it's not as nerve-racking. You just got to go in there and be calm and do the best you can. I think that if you win the competition you're excited and you want to do it again and again. I think competitions are a good way to keep the trade going.

M.M.: Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years? 

M.S.: Wherever God leads me. Right now, I'm having a great time at Huntley Brothers where I work currently. I just became an assistant foreman on March 1st. I'll probably work there for a little while, and I might get out on my own. It's where God leads me to if he wants me to go out on my own. That's what I'm going to take up and just hopefully, they grow up and in the future, if I do start my own company, I’ll get a couple of guys to work for me.

M.M.: What is going to keep you interested in the masonry industry?

M.S.: Just the fact you see things go up and all the little details you can put in. You can put a herringbone basket weave, Flemish bonds, and all this other stuff on stonework. One job will not always be the same, there's always going to be different jobs, different scenery, everywhere you go. You'll be putting different details, trying different bricks just to see things and see what I could do. Whenever I get my family and have kids or so I can go and tell them like, look, I did this and they think it's really cool. All the details and everything and they might even want to lay brick in the future. 

The main thing is just keeping trade going on because there's always going to be a strong need for masons and laborers to do this industry. I think that's one way to do it is to do something to take back memories and take pictures so people can be proud of it. It's just getting out and putting the trowel in your hand every day and just getting at it. 

M.M.: How is it working with the older guys in the industry?

M.S.: It's fun. My crew leader is like 24-25 So he's not much older than I am and we all get along. We're all pretty much right there at the same age. We work together, we work as a team, we don't just do one job, we all help each other out. If we're not laying brick, we're putting out a mud brick, scaffold, whatever it may be, we all work together. It's a team sport. We don't really have much conflict with our crew. We like each other, we get along really well. That’s the big thing, if you don't get along, it's not gonna pan out in the future. So that's a plus for the crew. We want to get stuff done in a timely manner. I want to make the quota of whatever we're done on time. Other times don't go that way. Especially with the weather and everything. So we all get stuff done and make it quality work.

M.M.: What does your daily routine look like?

M.S.: Daily routine is just mainly get up and do your part. As you leave the house, go to work early, put on your hardhat and safety glasses. I get to work most times when everybody else does, so I'll go ahead and do what I need to do to get our crew an early start. More than that, maybe put out brick and start making mud. Basically, just get on the job. Safety first. If we're laying brick, I'll start making mud and then everybody else gets there and we'll hop on the wall and put mud out and mark poles up on whatever it needs to be marked down. Just labor it — get it done. 

When the mortar starts to set up, join it out, brush the wall, and that's about it. 

Then at the end of the day, you need to beat your mixer out and beat the mud box out and everything and lock the bobcat over the mixer so nobody will steal or attempt to. The daily routine is just the same thing over again. There's always gonna be a lay in a different brick every time you pick one up so I think that's one reason why I do what I do. It's always going to be different.

M.M.: Can you tell us about some of the projects that you've been involved in?

M.S.: Starting high school first, my masonry teacher would get jobs outside of school, and we would go and do that on the weekends. I want to mention that, I always want to help somebody out. Because you got to have a brick foundation or something like that or poured concrete. That's within the masonry industry too. 

So I learned a little bit about everything. If somebody needs concrete poured, I was able to help them to do that and just help people out. If you're down to the house, brick and mortar, foundation, or brick, it's just a good thing to help them out so that you can get the framers in a bit, talking about the house. It was always gonna be something about helping people within the industry.

Now in school, I would just go in every day, and I always look forward to masonry class, there was never a day I didn't look forward to it. Even if there was a test we had to take or an exam. It was always something I was interested in, and I was very good at it — and I'm not a good test taker myself. But I was looking forward to going there, then getting done in a classroom going into a shop. I would always go in there and work hard. I was probably the hardest worker in that class. My masonry teacher would say so, just because I was always wanting to get better each day I went in there. 

So that was another thing about me and my personal belief in masonry. In my job now, the work I do is commercial, residential, I'm doing repair work, small work, and we do it all, brick, block, whatever it is. Getting everything right at the bottom and working your way up is always a good thing because if not, everything is not going to go well.

M.M.: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in getting into the masonry industry?

M.S.: The main thing is just picking up a trowel and having fun. You need somebody that knows how to make mud and somebody that knows the basics. Just start laying brick is all I can say, it’s easier to start out with a line like we did in school. We'd have our little racks they're like four feet wide, where you can lay across it and make it square and hang your lines on it, mark the side of your boards, and lay on that. Then once you get confident with laying a line, you can start doing small projects. There are projects online if you go to, they are big projects and national projects. 

Pick up the trowel and start learning and you can even watch videos on YouTube. There are basic, intermediate, and expert-level videos. But I'll never claim myself as an expert because I always want to improve each day. If somebody wants to learn and if your school has a masonry program, join and talk to the teacher and say, “Look, I'm really interested, I want to learn how to lay brick, and this is probably what I want to do in the future.” I'm 100% sure they will probably take you in the class and show you how to lay brick. Another thing is, there are people out here you can call when you call, even call me if you really wanted to. I can walk you through it. Ryan Shaver with the North Carolina Masonry Contractors Association. He goes to all these schools and he had a big trailer with NCMCA on it. It's got all the masonry stuff you need and makes you up with a lot and if you like it, talk to him about it, and it will lead you in the right direction. So there's always somebody you can talk to about it. And there's always gonna be a business nearby that's looking for help.

M.M.: Is there anything else to add? 

M.S.: Get out there, learn it, and don't give up. It's not something you're gonna be able to learn overnight. It's gonna take a while to learn and be good at it. Some people can do it while others can't. Just gotta keep going with it, can't stop halfway through and it's just like everything else. If you don't learn how to play a sport yet, stick with it. Stick with masonry and everything will come along soon. 

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