TROWELS- The Simple, Yet Essential Tool

Words: Uma Basso

Words: Uma Basso

Photos: Bon Tool, Marshalltown, Bartco

Look in any mason's toolbox, and you are bound to find a variety of trowels. Masons use hand trowels to spread, shape, and level mortar and concrete. These simple tools are essential for bricklaying and stonework. 

Trowels come in various shapes and sizes, which help a mason complete different tasks on a job.

WHAT ARE TROWELS MADE OF?

The blade of a trowel is usually made of cast stainless steel or forged carbon steel. Trowels constructed with stainless steel tend to have a longer useful life and aren’t susceptible to rust.  However, a stainless steel blade is heavier and less flexible.  On the other hand, a forged carbon steel blade may feel lighter, but it can rust.  

A trowel blade works best when made from one sheet of metal. By using one piece of metal, it helps to prevent the blade from cracking or weakening. 

The handle should be made of a durable material yet feel comfortable enough for frequent use. Brick trowel handles are typically made of wood, but you can find handles made from rubber, leather, or plastic.  Wood and plastic are sturdier materials, yet they may require you to grip them tighter as they can become slippery when used.  Rubber and leather handles may be more comfortable to grasp but may wear out faster than their wood or plastic counterparts.

TYPES OF TROWELS

The brick trowel may be the most commonly used tool for a mason. Often referred to as a mason's trowel, the blade has a pointed-nose design, making it suitable for spreading mortar on concrete or brick. Its angled shape helps the trowel apply materials with greater precision. 

In addition to the brick trowel, you may find other varieties in a mason's tool chest, such as;

  • Corner trowel – Shapes concrete around corners. The handle is located at the center of a 90-degree angle bend, giving the mason the ability to apply pressure evenly on both sides of the corner.
  • Finishing trowel – smooths the surface after the concrete has set.
  • Margin trowel – The blade has a flat-nosed shape that is best for putting mortar in tight spots and corners where a traditional mason trowel won’t fit

PHILADELPHIA OR LONDON?

While these are both well-known cities, these terms carry a much different meaning in the world of masonry.  Philadelphia and London refer to the trowel’s pattern, based on the heel's sharpness. 

London Brick Trowel:  The heel of this trowel is made at a sharp angle. The pointed shape helps push mud further down the blade.  The angular style of this trowel makes it a good fit for bricklaying.  

You can find the London brick trowels in two sizes: Narrow London and Wide London.  The primary difference between the two is the width of their heel.  Brick trowels with the Wide London pattern are wider at the heel than the Narrow London. A broader base allows you to scoop more mortar; however, it can be heavier to hold than the Narrow London pattern.  

Philadelphia Brick Trowel: This tool has a flatter heel, giving it more room to hold mud on its surface.  Its wide, flat surface makes it a good fit for blockwork. 

WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A TROWEL

Trowels are necessary tools for masons. Depending on the work done, you may use a trowel for hours every day.  

Size and Weight:  Trowels come in multiple styles and sizes. Trowels with larger blades can typically hold more. While this may seem like an efficient choice, the more mortar or concrete on the blade – the heavier it can be. The weight can put stress on your hand and wrist. Choosing the right size comes down to personal preference and work style.  If you can work efficiently with a larger blade, it may be the better option. But, if you frequently experience hand or wrist pain, the smaller blade may be the better choice.

If you currently experience carpal tunnel, tendonitis, arthritis, or other medical conditions, consider choosing the lightest weight trowel that can get the job done.  This may prevent further aggravation of these injuries. 

Handles:  When choosing a trowel, consider such factors as comfort and the angle of its handle.  Wood is the most common material used but can get slippery. A wood handle may require that you hold the trowel with a firmer grip, which can place undue stress on your hand or wrist.  If you choose a handle that can get slippery, some come with a non-slip surface. You can also place anti-slip material on the handle to improve your grip. 

Other handle options, such as leather and rubber, may be more comfortable to grasp. However, they can absorb water, making them heavier to hold. This may strain your hand and wrist.  You may find yourself replacing these types of handles more frequently as a result. 

Keep in mind that the angle of the handle may impact job performance. An angle that keeps the wrist and hand straight can reduce injury, thus improving the job's efficiency. An angle that is too steep can cause wrist, back, and shoulder injuries. 

If different angle lengths aren't available, it may help modify the job's staging height.  Adjusting the height at which you work lets you work at an even angle to prevent injury. 

BRICK TROWELS ON THE MARKET

Brick Trowels by Bon

Bon offers an array of brick trowels ranging in size and style.  Their line of Keystone Forged masonry trowels is constructed from a specially formulated single sheet of carbon steel. It is heat-tempered for strength.

Keystone Forged Narrow London Forged Steel Brick Trowel by Bon

Trowel Highlights:

  • Made from a single sheet of carbon steel
  • Choose a length between 9” to 13”
  • Available with a wood, leather, plastic, or comfort grip handle

 

Keystone Forged Wide London Forged Steel Brick Trowel by Bon

Trowel Highlights:

  • Made from a single sheet of carbon steel
  • Choose a length between 10” to 12”
  • Available with a wood, leather, plastic, or comfort grip handle

Philadelphia Pro Stainless Steel Brick Trowel by Bon

Trowel Highlights:

  • Made of stainless steel 
  • It lasts longer than trowels made of carbon steel.
  • Comfortable to use with less worker fatigue
  • Length is 12”
  • Wood handle

  

MARSHALLTOWN 

MARSHALLTOWN offers a durable brick trowel forged from a single piece of high carbon steel.  This trowel is available in London, Wide London, and Philadelphia patterns. Their line of bridge trowels are made in the USA. 

This trowel can be customized as follows:

  • The length between 9" to 13"
  • Width between 4 ¼” to 6”
  • Available handle materials include wood, leather, plastic, soft-grip DuraSoft®, and DuraCork® grip

WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE ON TROWELS?

Trowels are an essential tool for any mason.  When choosing the right trowel, consider the materials used, how it is is made, and what you plan to use it for. Size, weight, and comfort should all play a role when narrowing down your choice. Ultimately, the trowel you choose is the one you are most comfortable working with. 

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