Painter's Corner: Looking Back

Words: Todd Fredrick

Jerry Painter


For the last few months, we have been trying to downsize after 50+ years in the masonry business. In doing so, I have given several boxes of books to our local friends of the library group. The information we need seems to always be out there on the internet, in the cloud, or some other imaginary place in space.    The need for handheld material is constantly being replaced by the computer, whether it is desk-bound, handheld, or wrapped around your wrist. If you older folks remember and will admit to it, we saw these wristwatch things in the Dick Tracy comic strips in the 1950s.    As I was sorting and packing, I came across a textbook I have referenced before in seminars. It is titled “The ART of BRICKLAYING,” by J. Edgar. The copy I have was a textbook printed initially in 1950 with the latest reprint in 1971. It doesn’t appear to have changed any from the first printing.    It was used in the Mechanical Arts Department of a closed high school. As we all typically do during a project, I stopped and reread this book to find out if I missed anything in my training. The first thing I found was a word I did not know. The word was riffling.    This was described as what we call today furrowing after the mortar is spread. The author goes into detail of why you do it, what it should look like and how to riffle with the trowel handle up or down.   That got me interested enough to continue read looking for other “old” words or different practices. WOW, did I learn a few things! The glossary was 24 pages. I learned the difference between a scutch, a cutting out hammer, and a brick hammer. My spellcheck doesn’t even recognize a scutch.     It kept wanting to call it scotch. I’m sure many of you know the definition of scotch, which is different than blocking wheels so they cannot roll. Since there wasn’t a photo of a cutting out hammer, I can assume that any hammer with a cutting edge will qualify.   Then there was the chapter on “Spreading Mortar.” I was taught how to spread mortar in my pre-teen years. I just didn’t know the proper wording. In this textbook, the spreading of mortar some distance along the wall prior to laying the brick was called the “western method.” The “eastern method” is actually the “pick and dip” method of laying brick.    For you young’uns out thereI’ll try to explain the “pick and dip” method. The bricklayer typically uses a short trowel, possibly 7-8” long, that will hold enough mortar to lay one brick. He or she will turn away from the wall and “pick” a brick and “dip” one trowel of mortar, then turn back to the wall spreading the mortar for the one brick and laying the one brick.    The mason will cut and save the excess mortar and butter the in-place brick head joint to receive the next brick. I don’t know if there are pickers and dippers still working, but if there are and you’ve never worked with one, you should do whatever it takes to have that experience. They will be laying brick while you are spreading your mortar, and when you turn around, they will be part of the way down the wall. If you let it get into your head, it will cause you to get in a hurry and mess up.   Another couple of words, I found old meanings for were frets and fillets. A fret is the intersection of fillets at right angles. If you are interested in knowing what these are or want to share your definition, email me or call me and we will talk about it like two old brickies would do. A better way to share with each other is the MCAA General Discussion Digest. Go to and sign up. I am going to have fun with some of this at the next apprentice class.   Until next time don’t forget to RAISE THE LINE and come on around the corner.   
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