Building a Home 5… From the ground up

Michael (back to camera) and Tony, completing a block corner

As a real-world antidote to the Alice in Wonderland, mind numbing nonsense, passing as news, I decided to spend a bit more time watching the workmen build our new home here in Staunton, Virginia.  A worksite is definitely a “No Spin Zone”; everything is real… and verifiable.

This week, the foundation is being constructed. Despite this week’s often cold, damp days, tons of concrete blocks were being meticulously set, one upon another, by hand.  The only machines on site are a motor driven mixer for the sand and cement being turned into mortar and a forklift to move pallets laden with concrete blocks to the scaffolding once the walls have reached an above-head height. The rest is all hand labor, just as it has been done for centuries. It takes heart, strength and determination to keep going for hours on end. A skilled brick tradesman can spend years learning his craft: how to properly use and read a level, to wield a trowel so that the right amount of mortar is applied to each block and to know the right formula for the mortar, based upon a number of factors, including weather and specific strength needed. In a bow to modernity, Michael, the bricklayer, also utilizes a laser tool to precisely determine the correct height needed for each section of wall.

Michael had an interesting story as to why and how he chose to become a bricklayer / mason. His father is a farmer, so it would have been natural for Michael to continue working the family farm. “But”, says Michael, “there was a slight problem. I’m allergic to hay”! So, after watching a bricklayer do some work on the family farm, Michael became this man’s apprentice and later went out on his own, starting his own business. Michael said farming and bricklaying are both hard work. “But, at least I’m not sneezing”!

What fascinated me the most, I think, was the hand – motor skills needed to apply the correct amount of mortar to the bottoms, sides and joints of each block. Having done some very small plaster repair jobs in previous homes, I can attest that using a trowel efficiently is no small feat. My efforts more resembled the art work of “Ivan the Gorilla” than anything that Michael and his assistant would tolerate on any of their jobs.

painting by Ivan

We’re thinking and hoping the block work will be completed within the next week or so. At that time, Father Joseph Wamala, of St. Francis of Assisi church in Staunton, will bless the foundation and building site, asking for God’s protection for all those that will build, live and enter our home. A further blessing will take place when the house is completed and we move in.

The following pictures will show some of the activity taking place this week at our home site.

Filling a joint.
Getting the block wall line straight
Michael applying “skim coat” to outside wall. A coat of tar will be applied later.

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Bill