What is a mason?

Traditionally, the business card of a mason will show three words centered on the card:  BRICK, BLOCK & STONE.  The card indicates that the mason can build a masonry structure such as a fireplace or a wall by using these materials.  The mason proposes to build this masonry feature by employing his skills in brickwork, blockwork and stonework.

Summit Business Card

Summit Masonry Business Card.
Elsa B. Walton

A mason is a craftsman who sets and joins masonry units.  He can use masonry materials to construct architectural features such as steps or a fireplace.  And he can use masonry materials to construct design features such as adhering decorative brick or stone veneer on a block wall or by laying brick or stone pavers for walkways and floors in a decorative geometric design or in an irregular pattern.


What are masonry materials?

Today masonry building materials can include such items as glass block, interlocking pavers, tile and precast balustrade systems.  After they are applied, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between natural stone and artificial stone. As such, it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees — or masonry architecture for the vast array of masonry materials. Essentially these materials all come under the heading of Masonry Building Materials.

The traditional three masonry categories of Brick, Block and Stone have increased tremendously. With modern technology, choices for masonry materials have become extensive. There is a bewildering collection of masonry choices.


stacked brick green bkgr

Stacked Brick.
Elsa B Walton


A brick is a small rectangular block typically made of fired or sun-dried clay that is used to build structures or to pave surfaces.  Clay brick can be manufactured in a variety of colors and styles from an Old World look to a clean modern design.

You can choose a clay brick with old California colors that are soft and faded or a sand mold brick with soft crumbled edges.  You can find modern looking hard-edged brick fired in a variety of colors from dark browns or reds to soft salmon or blues or gray colors.  Brick may have a uniform color or each brick may vary with individual streaks of color.

Brick are manufactured in a variety of shapes.  In addition to brick for veneer there are brick pavers, thin brick and blocky shapes used in retaining walls.  There are firebrick used in fireboxes and molded brick used for coping and steps.

Brick manufactures also make paving stones.  They produce a variety of colors and shapes of cobblestones and a variety of cut shapes called Interlocking Pavers that fit together into patterns.


Tan Block Wall

Tan Block Wall


A concrete masonry unit (CMU) – also called concrete block, cement block, and foundation block – is a large, rectangular block used in construction. Concrete blocks are made from cast concrete, i.e. Portland cement and aggregate, usually sand and fine gravel for high-density blocks.   Concrete blocks may have hollow centers to reduce weight and improve insolation.  The nominal size in inches is 16 x 8 x 8.  Block is frequently used for foundation walls and are set in staggered layers.  Often rebar is set inside the hollow blocks which are then filled with cement to make a solid, reinforced wall.  Above, a tan block wall is used as a decorative facade for a custom home.


Glass Block Wall.

The Block category also includes Glass Block.  Square units of glass block measure approximately 8” x 8” x 3” and are set for showers, walls, and windows.  Glass block now come in a variety of shapes and have a vast array of designs and textures.



Fieldstone Wall in New England


What is stone?  At one time, the definition seemed fairly simple and obvious.  For eons, humans have used stones for building materials.  Farmers collected fieldstone from the surface of an agricultural property and set them into dry stack walls as property dividers.  Homeowners veneered their house with a natural local stone obtained from a local quarry.  Gardeners frequently used a soft, flat sedimentary stone called Arizona Flagstone for pathways around the yard.


Rock of Ages Quarry, Barre, VT
“Barre Gray” Devonian pluton granite.

In geology, a rock is a naturally occurring solid aggregate of one or more minerals. Geologists classify rocks according to characteristics such as mineral and chemical composition, permeability, texture and particle size.  To obtain precious stones, rocks are mined to extract minerals.   To obtain building stones for construction purposes, rocks are extracted from the ground in a quarry.  A famed example is “Barre Gray” Devonian pluton granite quarried at the Rock of Ages Quarry in Barre, VT.   Whether mined or quarried, there are three principal classes of rock: Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic.


"Juparana Persia" Granite Slab

Igneous: “Juparana Persia Extra” Granite
Slab Polished.

Igneous rock is formed through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava, a hot molten or partially molten rock material.  Common examples would be Granite and Basalt.  Here is an example of a polished granite slab called “Juparana Persia Extra.”





"Seagrass" Limestone

Sedimentary: “Seagrass” Limestone

Sedimentary rock is formed from pieces of rock or organic particles that settle and accumulate.  They are compacted and cemented into horizontal layers of stratified rocks.  Common examples would be Sandstone and Limestone.  Here is an example of a polished limestone slab called “Seagrass.”





Metamorphic:Pearl Grey Marble Slab Brushed.

Metamorphic: “Pearl Grey” Marble Slab Brushed.

Metamorphic rock is the result of the alteration of a parent rock.  Sedimentary or igneous rock subjected to new and different temperature and pressure conditions results in metamorphism — a change in form.  There is a profound change in the physical and chemical properties of the stone.  Common examples would be Quartzite, an alteration from Quartz Sandstone or Marble, an alteration from Calcite Limestone Here is an example of brushed marble slab called “Pearl Grey.”


Dimensional Stone Veneer

Dimension Stone.

Natural Building Stones

Generally, the natural stone that is quarried for use as building materials include the following:  Basalt, Granite, Sandstone, Limestone, Travertine, Marble, Quartzite, and Slate.  To the list can be added numerous other stones such as Rhyolite, Flagstone, Breccia, and Gneiss as well as common Fieldstone or Rubblestone.

Natural Dimension Stone

Dimension stone is natural stone that has been trimmed, cut, and drilled to a specific size or shape.  A variety of rocks are used as structural and decorative dimension stone.  Rocks commonly used for dimension stone are Granite, Limestone, Marble, Travertine, Sandstone, Quartzite and Slate.  Here is an example of dimensional stone used as cladding on a custom home.


Material: Carved Limestone

Carved Limestone Fireplace.

Natural Carved Stone

Architectural sculpture can be integrated into the design of a building.  It is sculpture created especially to decorate or embellish an architectural structure. From the Greeks to the Americas, integrated figural sculpture has been employed to enhance highly ornamented buildings for aesthetic effect.  In addition, stone can be  carved for masonry features such as columns, door and window trim, mantels, lintels, corbels and finials.  Here is an example of a carved limestone fireplace face.

Boulder over stone wall

Boulder over Stone Wall.

Landscape Boulders

Boulders of all types and sizes are used to create natural landscape features that frequently incorporate waterfalls and pools.  Because these boulders are heavy they are generally selected from local stone choices that may be igneous or sedimentary in origin.  Large boulders are planted in the ground with a group of smaller sized surrounding stones to create beautiful landscape compositions.  Here is an example of a large Yuba River boulder placed on the hillside of a custom home.




Today, if you venture into a building materials yard, you will discover that stone is no longer simple.  A primary but not always obvious fact is the division between Natural Stone and Artificial Stone.

Artificial stone, also known as Cast Stone or Precast Stone is a product that simulates natural cut stone.  Cast stone can be made from cements, manufactured or natural sands, crushed stone or natural gravels.  A mixture of fine aggregates is consolidated into a mold.  They are colored with mineral coloring pigments.  Cast stone may replace natural cut limestone, brownstone, sandstone, bluestone, granite, slate, coral rock, travertine and other natural building stones.  Here is an example of a precast architectural molded stone surround for a doorway.


Pre-Cast Fireplace Face

Precast fireplace face

Precast Architectural Stone

Cast stone materials have become very sophisticated.  They are used to produce architectural structures and ornamental elements.  Precast moldings such as an Entry Door Molding or a Wall Trim Molding can look like Old World carved limestone.  Precast Balustrades come in a wide variety of complex styles and shapes.  There are Fluted or Segmented Precast Columns in styles such as Tuscan or Corinthian.  There are fireplace Mantels of all shapes, sizes and finishes and styles.  There are Precast Pavers, Stair treads, Wall caps, Planters and Pool Edge Coping.  There are Precast Gargoyles, Counters, Range Hoods, Table Bases, Lintels, Corbels and Finials.  Precast molds are also used for commercial buildings and for restoration work.

Manufactured Stone Veneer

Precast molds are also made to duplicate natural cut stone. Dimensional Stone reproduces cut stone and is available in all dimensions from thick blocks to flat strips.  They may be long and narrow or square and they are formed to serve all requirements for building materials from walls to pavers to veneers.

Andante Fieldledge Cast Stone

Andante Fieldledge Cast Stone

Stucco Stone

This artificial stone became popular as an inexpensive substitute for real stone.  Like precast stone it is made with lightweight cement in a mold.  Also known as “Cultured Stone”, it was called “stucco stone” because it is set against sticky paper with stucco instead of being set with mortar.  Stucco Stone products include Hearthstone, Ledgestone, Rubblestone, Fieldstone and rounded River Rock or Stream Stone. Stones shaped in blocks, strips and squares with the look of limestone or other types of stone are also available to be laid in a Random Ashlar Pattern.



Cobblestone Pavers

Cobblestone pavers.

When you look at Building Material products you will find that the names attached to a stone may reflect different requirements.  The name of a stone may reflect it’s geologic origins such as Limestone or Granite.  The name might be a particular type of Limestone such as Santa Rita Limestone or California Gold Granite.

Names may also indicate the shape of the cut rock and it’s use.  For example, “Ashlar Blend 3 Pc Patterns” indicates a collection of cut stone in three sizes: a long thin shape, a square shape and a large rectangle shape that will be used to lay a Random Ashlar Pattern for paving.

Here is a sample stone usage list with the types of stones generally available for that building material use

  • ASHLAR — Quartzite
  • ASHLAR JUMPERS — Limestone
  • ASHLAR LEDGE — Limestone
  • BOULDERS — Argillite, Fieldstone, Granite, Jasper, Quartz Sandstone, Quartzite, River Rock, Sandstone, Water Washed Sandstone
  • BUILDING STONE — Quartzite
  • CAP STONES — Quartzite
  • COBBLES — River Rock, Water Washed Sandstone
  • COPING — Sandstone, Water Washed Sandstone
  • DRYWALL STONE — Quartzite
  • FINES — Granite
  • FLAGSTONE — Argillite, Limestone, Quartz Sandstone, Quartzite, Sandstone, Slate
  • FLAGSTONE: RANDOM — Argillite, Limestone, Quartzite, Slate
  • FLAGSTONE: REGULAR — Fieldstone
  • FLAGSTONE: TUMBLED — Quartz Sandstone, Sandstone
  • FLAT STONE — Bluestone, Water Washed Sandstone
  • FULL VENEER — Dolomitic Limestone, Granite, Limestone, Sandstone
  • GRAVEL — Granite, River Rock
  • HEAD SIZED BOULDERS — Fieldstone, Granite
  • BLUESTONE — Irregular, Irregular Gauged, Large, Regular, Regular Gauged
  • LEDGESTONE — Limestone, Quartz Sandstone, Quartzite, Sandstone, Slate
  • LEDGESTONE: “BLOCKY” — Limestone
  • LEDGESTONE: TUMBLED — Limestone, Sandstone
  • LILAC BLUESTONE — Bluestone
  • NATURAL TILES — Limestone, Quartzite, Slate, Travertine
  • PAVER TUMBLED — Bluestone, Quartz Sandstone
  • PAVERS — Limestone
  • PEBBLES — River Rock, Water Washed Sandstone
  • PLANKING — Marble
  • RANDOM SQUARES — Bluestone
  • SLABS — Fieldstone, Limestone, Quartzite
  • STEPPING STONES — Quartzite
  • STEPS — Water Washed Sandstone
  • STRIP VENEER — Sandstone
  • THIN VENEER — Bluestone, Dacite, Dolomitic Limestone, Granite, Limestone, Quartz Sandstone, Quartzite, Sandstone
  • VENEER — Limestone
  • VENEER LEDGE — Sandstone
  • VENEER STONE — Granite, Quartzite, Slate
  • WALL CAPS — Fieldstone, Limestone
  • WALL ROCK — Slate
  • WALL STONE — Limestone, Quartzite
  • WALL STONE: TUMBLED — Sandstone
  • WALL ROCK — Granite, Quartz Sandstone
  • WATER TABLES — Limestone

In other words, Connecticut Bluestone may be obtained as Irregular or Tumbled.  It may also be obtained as a Flagstone or a Flat Stone or as a Paver Tumbled.  Bluestone may be Random Rectangles, Random Squares, Regular or Regular Gauged.  It can also come as a Thin Veneer.



The following stones are commonly available in a variety of usages.


  • Dacite (mainly used for Thin Veneer)
  • Granite
  • Jasper


  • Bluestone
  • Dolomitic Limestone (mainly used for Thin Veneer)
  • Limestone
  • Quartz Sandstone
  • Sandstone
  • Travertine (mainly used for Tile)
  • Water Washed Sandstone


  • Argillite
  • Marble
  • Quartzite
  • Slate


  • Boulders
  • Fieldstone
  • River Rock

These commonly used building stones come from quarries all over the world and offer a variety of colors with variation in hardness and density.

Some building stones generally come from one area.  For example, Bluestone usually comes from the northeastern states and is commonly called Connecticut Irregular or Connecticut Tumbled.

Some building stones originate from many areas in the states.  For example, varieties of Sandstone are extensive and their names often include origins such as Arizona Grand Canyon, King City Ledge, Loveland Buff or Sonoran Gold Ledge.

Some building stones simply have imaginative color descriptions.  For example, varieties of Slate have names such as Smokestack, Raven Black or Violet Garden.