Being an Artisan

(Or, my obsession with my craft)

Doing this line of work, you might guess that I have a pretty artistic personality. You would guess right. When I was a kid I used to like drawing, sketching the countryside I grew up in, and I loved art class. Later, a good friend of mine introduced me to a personality test called the Enneagram. Surprise surprise, my personality turned out to be artisan and scholar.

Having an artisan personality has its challenges, and its benefits. I thrive on artistic work, finding beauty and experiencing the joy of life, but it also gives me a strong emotional and unstructured temperament that needs to be worked around.

For example, I naturally just want to go with the flow of the work and operate by feel, rather than set plans. That is fine when I’m working by myself, and it’s pretty satisfying to work that way, but it definitely won’t work as I grow my business, take on more projects and crews that require structured guidance. Fortunately, my background has led me to study planning and business structure for quite some time so I can work around that. I can implement a structured environment and solid plans for my business, while giving myself the freedom to work as an artisan going with the flow of things. I think I’ve found a good balance.

One of the other characteristics of being an artisan, which could be seen as good or bad, is that I’m incredibly critical of my own work. My clients can be like “Wow that’s so amazing you do beautiful work!” and all I can see is the slope being slightly off here, a stone being off there, or a joint that didn’t get properly finished. The little flaws just jump out at me. It’s bad because I can stress out over it beyond what’s probably reasonable, but good because I will not stop at anything short of perfection. I have to balance it with the scope of the project; I can’t spend a whole hour dressing a single stone to perfection with my hammer and chisel and getting it perfectly straight within the budgets of most of the projects I do.

By far my favorite part, though, is the pure joy I find in doing this work. After I get everything perfect, stepping back and seeing the beauty I’ve created and seeing the smiles on my clients’ faces, that is such a wonderful feeling. If you’ve ever looked at a beautiful sunset and just took a deep breath and steeped yourself in the contentment such a beautiful sight brings, that’s how it feels to me, with the added satisfaction of knowing I created it myself.

This artisan personality I have also has me stop and stare at a house with nice stonework when I’m driving, to get ideas to make my work better, and if I can’t sleep I’ll stay up reading books about landscape design, flipping through pages of photography to get inspiration, and learn more of the technical skills to it. Even my friends tell me I care about work too much, but that’s ok because it makes me really freaking happy.

Masonry in the Winter

It’s snowing out today, and I’m holed up inside with a nice hot mocha planning out my current project to work around the weather, so I figured today would be a good day to talk about what it’s like doing masonry in the winter.

It’s not bad in Colorado, where the winters are relatively mild, especially compared to Minnesota where I grew up, but there is definitely some considerations to make.

The most important thing is to not let mortar freeze within 24 hours of laying it. You can keep mortar from freezing by covering it with tarps, and there are special insulated tarps if it’s going to get especially cold.

Normally if it’s going to be just above freezing at night, I stop a little earlier in the day to give the mortar time to set up before it gets cold. The colder it is the slower mortar cures, which is an advantage because slow curing makes it stronger. However, freezing the water in the mortar will damage it.

Another important thing is to use warm water and warm sand when mixing mortar. I recycle the water used in cleaning my tools to mix mortar the next day and leave it in buckets overnight, but when it freezes overnight the icy water has to be dumped out and you have to use fresh water. You also have to spread the sand used for mixing mortar out in the sun if it freezes, because water in the sand will freeze it into icy sand chunks. You don’t want ice sand chunks in your mortar while you’re trying to lay stone!

In situations like today, when it’s going to warm up again right away, I will just take the day off and go back at it again when it’s nice out. If it’s not going to be nice for a while, there’s things like site prep, material staging, digging, or hauling gravel you can do to stay productive and get ready to lay when it warms up again.

If you absolutely have to do mortar or cement work when it’s freezing, you will have to use warm water for mixing, keep the stone and sand sheltered out of the cold, and set up a heated tent from tarps or plastic sheeting over the work area. I’ve worked like this before, and I’m definitely thankful for the mild winters in Colorado.

Startup time!

The story so far

My name is Nicholas, I’m a young mason who grew up in a family of craftsmen in the masonry business. I fell in love stonework while doing masonry repair working for my father, and now I’m ready to strike out on my own.

I know the middle of winter in Colorado isn’t exactly the best time to start an outdoor business, but it’s warm enough for me and I’m itching to start.

I’m bootstrapping with zero funding, a beat up old ford and a handful of tools.

This will be a fun year!