A Beginner’s Guide to Masonry Trowels

If you are interested in learning the basics of masonry, the first tool you’ll need is a good trowel.

Types of Trowels

There are all different kinds of trowels out there for various types of work. A good masonry trowel should be made of forged steel, providing an increased level of durability. Blade length will be a significant consideration, as larger tools are harder to maneuver in small spaces for more delicate work. If you are repairing an existing wall or column, then shorter blade length will be better suited for that type of work. Smaller versions are also handy for removing excess mortar. Smaller blades vary in length from around four to seven inches. Larger options can be anywhere from nine to twelve inches long, not including the handle. Finally, many shapes have been developed over the years. The London and the Philadelphia are the two most popular options presently, but the choice will also depend on the type of work you intend to complete.

Holding the Trowel

Depending on the type of tool you have chosen, the handle may be made of wood or plastic. The material of the handle is immaterial to how it performs, especially when compared to details like the blade length and shape. Still, some people have a personal preference for one of the two main types of handles. When comparing the feel of different options in the hardware store, it’s important to hold the instrument correctly. The work will go by much more smoothly with a proper grip. Some amateurs grip the handle like a baseball bat, but the most common grip among professionals is different. Instead, place your thumb on top of the metal band, and use only the four fingers around the handle itself.

Loading the Trowel

Working with mortar is one of the greatest challenges when practicing and art of masonry. Experienced professionals slap the mortar around with deceptive ease, but it’s a finely tuned process that takes decades to master. When loading the trowel with mortar, you may cut from the top, side, or front. You’ll then snap your wrist to cause the mortar to settle on the tool. This motion keeps the material from slipping off the edge of the blade. This step is especially important at the times when a mason is “buttering” vertical surfaces like the head joints. Head joints are the vertical edges of individual bricks.

Buttering Joints

As you move along the horizontal line of bricks, this horizontal line along the top of the bricks is the bed joint. Professional masons will prepare the bed joint for a few bricks at a time. It is best to start small while learning this new trade, only attempting one or two at a time. When applying the mortar along the surface of a brick, the trowel blade should lightly scrape along its length. This repeated contact is a major reason why durable, forged steel is preferred.

Ultimately, masonry is a very complicated skill that takes long years of training. Learning the tools of the trade can make the job a lot easier.

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